A hands-on program gives young students a unique opportunity to learn about financial literacy and acquire useful life skills.

“What most people think of when they think of financial literacy is someone in a suit at a school talking about saving your money,” said Robert Ryks, branch manager of the 118 Avenue ATB Financial. It’s a world away from the experience that the young people who participate in the Junior ATB program have.

Ryks works with students in Grades 4 through 6 at Delton School, where Junior ATB opens in the first week of December. It’s a year-long program that runs biweekly during lunch hours.

“We empower students. It’s different from standard financial literacy education; it’s peer-to-peer and hands-on. It’s a real bank,” Ryks explained. “The branch is opened by us, but the bank is run by the students, everyone from the greeter to the CEO, a marketing department, and a liaison with teachers, the principal, and parents.”

Gabriel Lippiatt-Long, 12 years old and now a graduate of the program at King Edward Academy, joined in order to have something different to do at recess and lunch.

“You set up in a classroom, and I would sit at a desk and deal with people’s money. Something I really enjoyed about it was it taught me how to be responsible with money, and there’s a prize at the end. It’s fun,” said Lippiatt-Long.

It’s fun, but that doesn’t mean students don’t take it seriously. Participants apply for positions and then go through an interview and hiring process. Ryks runs the board meetings at Delton School, and he has been impressed at the participants’ abilities.

“We think of them as children, but they come prepared. They apply to the job openings, we set up a board of directors, marketing, and CEO. They come through the entire interview process. Once the board is in place, they hold board meetings no different from any business. They give presentations of their duties and accomplishments and set goals. They’re intelligent and ready to work.”

Students learn about handling cash (and even cheques!), but they also develop skills in customer service, presentations, and note-taking. Anyone can come in and open an account (kids need a parent’s permission), and there is no charge until students are 18. But ultimately, the focus is on what they do with their accounts.

“The goal is not to acquire customers. We hope that they’re learning about saving, and we provide an introduction to saving and financial literacy skills to get them thinking about what they do with the money, what they’re saving for,” said Ryks.

Lippiatt-Long said he doesn’t see himself taking up a career at a bank, but Ryks explained the gains are more than financial for students employed at Junior ATB.

“Personally, I’ve seen some develop the personal skills—from an introverted student becoming CEO and becoming a leader in the school.”

It’s an experience that will help them regardless of where they apply those skills.

“I would love to see a CEO of Junior ATB become CEO of ATB and become my boss. But really, just seeing them take care of their own funds and saving is making a difference,” said Ryks.

Schools can contact ATB Financial if interested in the program.

Featured Image: Junior ATB helps students gain financial literacy skills. | Supplied