HSBC publishes fairy tale to help children achieve financial independence

Would you read the kids a bedtime story from your bank?

Felicity Hannah
Friday 05 October 2018 12:47
Cinderella starts a business and Sleeping Beauty’s savings grow while she sleeps in the book
Cinderella starts a business and Sleeping Beauty’s savings grow while she sleeps in the book

Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother appears.

“You shall go to the ball, Cinderella,” she says, “but you don’t need to marry a prince to get away from all this…”

“Now you come to mention it,” says Cinderella, “I have always wanted to design sports shoes.”

Would you read your children a bedtime story commissioned by your bank?

Because one has just published a new “fairer” fairy tale that it hopes will help girls and boys aim for financial independence.

Almost two-thirds of girls say they “don’t understand money” compared with just half of boys the same age.

That is according to new research from HSBC that suggests the financial gender gap is well in place by age 10.

Girls were also less likely than boys to say they were good with their pocket money, at 43 per cent compared with 51 per cent.

And 34 per cent of parents with daughters said they avoid discussing money in front of their children, compared with just 24 per cent of parents with sons.

Fairer tales

The bank has collaborated with children’s author Emma Dodd to publish a new story: Fairer Tales: Princesses are doing it for themselves, which can be downloaded online and is set to be sent out to the nation’s primary schools.

In the book, Cinderella starts a business, Sleeping Beauty’s savings grow while she sleeps and Rapunzel chops off her hair to make a ladder for herself rather than a prince before redeveloping the tower with a bank loan.

It is fun and subversive even if it is not quite Frozen. But, while HSBC’s campaign is laudable, are parents really likely to read a book that’s being published by their bank?

And is one book enough to drown out the flood of information that delivers the opposite messages?

I shared the story with some friends who have young daughters and read it to my own sons too.

For some children, the message of the story was lost because they did not fully understand the traditional ideas it was subverting.

Rachael Richards read it to her seven-year-old, who wasn’t particularly moved: “I think the moral of the story was a bit beyond Olivia. She didn’t really relate to the princesses providing for themselves instead of relying on the prince. This could be a good thing – perhaps as she isn’t under the impression that the princesses were reliant on the men in the first place.”

But for Jill Smith’s older daughter Alexa, aged nine, the book’s message was powerful: “I liked that the princesses used their brains and cleverness to make their dreams come true,” Alexa says.

In fact, Jill was even able to use the ideas of saving pocket money and starting up businesses to discuss earning interest and taking out small business loans with her daughter.

“I love the nice car and they can have great holidays because they earn lots of money,” says Alexa. “I best get on and do my maths and reading so I can be them.”

Not all kids took quite such positive messages from the story. I read it to my seven-year-old son who says: “Why doesn’t Cinderella just marry the prince and then she’ll have lots of money to make her shoes with?”

Maybe he believes that privilege and brains play a significant role in success.

And some parents were suspicious of why a bank would be publishing a story. Andrew Lowe, who has twin daughters aged 10, read the book when we asked but says he wouldn’t normally consider reading them a book issued by a bank.

“I did read this to my girls and they actually really enjoyed it,” he says. “But I just can’t imagine downloading and reading a book from a bank normally. I even read it through first to make sure it wasn’t full of advertising.”

Youthful lessons

One story might provoke some good discussions and the portrayal of princesses and girls in stories is gradually changing.

But parents of girls and boys are more aware than ever that they play a role in helping their children develop sound financial behaviours.

A study commissioned by the Money Advice Service and carried out by behaviour experts at Cambridge University has shown that the money habits of adults are typically formed in childhood.

It found that by age seven, most children understand the basic concepts of money and are also capable of more complex behaviours such as planning ahead and delaying a decision.

However, children under eight have not developed an understanding of the difference between luxuries and necessities yet.

As the parent of three boys under eight who behave as if I am denying them food when I refuse to buy Lego Minifigs, I can definitely attest to the truth of that.

There are many ways that parents can help their children learn positive financial lessons, we covered several at the start of the summer holidays, but talking about money is probably one of the most important.

Yet the HSBC research suggests that girls in particular need financial conversations that will give them the confidence they need to make the most of their money as adults.

That lower confidence in the early years appears to translate into similar behaviours as adults; the latest Disposable Income Index shows that less than one in three women describe themselves as very or extremely confident when it comes to managing their finances, compared with almost half of men.

That mirrors HSBC’s research among primary school children. One surprising fact from the bank’s study is that parents are more likely to discuss money with boys than girls.

Almost two-thirds of boys had received a talk about money, compared with only half of girls the same age.

Perhaps it’s not just traditional fairy tales that are old fashioned and need to change.

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