This is what happened when I took my kids to open their first bank account
29 January 2015
My wife and I decided that it was time. Time to introduce our 2 daughters to a bank and open their own accounts. Our girls are old enough (ages 8 and 6) to understand what a bank is, plus they hear their daddy talk way too much about banks. So far, their birthday money has been stored in their collection of wallets, piggy banks or ziploc bags. They are no strangers to financial education as we have talked before about the different uses for money and the importance of saving. They were ecstatic when I told them we would be going on a little field trip to open bank accounts, even if it meant handing over some money to the bank to safeguard. It was all downhill from there. I went online to try to make an appointment to visit the local branch. Unfortunately my bank offers no such tool. So, I picked up the phone, called the branch and left a message. My call was never returned. I'm a pretty persistent guy, so I actually walked into the branch (a foreign concept for me) and had no trouble making an appointment. We arrived a few minutes early on the day of our appointment as the girls were super excited to go to the bank and open their own accounts. Alas, the banker assigned to us was running late. After a 15 minute delay we were given the privilege of sitting down in his office. The process was mundane and no different than if an adult were opening an account. The girls were bored out of their minds. Thankfully, they sat nicely through the entire hour long process and were extremely patient. The only info the banker asked them for was their birth date. I wasn't expecting this to be a kids activity, though it would have been cool if they could have opened the account while bouncing on a trampoline. In all seriousness, I was expecting there to be SOMETHING that was kid friendly. Although my kids are very digitally inclined, I was also hoping they could get a traditional bank passbook. I think it's a little more tangible and easier to teach them about debits and credits using the book. However, the bank doesn't issue passbooks anymore and that frankly isn't a big deal as I can teach them online. Daddy signed all the paperwork, they were issued debit cards, and we went off on our merry way. The girls were confused, they wanted more. They couldn't believe that they had to sit for an hour just so I could sign some papers on their behalf. I felt bad, because it was my mistake. I shouldn't have dragged them along for the account opening process without checking it out first. However, I was really disappointed that there was simply nothing in the process that was fun and educational for kids. We had some "fun" at the ATM though as I showed them how it works and they got to press all the buttons and deposit their funds. So much went wrong, yet it was such an opportunity for so much to go right. The account opening process should have some elements tailored to kids (other than the trampoline of course). Here are some suggestions:
Offer a customized debit cards for kids. Kids love cards. Why not allow them to customize the color or add a picture of their choice?
Ask them to sign something. Even though the parent signs the official documents, I believe it's important for kids to feel that they have some skin in the game. A bank account is a responsibility. A fictitious kids contract will make the child feel important and also teach a sense of responsibility.
Give out a kid friendly short story. My kids know how to read, why not get them to read a short story that teaches lessons about money? Some banks invest pretty heavily in children's literacy, though this doesn't have anything to do with the branch experience.
Develop or showcase an app that teaches kids about money. Some banks offer this already (e.g. RBC), though it's unclear to me if the app is used in the branch. Even if your bank doesn't have an app like this, there are 3rd party apps that can serve the same purpose. This would be a good use for iPads in the branch, as kids can play with an app while the parent does the paperwork.
Explain how the bank works. There is so much that takes place in the bank branch. It would be great to walk the kids around the branch, and explain to them what is going on and what the various employees do.
These are just a handful of ideas, there is so much that bank can do to welcome kids into the branch. Some banks, like PNC are already on to this
. Maybe I am asking a lot, and I know that I am not typical. Some parents open accounts for the kids when they are little babies (I did this too) so this scenario wouldn't apply. Other accounts are simply going to be opened online. Most banks in Canada don't yet support online account opening, so the branch is where it's at. I was really hoping that the branch experience was going to hook my kids. It certainly didn't hook this parent.