A few days ago I had a phone call from a researcher from the BBC. He was working on a programme, he said, about money laundering, and wanted to talk to “an expert in investigation”. Ah well, I explained, I am not an investigator: I am on the preventive side of things – but he had gone. To be fair, prevention is a lot less sexy than investigation; you never see James Bond talking to a group of parents about how to stop their children growing up to be monomaniacal madmen with a mountaintop lair, staff in colourful jump-suits and a deafening line in klaxons. But when it comes to AML, it’s all about prevention.
And so it was with great sadness that I read recently that the Guernsey government is to stop funding for a programme that teaches young people financial skills, such as budgeting. As we all know, the earlier you can ram information into a kid’s head, the longer it stays there. Have you ever known a child to forget key phrases such as “I want…”, “it’s not fair” and “noooooo!”? All learned by the time they’re three, and retained forever. Of course schools have a large curriculum that they have to cover, but life skills – emotional and sexual health, and an understanding of money – surely deserve their place. Guernsey schools will now have to rely on their own staff to teach financial skills – but that’s still streets ahead of my own experience, as my school taught me nothing about money (beyond my 80-times table: chips in the canteen cost 80 cents a bag, and we were always buying in bulk). And (shameful though it is to admit) I still struggle to understand the various flavours of mortgage and their implications for my comfortable old age.
Teaching children to respect money and how it works – compound interest, credit, overdrafts, loans and so on – will make them more responsible citizens, better equipped to live within their means. Fewer people in debt means fewer people turning to crime to escape that debt. And people who know what good money management looks like will be more likely to spot dodgy money movements such as money laundering. If you don’t agree, go and watch “The Big Short” at the cinema, and see what happens when a whole generation has lost the ability to understand the meaning of money. And don’t jump when the alligator appears.