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Days are numbered for Queensland school banking programs

Following a CHOICE Shonky for CBA's Dollarmites program and a damning ASIC report, Queensland follows the ACT and Victoria and bans school banking.

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Last updated: 26 April 2021
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Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • CHOICE gave CBA's $10 billion Dollarmites program a Shonky in 2018
  • A 2019 ASIC paper put school banking programs on notice, and its final 2020 report concluded they're not operating in the best interest of students
  • Victoria, the ACT and Queensland have imposed school banking bans. CHOICE calls on all states and territories to do the same 

A year after CHOICE handed a Shonky award to Commonwealth Bank's 'Dollarmites' school banking program in 2018, ASIC released a paper that further substantiated what we'd been saying for years – it's nothing more than a marketing scheme aimed at locking in customers from the earliest possible age.

When we gave CBA the 2018 Shonky, Dollarmites had been running for nearly 90 years and had around 346,000 active participants.

In our subsequent submission to ASIC's full review of school banking programs, we revealed that Dollarmites had used bank-branded marketing to promote the virtues of credit cards to Year 3 students.

[School banking programs] fail to effectively disclose that a strategic objective of these programs is customer acquisition.

CBA has long pitched Dollarmites as a benevolent financial literacy initiative, but ASIC found little evidence that it teaches kids to be better at saving money.

School banking lands long-term customers

Dollarmites has turned many primary school students into long-term CBA customers. The CBA-branded giveaways – including banking wallets, smartphone apps and crossword puzzles – have been a big part of the lure.

In 2019, 46% of Australians had opened their first bank account with CBA and 34% still had their first account, according to research conducted by CHOICE. 

ASIC's final report on the issue, released in December 2020, doubled down on its earlier findings and concluded that school banking programs "fail to effectively disclose that a strategic objective of these programs is customer acquisition".

Now banned in Victoria, the ACT and Queensland

Nearly a century after the $10 billion Dollarmites program was first launched, the ACT committed to a school banking ban in February 2021 (to take effect from July this year) and Victoria moved to ban all school banking programs in November 2020 (which took effect at the beginning of this year).

"Victorian students deserve high quality financial literacy, free from commercial interests," the state's Minister for Education James Merlino said at the time.

[The ban] is in the best interests of our students

Queensland education minister Grace Grace 

Now Queensland has followed suit and will ban school bank programs as of 31 July this year (when the school term ends and the state's contract with CBA expires).

Citing ASIC's 2020 report, Queensland education minister Grace Grace said the ban "is in the best interests of our students," adding that "our schools are now giving them skills to help manage their money responsibly while being cybersafe and avoiding the potential pitfalls modern technology can bring".

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ASIC found that school banking programs do not teach kids to be better at saving money.

CHOICE calls for Australia-wide ban

In our submission to the regulator on the issue, we drew on the input of over 500 teachers, parents and community members who helped expose the shonkyness of school banking programs in general and Dollarmites in particular.

Following the December 2020 ASIC report, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, IMB and South West Credit vowed to wind up their school banking programs.

But Dollarmites remains the biggest school banking program by far, with about 92% market share. 

"Commonwealth Bank has had a free ride in our schools for over 90 years, signing up customers for life and all the debt that comes with it", says CHOICE banking expert Patrick Veyret, adding that CBA "should cut their losses, dump Dollarmites and donate to independent financial education programs instead."

There's no place for multi-billion dollar financial corporations, especially those with a rap sheet as long as Commonwealth Bank, in our schools

CHOICE banking expert Patrick Veyret

"There's no place for multi-billion dollar financial corporations, especially those with a rap sheet as long as Commonwealth Bank, in our schools," Veyret continued.

"It's heartening to see Victoria, the ACT and now Queensland act on banning predatory school bank marketing. It's time for Dollarmites to call it a day and the rest of the country to follow. It's only a matter of time before the other states and territories act on this marketing program targeted at Australian kids."

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