Learning about finance
Businessman, entrepreneur and, yes, accountant, Tim Hill thinks a new app developed with the support of The Electronic and Software Technologies Network for Wales, might not only help students of Business Studies, but also open up a new area for teaching more general life skills to young people.
Lesson #1: keep an open mind
Looking back, I realise I have always been learning. After studying Economics, I had to come down to earth and learn the discipline of detail as a young accountant at KPMG in the 70s and 80s. Accountancy of course has a certain reputation, but for me it opened doors and as I moved from audit to audit, I met a myriad of fascinating thinkers and entrepreneurs attempting, if not the impossible, then certainly something like it. I learned above all else to keep an open mind, and that things are not always as they first appear.
Lesson #2: reflect
It wasn’t long, however, before I got the travel bug. I just wanted to see what was beyond my own horizons, both geographically and professionally. South America beckoned, and after a few months travelling I arrived in Jamaica where I learned my next crucial lesson. I got a position as Financial Controller of a large Caribbean-based sports and leisure hotel. Nine very unsuccessful months followed as I imposed my way of doing things on a large team I did not understand.
My epiphany came during a visit to the Mayan ruins of Palenque. I don’t know what it was about that place, but I realised that instead of expecting everything to be right and on time I decided to accept that things would be wrong and I would work with staff to ensure things were correct going forwards.
In the years that followed during a lifetime of working with a wide variety of businesses this approach has always been important for me.
Fear of numbers.
One thing I have recognised is that people seem afraid of numbers and that there is a dramatic lack of financial awareness not only among students, but also in many employees, managers and directors in all sectors of industry and commerce. In fact the National Numeracy Charity say that £20 billion a year is being lost annually in the UK alone because of a widespread lack of numeracy. I believe that the fundamentals of finance and knowing about basic accounts should be a life skill for everyone, just like swimming and riding a bike.
Brick by brick
In most of the companies I have worked in, I needed to help people build their confidence in their ability to work with numbers. The first step became a game – using Lego bricks to teach the basics of accounts without using the words like “debit” and “credit”.
I first used this approach in the Care Sector, and as a result one care home saved over 30% of their admin costs. I then used it with a Social Enterprise organisation running a supermarket, with young people up to the age of 21 who hadn’t been in employment, then with Italian students wanting to study accounts and finally with MBA and HNC students.
Lesson #3: keep networking
I became convinced if they lost their mistrust of numbers, even younger students could also play this game successfully. In my home town of Wrexham I had the opportunity to test my belief with a group of mixed ability 13 and 14 year olds. After 40 minutes, they had grasped “direct costs”, “indirect costs”, “margins” and “bottom line”. They were even able to produce simple P&L accounts. All with Lego. I had no doubt there was something very powerful about this game – but I had no real idea how to take it forward or develop it.
Being vaguely aware that it might have something to do with creating an online version, I jumped at the chance to make a 5 minute presentation to the The Electronic and Software Technologies Network for Wales (ESTNet), where Richard, who was less than half my age understood immediately what was needed and the concept’s potential for supporting businesses and students by developing an App.
Thanks to the skills and vision of members of his staff, we have now produced two Apps for both Android and iPads.
Demystifying the secret garden
The first App demystifies the secret garden of accountancy and teaches the fundamentals of Profit and Loss from sales income, direct costs, overheads and margins. These are technical terms to terrorise the uninitiated – but the app treats them as they should be – as aspects of a game to be played. Once you’re on top of Profit and Loss, the more advanced app helps people understand even trickier things like financial ratios.
Versions for schools
There are now versions for schools, which have built in systems to assess understanding and track student progress. These versions can be customised with the school logo, but are not curriculum specific, and can be used in a flipped learning approach on devices young people are using every day. If you’d like to know more, I’d love to hear from you!
Tim has a partnership with Rotary and The Rotary Foundation receives a percentage of any income from TFG towards the eradication of polio which is ratcheted up by Melinda and Bill Gates.
Basic store versions of the App. can be downloaded from Google and Apple via www.financial-game.com
Financial Game wins FSB Wales Celebrating Small Business Awards, 2018
The Financial Game beat off competition from across Wales to be named the winner in the Business and Product Innovation of the Year Award. Tim will now enter the Wall Street Journal 2018 Challenge to improve financial literacy for low to moderate incomes in the United States with support from LSU Innovation Park through their Soft Landing International Incubator programme.