On the principle that one is never too young to learn about money, a leading insurance company has come up with an innovative plan to teach seven- to 12-year-olds the basics of financial literacy.
Using an "edutainment" approach, which seeks to make learning fun, specially-made three-minute cartoons, called Cha-Ching, will introduce key themes with songs, storylines and a distinctive cast of characters.
Broadcasts to seven markets in Asia are set to start in September during breaks between popular programmes on the Cartoon Network, and those behind the project are confident it can have a major positive impact for youngsters, parents and teachers.
"It is the only fully integrated multidimensional learning programme of its type in the region," says Julie Lyle, chief marketing officer for Prudential Corporation Asia. "Episodes will be animated and musical, with a message in the songs. There will also be online games, mobile applications and activity kits to help schools and parents teach key skills."
The basic message the creators want to get across is the importance of four fundamentals of money management: earn, spend, save and donate. To do this, a storyline might feature a character saving part of her weekly allowance to buy a bike. Another episode might subtly point out the difference between needs and wants. And information would be included to explain away uncertainties about where money actually comes from.
"Our research has shown that a lot of kids think you just go to an ATM to print money," Lyle says. "With original characters and stories that come to life as realistic experiences, we will focus on how to make responsible choices and why it is important to save."
The project, which represents a "significant" investment for Prudential, is seen as a logical extension of previous financial literacy programmes designed specifically for mothers and secondary school students. The company sees it very much as a corporate social responsibility initiative, not a marketing campaign, and is sensitive to avoiding any suggestion of targeting kids with a direct sales message.
"We are doing this as respectfully as possible, engaging teachers and parents, and have brought in some of the finest education experts who know how to teach vital skills to children in this age group," Lyle says.
Quality has also been the watchword for everything else involved in the production - notably, writing, animation, music, and voice artists. Each episode will initially be made in English - something parents across the region indicate they favour - though other languages may also be used in due course. Accompanying materials for use in schools will be tailored to local language needs.
To start with, a single 10-part series is planned. The intention, though, is to make the content fairly "timeless" but flexible enough to be updated or amended to maintain accuracy and interest.
"We believe this is a multi-year project," Lyle says. "The need for these skills will be continuous, but with changes in technology, children learn differently every six months, so our responsibility is to refresh the programmes and keep them relevant. The basic platform and message can stay the same, but ways to deliver will continue to evolve."
Initial feedback from test audiences has been enthusiastic, says Lyle. Kids quickly catch on to the personalities of the various characters. And parents across Asia, even if enjoying the benefits of increasing disposable incomes, see the sense in teaching financial realities and ideas of self-discipline from an early age.