Studies show that young Americans, 18-29 years old, owe $1 trillion in debt. The main factor driving this debt is student loans, this includes auto loans, credit cards, mortgages and other forms of consumer credit. While $1 trillion is a hefty financial obligation for a young population, generations before face a similar reality: Americans age 40-49 have the highest amount of consumer debt with $3.4 trillion and those heading into retirement at 60-69 still owe $2 trillion.
Accumulating financial knowledge through trial and error, living to borrow and not having the ability to accumulate enough emergency savings are a few of the harmful money practices that have been passed down through generations. Most people don’t get an education in financial literacy, either at home or at school, although it’s one of the most important life lessons. Access to a foundational knowledge of finances, personal money management and wealth preservation is imperative for all.
After 9 years in investment banking and 4.5 years in forensic accounting in both the U.K. and American markets, Jatali Bellanton, Founder of Kids Who Bank, left the corporate world to achieve a new purpose. Pivoting in a new direction, she leveraged her minor in Child Psychology and years of experience in the financial industry to help the young and ambitious gain the business knowledge needed to build a successful career out of doing what they love most.
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Working with schools globally, Bellanton makes it a point to include marginalized communities. Kids Who Bank also has a finance curriculum which has been completed in 217 schools nationwide, including 15 colleges. The organization teaches a range of topics including credit, economics, e-commerce and discovering profitable ideas.
“Our goal of financial literacy… it’s not just here in America but we believe it is an issue to be solved worldwide,” Bellanton says. One such country she has focused on is Ghana, West Africa where she is currently building its first Youth Art Museum. It will host programs building the vocational skills of local youth in fields like: E-commerce, robotics, coding, sound engineering and art. It has been a journey which has created supporters like Ghana’s Ambassador to the USA, H.E Dr. Barfuor Adjei-Barwuah, who believes, “It is important to build alliances with programs like Kids Who Bank’s initiative to improve the socio economic status of our future leaders.” And other leaders like NaNa Asamani VII, of the Royal State of Akwemu, Eastern Region of Ghana who having lived in both Ghana and the U.K. believes financial literacy is attached to the well being of the whole African renaissance that is upon us.
Here, Bellanton shares why getting our nation to a point of sustainable financial health begins with educating our youth.
Knowledge is Power
Bellanton learned from experience that it is never too early to start. She grew up in a household where one parent mismanaged money and the other was financially savvy. At the age of 8 years old, Bellanton asked her father to teach her everything he knew about money. His advice inspired a desire to learn more about the market, real estate, portfolios, startups and venture capitalism. This empowered mindset is what led her to investment in her first property by the age of 10 years old. At 16, Bellanton would start her career in investment banking as a paid intern, “I was in a room with people who were predominantly in their 30s and 40s and I was usually the youngest. I would leave school and go straight to work because I knew this was something I was passionate about.” she recalls.
The advice from her father at a young age created a new legacy. Giving the advantage to bypass the cyclical impact of being left debt, generation after generation. Bellanton was instead in the position to provide an inheritance of healthy finances to those after her.
Set Foundations for a Better Future
Stemming from a desire to pass on financial knowledge to her son and other youth in a fun, story-formatted way, Kids Who Bank teaches both youth and adults worldwide how to make informed and effective decisions about their money. “It is a one-stop shop for teaching financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and anti-bullying skills,” Bellanton says, “In a world where everyone is a consumer, we are creating an environment where you can actually thrive and not be on the bad end of the financial spectrum.”
Believing it is never too early to learn, a key area of focus for Bellanton is marketing trends such as toys, clothes and sneakers that children are consistently exposed to. “It’s about getting them on a healthy track and being conscious of where they’re putting their money, how they spend it and how to multiply it.” Her advice is to start with teaching them how to be conscious of their spending habits early and how to manage money earned from their allowance or part-time job, “It’s important to set them on the right path so they can have the choice to become millionaires in their 20s.” she says.
Teach an Abundant and Enterprising Mindset
Often counted out by society and school administrators as being unable to learn and retain financial information, Bellanton is a voice advocating for the readiness of youth in underserved communities. Along with teaching financial knowledge, she helps to encourage their enterprising ideas. When there are very few wealthy kids of color you can think, it is difficult to imagine a financially abundant future for yourself. “These youths have some of the best entrepreneurial ideas I’ve come across,” she says. Yet, some of them do not realize it or believe in themselves. She motivates them to re-think their self-talk and has been heard saying things like “you’re probably sitting on a million great ideas but you need to believe in yourself” and “why wait until you’re 18-21 years old to even start tapping into your potential when you should be starting now.” The number of people who need this reinforcement lead to adding positive affirmations to her curriculum with the goal of helping them envision their potential success.
A part of helping them to see the possibilities is her launch of the Kidpreneur Awards Gala. It honors enterprising youth and philanthropists as well as adults who are creating ladders. “I created a platform where every child, celebrity or not, can be recognized for doing amazing things in their community,” she says. The event has celebrated numerous youth such as a 7 year-old who made $100,000 selling tutus and a group of successful young real-estate investors aged 5-14yrs old. Bellanton’s dreams for the next generation exceed beyond borders. Her journey illustrates that all great success stories begin with a positive mindset.