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Independent

If financial institutions are going to pay pifflingly low interest rates on 'junior' savings accounts, children will just buy sweets instead

John Cradden

If your seven or eight- year- old heeded the advice not to blow their entire stash of Holy Communion cash on whatever it is they're into, then you might be wondering how to help them build a good savings habit. 

If you are, I hope your motivation is higher than mine was. I looked into options for children's savings accounts last week for my now nine- year- old and ended up feeling rather underwhelmed. 

Worse still, I struggled to get her even remotely interested.

I naively assumed that banks would be falling over themselves to incentivise the customers of the future. Get 'em young and all that. Not a bit of it. 

When you open a Junior Saver Account with AIB, for instance, they'll dispatch the 'Savings Gang' -Lolly, Bob, Mr Dough, Richie, Bucks and Quids. Will they zap your kids' eyes with a special mind-altering laser and sow the seeds of a proper savings habit? No, they'll get a free 'Savings Gang' moneybox.

It's hard to believe in this digital age that piggy banks are still offered as freebies. At least Bank of Ireland dares to be different with a free branded back-pack. On its website, Ulster Bank does have an online money- saving game and a facility to "print out fun stuff" (basically colouring- in shapes and an origami version of Henri), but that's as far as it goes.

However, AIB does at least offer a half- decent interest rate at 2.26pc, followed by EBS at 2pc. The rest don't seem to be even bothering to get out of bed in this regard. Ulster Bank pays 1.5pc, Permanent TSB pays 0.65pc on its Child Safari Saver, but Bank of Ireland's Youngsaver account pays just 0.25pc - a rate they haven't touched since 2013. 

Credit Unions are another alternative, but generally speaking it's not as if they offer anything aimed at attracting interest from the kids themselves. 

Simon Moynihan of Bonkers.ie is equally underwhelmed by the banks' interest in attracting young customers. "Today's children are what the tech industry called 'digital natives', but you wouldn't know it to look at some of the child saver accounts available right now," he said.

 "Some banks don't even have online access for child savers and offer only paper statements. Others do offer online access but it's not transactional and only available via a linked parent account. 

Instead, it's all tired incentives centring around piggy banks and the like. It's not the 1970s anymore, he said. If banks are serious about bringing kids on board as customers, they need to move online to encourage sensible money management.

"Banks should look at more ways to enable kids to save online, where pocket money can be deposited to a kids account and spent up to a limit every week, with limits set by parents," says Moynihan. "Kids should have easy access to online account information, and all parents should be able to monitor their accounts."

In the same way that piggy banks made banking a tangible thing for the kids of 20- 30 years ago, online banking is very much the 21st century equivalent to engaging kids in the basics of money management. It has revolutionised adult banking in a big way so there's no excuse not to do the same for kids.

At a time when our collective efforts at improving financial literacy and education across the board are under scrutiny, there's no excuse for the banks to be complacent about kids. 

But if they do decide to really get down with the kids, let's hope they take it serious, as kids these days are not easily fooled. After all, if you're going to pay pifflingly low interest rates like 0.25pc on a 'junior' regular savings account, then the chances are the kids will just rather buy sweets, games or phone credit instead. 

It's hard to believe in this digital age that piggy banks are still offered as freebies by banks looking to attract junior savers.

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