14TH ANNUAL CHOICE
10 OCTOBER 2019
Commonwealth Bank Dollarmites
Shonky for a relentless marketing program targeted at young minds
There's a mite infestation in Australian schools, but not of the insect variety. These are 'Dollarmites', from the Commonwealth Bank's youth marketing scheme that mixes unchecked corporate power with primary schools. We think employing subversive sales tactics under the guise of youth education is a particularly pernicious act, and we've said in the past that the Dollarmites program should be banned outright.
It's not the only youth banking program in Australia, but Dollarmites has a particularly long tenure – nearly 90 years – and with around 346,000 active participants as of last year, it's also the largest. The program is offered in schools that receive a commission of $200 when the first student customer is signed up, and ongoing benefits depending on the number of students and the number of deposits each class member makes.
Some will say that more funding for schools is a good thing. After all, how bad can bank behaviour be? Unfortunately, the banking royal commission has provided many examples, and a Fairfax investigation recently revealed that thousands of Commonwealth Bank (CBA) staff fraudulently manipulated Dollarmites youth accounts for personal financial gain. While additional funding may have short-term appeal, the cost of the relentless marketing is too high, especially when there are non-branded education programs like ASIC MoneySmart Teaching available.
Buying its way into the education system
It's the promise that children who join will receive "a range of fun, engaging materials to help them learn and encourage them to save" that has us really worried. Those materials include banking wallets, smartphone apps and crossword puzzles (where you can find your favourite banking words) and plenty of promotional items splashed in Commonwealth Bank yellow. Teachers and volunteer parents who run the program are tasked with facilitating the repeated use of CBA's banking products right from when children begin kindergarten. And they do a pretty good job of spruiking CBA's products (for free). The result, according to our 2017 survey, is that 84% of people got their first account with a big four bank (46% with CBA), and a third retain this account.
While most people would agree that letting a corporation buy its way directly into the education system is ludicrous, we still permit virtually unlimited access to young children from some of the worst big business offenders in the country.
The Commonwealth Bank promised to 'clean up' the program late last year, but there's no half measure for eradicating a Shonky Dollarmites infestation – it must be exterminated from the school environment entirely.