UAE banks are taking initiatives to teach pupils about the true value of money by sending volunteers into classrooms and offering children special bank accounts.
Banks take the lead in nurturing the next generation of savers
Teaching children about money and how to save it is an important step towards their understanding of financial literacy. But it is the actual opening of a savings account with your child that truly marks a major milestone in their maturity and knowledge of how money works.
A savings account can teach children how to budget their money, as well as boost their confidence when they finally reach their savings goal. It can also help to shape the way they view and manage money as adults.
Shekhar Krishnamurthy, the head of retail assets and liabilities at Emirates NBD, says it's important to start the savings habit at a young age.
"We encourage children to be financially independent from a young age to prepare them for the complex world of adulthood and future finance," Mr Krishnamurthy says.
"Starting early ensures that children have a sound knowledge of financial management as well as having savings which act as a financial cushion during the crucial stages of education and initial career moves."
A Personal Finance straw poll of thirtysomethings reveals that bank loyalty can begin at an early age.
"I got a money box with my first account when I was seven. I'll probably bank with them for the rest of my life, which makes that money box a sound investment on their part," one respondent says.
"I chose my bank because they gave out left-handed cheque books when I was a teenager," says another. "And yes, I'm still with them now."
The world, of course, has changed since then and consumer loyalty has been rocked by the global economic crisis. Institutions can't afford to be complacent.
In the UAE, encouraging money wisdom in children is a growth area. Many local and international banks offer savings accounts for those under 18, held jointly with a parent.
Minimum opening balances range from zero to Dh5,000, with account holders benefitting from an annual or twice-yearly profit share.
Gone are the passbooks and money boxes of our youth, but banks are trying to appeal to a younger generation.
The National Bank of Umm al Qaiwain's Alwan account for children credits interest twice a year and gives holders the chance to win cash prizes.
Dubai Islamic Bank offers a free account with no minimum balance in a bid to establish a relationship with young savers.
Surprisingly, in a business and economics class for Year 11 students at Dubai International Academy in Emirate Hills, just one pupil has a UAE-based bank account.
"We have accounts in our own countries but not here," most of the students say.
"So where do you keep your money?" they are asked. "Do you get an allowance?"
"We spend it," they reply in amused unison.
"It disappears so fast," adds 16-year-old Tara Rajesh. "I'm expected to use just Dh100 a week. The thing is that you depend on your mum and dad until you are 18."
Pranav Chaudhary, also 16, says: "I have a 'bank account' with my dad and I get 10 per cent interest. I can make more money when it is in the 'bank' than when it's with me. If I get money for festivals and I give it to my parents, it's really hard to get it back."
Asked what they do if there is something expensive they want to buy, 15-year-old Xanita Saayman replies: "Sometimes I ask my parents for a loan."
But they all agree that asking for more is the last resort. Despite the lack of bank-account holders in the class, there is one who stands out as an entrepreneur.
"I fix people's internet connections and get paid for that, and I do babysitting", says 15-year-old Pepijn Joman. "Sometimes I do photo shoots, too. I try and keep Dh3,000 just in case there's something big I want to buy."
Iduna Van Engelen, 15, says she has to account for her spending to her parents.
"I have to write down all the things that I bought for my dad, and he pays me back for all my school stuff. Having a bank account would make it easier."
Undeniably, this is financial literacy in action: budgeting, borrowing, earning, saving and accounting - it's all there.
HSBC has invested heavily in engaging with young people in the UAE. Its Headstart account requires no minimum balance and levies no fees. It is held jointly with a parent and can operate in multiple currencies - ideal for expats who want to add contributions from relatives abroad.
Children over the age of 14 who have an HSBC Headstart account are also eligible for an ATM deposit card.
"At HSBC, we are keen to encourage the savings habit amongst the younger generation," says Shrat Kiyani, the head of Premier banking and wealth management.
"Parents need to instil financial awareness and responsibility in their children at a very early stage and the bank can help them by making the process attractive, easy and convenient for parents and children."
Partnered with Injaz-UAE, a non-profit business education organisation, HSBC's employees participate in a volunteer programme that takes them into schools to teach financial literacy to sixth graders.
Now entering its third year, Money and Me is taught at a handful of public schools, including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Model School for boys in Dubai.
In a class of 11 and 12 year olds, pupils jostle in for the first lesson of the day at 7.30am.
"Settle down," calls Badriya Nadheer, the HSBC volunteer, over their excited chatter. The lesson opens with good-hearted banter and they split into teams for a game. Each team forms a company and the aim is to make bank deposits, all the while remembering to donate to charity and pay their suppliers.
The class is noisy, but there's an intensity in the room. As the results are called in, there's a clear winner: Green City, the only team with a calculator.
"Let me see, come here," Ms Nadheer says. "You need to pay your staff," she says, smiling. "Everyone must pay salaries."
At the final reckoning, Green City is still the winner after the chief executive chooses to go without pay.
It is a good grounding in financial concepts. The boys talk comfortably about buying and selling, customers and business, banks and deposits.
In contrast to their older expatriate counterparts, all but one of them have UAE bank accounts.
"My father said, 'I will put money in for you every month'," says Abdullah Al Marri, 12.
"I want to spend a quarter of the money. Save the rest."
The boys go on to list charity and family as their other beneficiaries.
"I want a PlayStation," chips in Gahith Hassan, also 12 and who was the unpaid chief executive of Green City.
"I want a jet," says one.
"I want a palace," laughs another.
Do they worry about money?
"Yes. I worry that we might lose it," Abdullah says.
"I worry that I will lose my password," Gahith adds.
Joking aside, this worry is quite real. Hamda al Shamali, an Injaz-UAE volunteer and HSBC's manager for regional corporate sustainability, says there is a lack of awareness about managing money among young people.
"When I start teaching this class, I ask them how they manage their pocket money and they all say it is to be spent, not saved.
"When I was younger, we didn't have many monetary sources and did not have as many options for spending. We used to earn Dh5 as pocket money and save some of it.
"Nowadays, their pocket money has increased in some cases to more than Dh500 a month; their demands have increased as well.
"Many do worry about money; they worry that they'll have a reduced income in the future. We are trying to profile the real value of money."
Sulaf al Zu'bi, the chief executive of Injaz-UAE, is passionate about improving financial literacy among young people in the GCC.
"There are a number of different factors in the Arab world: perceptions of money, handling money and where money comes from," he says. "To a young kid in the GCC, money comes from dad or the ATM.
"There are three pillars supporting everything Injaz teaches: work readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Financial literacy underpins everything we do.
"I am going to make sure these young people have the skills, so that, for example, when Fatima in Egypt can't get a job, she can start up her own company."
Mr al Zu'bi wants to take the programme into all schools in the region.
"That's our dream. The challenge is getting people to commit. We began taking More Than Money into schools at the height of the economic crisis in Dubai. We have to create security for the future."