The Bank of Lancaster and Lancaster Middle School in Kilmarnock are investing in economic literacy in the Northern Neck by joining forces to support another successful season of the Bright Futures School Bank. This is a unique financial enterprise patronized and managed by students who are supervised and trained by the bank. In its eighth year of operation, the award-winning student bank is run by an enthusiastic group of seventh and eighth graders and is the first of its kind in the area.
“Community banking is all about helping people, and this includes helping young people understand money management,” said Hazel Farmer, senior vice president and consumer education director for Bank of Lancaster. The bank has partnered with numerous financial and educational organizations over the years to help promote personal economics to youth, especially in the Northern Neck.
“Bank of Lancaster has been a leader in this area, making financial literacy a priority for many years,” said Bruce Whitehurst, president and CEO of the Virginia Bankers Association. “This is a great example of how banks make significant investments in their communities each and every day.”
“The school bank has been an industrious and rewarding partnership for Bank of Lancaster,” Farmer said. About nine years ago, Farmer was approached with the idea by LMS teacher Sue Forrester, now retired. Farmer and Forrester both agreed that students need to understand the importance of learning to save and how to handle credit responsibly. Farmer and Bank of Lancaster eagerly accepted the challenge and with the help of several staff members, the first school bank in the Northern Neck was established: Bright Futures School Bank.
“Managing our financial lives is never simple, not even for us as adults,” Farmer said. “We have to balance what we make with what we spend, pay our bills on time, borrow when we need to, put something aside for the future and guard our financial privacy — truly a balancing act. Statistics have shown that the average American family spends upwards of $1.22 for every dollar it makes and those spending patterns are being transferred to the next generation. If we want financially responsible citizens tomorrow, we need to start today,” Farmer said.
The Virginia Council on Economic Education reports that “an economically and financially literate citizenry is critical to the success and well-being of our nation. Economic and financial literacy will prepare students to become informed consumers, productive employees, innovative entrepreneurs, prudent savers and investors, reasoned voters, and effective decision makers.”
Starting a school bank turned out to be no small task. Along with establishing a suitable infrastructure, organizers had to create and implement a business plan which could be managed by the students. Bank of Lancaster has shared its model with other bankers across the country seeking to establish school banks. At the beginning of the school year, job descriptions are posted for a branch manager, tellers and marketing associates. Students in both seventh and eighth grades are eligible to apply for the positions. They each complete a job application, which has to be signed by a parent or guardian and signed by a teacher sponsor. Once the school has collected the applications, Farmer and the principal interview the candidates.
“I have been extremely impressed with these young people and how well they conduct themselves during the interview process,” she said.
Once selected, the new student bankers spend a field day at the real bank in Kilmarnock, where they learn how a teller line operates, about careers in banking, the importance of savings, and how to obtain and maintain good credit. In addition, they meet with a human resource officer who teaches them about privacy and confidentiality. The students even sign a code of ethics. The young bankers are outfitted with a Bright Futures shirt, complete with Bank of Lancaster logo and the student-designed school bank emblem, which features a burning candle and the tag line “Lighting the way to a brighter future.” The name, Bright Futures Bank, was chosen from among 500 entries in a school-wide contest. The winner was then fourth grader, Kayleigh Webster.
Not long after field day, students begin their training program at the school bank, where they learn how to handle transactions on lap top computers, how to verify their teller drawer before opening and then how to balance their drawer after the bank closes. They learn debits and credits, cash-ins and cash-outs, and all customer receipts are validated. The marketing associate promotes the school bank through posters and announcements to the student body. The branch manager works with the school bank supervisor to coordinate work schedules. If students cannot work the bank on their assigned day, they are obligated to arrange for coverage. Running the bank requires commitment from the school and all the student bankers. This year’s bank operation has nine students and is supervised Brenda Pittman in the guidance department.
The school bank only has savings accounts, and an initial deposit of one dollar is required to open an account. Bank of Lancaster gives each student that initial dollar. Additional deposits can be as little as 50 cents. To encourage new customers, the school bank makes a game of opening an account. The prospect draws a dollar from a big bowl. If the serial number on the dollar drawn matches a list of serial numbers recorded by employees at the real bank, the student wins an additional ten dollars for the new savings account. Students are allowed to withdraw no more than five dollars from their school bank account. If they have saved for a more expensive purchase like a new soccer ball or a bike, they must visit one of the bank’s branches to withdraw a larger amount of money.
Bank of Lancaster rewards savers, too. Periodically throughout the year the bank will identify students who make impressive numbers of deposits and reward them with extra cash for their accounts or gift certificates for ice cream.
Bright Futures bank has drawn a wide circle of support throughout the Northern Neck and beyond. On hand for the grand opening were representatives from the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., the Virginia Bankers Association in Richmond and the Virginia State Chamber of Commerce, along
with many directors of Bank of Lancaster and staff from the Lancaster County school system.
The Bright Futures School Bank received the 2009 Excellence in Education Award from Virginia Tech. The program was recognized by the School of Education for its quality and significant contribution to education in Virginia.
The Bank’s financial literacy efforts go beyond the school bank. In March, Bank of Lancaster participated in statewide Bank Day, hosting 18 high school seniors from throughout the Northern Neck. The Virginia Bankers Association partners with banks across the Commonwealth for this program, which gives students the opportunity to learn more about the banking industry and the vital roles banks play in their communities. April brings “Teach Children to Save Day,” when representatives from the bank visit nearly every elementary school in the Northern Neck and talk to more than 500 students. This nationwide program seeks to help students discover the rewards of saving for something special, and to understand the difference between wants and needs. In October, bank representatives participate in “Get Smart About Credit Day,” another nationwide program aimed at helping high school students understand credit. For 20 plus years, bank volunteers have partnered with Cople Elementary School’s Sponsors for Success program, where they have the opportunity to share a financial literacy program on a monthly basis.
Among the bank’s many economic awareness programs is a particular favorite, The Reality Store, sponsored by the Virginia Cooperative Extension Agencies. “It’s a wonderful life-lesson in how quickly your weekly paycheck can slide through your fingers,” Farmer said. “It’s a real dose of reality.” Students either select or are assigned a career and are given an estimated salary. Then they are assigned to make life decisions about the costs of housing, food, transportation, children and pets, among other needs and wants. Then they go through the reality store to pay for their choices. “This is a great educational experience for the young people and even makes them think about career choices and getting a good education,” Farmer said. “I’ve even heard several young people say they think they will just live with their parents forever,” she added.
“Our industry has fought hard to get personal economics back into classrooms,” she said. The 2015 graduating class is the first class in many years that is required to complete a personal economics class prior to graduation.
“I have always been proud to be a community banker and proud to be a part of an organization like Bank of Lancaster,” Farmer said. “My 45-year history with this company lets me say without any doubt that our marketing message about ‘helping people improve the quality of their life’ is true. It’s what we do as community bankers.”
Bank of Lancaster opened on November 3, 1930, in what was then the village of Kilmarnock, where it has its headquarters today. The bank has nine locations in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula area and 3 locations in Richmond.
“I’ve often said our founding fathers had a lot of guts to start a bank at the onset of the Depression; but their goal was to make sure the local businesses stayed open, the farmers and the watermen could get through the hard times, and friends and neighbors had a safe place to put their money. That is still our mission today and all of us at Bank of Lancaster are proud to have the opportunity to serve our friends and neighbors, and especially to share financial literacy programs with students in our Northern Neck.”