business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

A funny thing happened on my son’s way to college. He got a lesson in banking, which in turn provides a lesson to all of us.

Now before you read any further, think for a second about how little an 18-year-old really has to do with a bank these days. The odds are that the overwhelming portion of his banking will be performed via machines, either ATMs or on-line banking. In so many ways, a bank is a completely faceless and useless building.

In my house, we don’t think that any more. And it’s all because of a little book provided by the bank aimed at introducing college students (and other young adults) to the world of banking. By that I don’t mean high finance, subprime loans or credit card fees. (I still have many problems with banks, as you can tell.) Rather, the book provided simple details on topics including:

• How to write a check.
• How to balance you checking account.
• How to understand interest—both paid to you and to the bank.

Basically it was a compilation of simple, clear and important stuff to know and all written in a way that anyone could understand and use. It got me thinking about why supermarkets don’t have a similar book.

In contrast, think for a second about the supermarket. In truth, it’s one form of retailing that young adults will likely have to deal with, unlike the banks. On-line shopping is still embryonic, which means that even the most inept home cook (college-aged boys fall heavily into that group) might have to visit them from time to time. So why don’t we turn this into opportunity? What’s more, we know they’ll have to eat and perhaps that means they will actually cook. Once again, opportunity is knocking.

Think of all the useful skills we could so easily detail. There could be easy lessons on how to properly pick produce; 10 simple meals that anyone can make, even with limited cooking appliances; simple supermarket terms that everyone should understand; even safe food handling tips or guidance in making better nutritional choices.

Again, nothing fancy, but all completely essential…just like at the bank.

Now I’m sure some of you out there are saying this is ridiculous idea. After all, you might say, aren’t kids learning this stuff at home from their parents? Well, the answer is NO!

We know from painful experience that some things aren’t getting taught at home or in the schools any more. Home economics is off the curriculum in most places and, sadly, many young adults don’t have a parent who understands banking, cooking, or many other essential skills. We don’t have to make value judgments, we just have to help.

A simple book of tips and guidance would turn the newest shoppers into better shoppers and then the benefits multiply. Budget challenged young adults might find out how easily they can prepare certain meals and might actually start finding reasons to cook more because they’ll begin to know how to do it. Young adults might appreciate the help with current issues like understanding what a “trans fat” is or how to avoid food-borne illness. Through education they may grow to trust us and rely on us more, which can only mean good things in the future.

And then there’s the other benefit that parents picking up this book for their kids might actually learn a thing or two themselves and might also appreciate the goodwill and act on it in their shopping.

If nothing else, there’s no way we can’t produce something more useful and relevant than banks. There’s an old joke that whenever you see a banker jump out a window, jump after him or her. It means there must be lots of money in the street.

Well, get jumping. The banks have gotten this one right.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@mnb.grocerywebsite.com .

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