Financial literacy is one of those things that everyone agrees is important, which is why so many businesses, organizations, and government agencies have all tried to tackle it.
Wisconsin schools are also striving to teach students the importance of saving, budgeting, and investing, but sometimes getting kids to care about the power of compound interest is an uphill battle. Enter Dane County Credit Union, which has partnered with Banzai, an online financial literacy program, to sponsor the Banzai software platform at 68 local schools, making it free to use for area teachers and students.
Banzai is designed to introduce students to adult dilemmas such as managing debt, reconciling bank statements, balancing budgets, and making tradeoffs. The program features real-life simulations to illustrate the concepts in a fun and impactful way.
Eric Eigenfeld, a marketing representative with Dane County Credit Union, says DCCU was looking for more ways to provide financial education to students in the Greater Madison area when Banzai reached out to them with this opportunity.
“The timing was perfect for us both,” notes Eigenfeld. “We did not currently have any existing relationship with these schools, but we definitely wanted to be more active with the schools and form more relationships with area teachers.”
The schools were chosen based on being in DCCU’s membership base, along with proximity to its branch offices in the Madison area.
Banzai offers programs for elementary school-aged students, as well as middle and high school students. Eigenfeld says the curriculum geared toward middle and high school students, in particular, takes them through a post-high school scenario. “It primarily focuses on budgeting and money management. It takes students through a full-life simulation, where each decision they make impacts the rest of the outcomes.”
Joseph Fanning, a marketing educator who also teaches personal finance and information technology courses at Madison East High School, is a believer.
Fanning was previously exposed the Banzai when he was teaching at St. Francis High School in St. Francis, Wisconsin. He describes Banzai as an excellent program to work with from the teaching perspective.
According to Fanning, having supportive curriculum options with “real-life” examples can be very helpful to teachers when they’re building out and executing personal finance lesson plans.
“Planning points such as career exploration, higher education (and paying for it), taxes, investing, and more do help put things into perspective [for students], explains Fanning. “Banzai provides substantive examples that students will have to experience sooner or later in their lifetimes. Avoiding the ‘urge to splurge’ on that fancy new set of wheels, or ATM fees, are just a couple of the scenarios provided. If we think and use these scenarios like labs, we are teaching and preparing our students for what is to come, at least financially speaking.”
Fanning believes the program is right on cue for the transition freshmen make when entering high school. It’s the age when the opportunities for earning money and perhaps the freedom to spend and/or save it starts to present itself, he notes.
“Life, at least from a financial standpoint, can be a real eye opener,” says Fanning. “Why not learn about finances before it’s too late and too costly?”
Fanning says he has had some parents who question why it’s important to teach their 16-year-old about building credit. His answer: think about those kids trying to rent an off-campus apartment in the near future. Apart from those initial questions, once parents see the objectives of the program, they more often than not say, “Where was this program when I was in school?”
Financial education is a key skill that oftentimes is not taught in a school environment, notes Eigenfeld, but will become one of the most important pieces of students’ lives moving forward. “We feel that it is very important for students to not only learn these skills early, but to practice them going forward so that they are more adequately prepared for bigger financial stages in their lives, such as buying a car, buying a house, and saving for college.
“A big part of our mission is financial education for everyone, including youth and students in the Dane County area,” Eigenfeld adds. “We strive to be a credit union where members not only have a reliable financial institution where they can save and borrow money, but to be smart in the decisions they make, regarding all of their finances. With respect to this, these students are at an age where financial education is crucial to their development. The Banzai program allows us to reach these children and help deliver the skills they need.”