“Cha-cha-choices that we make can change the path that life takes,” goes the refrain of one of Cha-Ching’s hits.

This band isn’t producing platinum singles or selling out stadiums, but it has an increasingly important message to share with the world: helping children learn about money management. Through the power of song, six cartoon musicians teach four crucial concepts – earn, save, spend, and donate.

It is part of a televised music video series developed by Prudence Foundation, Prudential’s regional community investment arm, as part of their Cha-Ching programme. Broadcast on Cartoon Network to over 34 million children across Asia, with a further 400,000 reached via various school outreach programmes, Cha-Ching is addressing a pressing need in the region: financial literacy for the young.

Children learn from watching the characters navigate daily financial scenarios – and the consequences of poor decisions. For instance, one character spends all of her birthday money, leaving none left to attend a concert with her friends.

In 2011, a study revealed how only 13 percent of parents believed their children possessed good money management. “We believe financial education should be taught early on as childrens’ behaviours are being shaped,” said Marc Fancy, Executive Director of the Prudence Foundation. “Financial literacy is a lifelong skill that can pave the way to a potentially brighter and more secure future.”

Money smarts from an early age

The world that children are growing up in today is complex. Research shows that nearly one in four primary schoolchildren in the UK have used their parents’ credit card to make purchases. Elsewhere, a 2017 US survey found that the number of 8-14 year-olds with access to credit cards has quadrupled in just five years. This could mean that they start getting into credit card debt at a much earlier age.

In Singapore, where digital forms of payment are becoming more prevalent, teaching children about the value of money may become an interesting challenge in the future when it exists only virtually.

Here, the primary school age group is crucial: studies show that the sweet spot for developing responsible lifelong financial habits is around the age of six or seven.

Getting schools and teachers involved

The educational aspect of Cha-Ching extends far beyond the TV screen. It employs a multi-media approach spanning online, social and mobile media as well as on-ground partnerships to get its message across. Its school contact programme has benefitted over 300,000 children across Asia.

The foundation has also partnered with non-profit Junior Achievement Asia Pacific to develop course materials and structured lesson plans for primary school teachers.

Since then, the Cha-Ching Curriculum has benefited almost 100,000 children across Asia. The curriculum is being taught in ten schools in Singapore, and the Ministries of Education in the Philippines and Indonesia have officially endorsed the programme. Hundreds of teachers across these countries are being trained using these materials.

The programme is already seeing impact in this region. An assessment by NGO Knowledge Community revealed that Grade 2 students in the Philippines were able to grasp financial literacy over a ten-month period, ABS-CBNnews.com reported.

Following its success in Asia, the programme has now gone global. The foundation has developed similar programmes in US, UK, Europe and Africa.

Gamification to engage kids in Singapore

Gamification is another innovative approach to get the message across. In July last year, the foundation launched Cha-Ching Challenge, a mobile app featuring activities for the whole family to get on board the financial literacy journey.

Singapore has previously trialed a gamification programme that teaches teenagers financial skills through a zombie game, where they have to make decisions on how to gather resources and survive in a city filled with the infected.

The game, Safehouse, was designed to impart investment principles: being risk-aware, not risk-averse; thinking long-term, not short term; and thinking of value, not just price, says game designer Kuik Shiao-Yin, who is also Nominated Member of Parliament of Singapore and Director of The Thought Collective.

Over the years, Cha-Ching has been recognised globally for its efforts in promoting financial literacy. In Asia, Cha-Ching received the Award for the Most Innovative Financial Education Programme by the Institute of Financial Planners Hong Kong.

In an increasingly cashless society, it is more important than ever for kids to understand the value of money and savings. The idea behind Cha-Ching is really quite simple: start them young, and start them right.

This article was produced in partnership with Prudential Singapore.

Images from Prudential Singapore and Thinkscape SG