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Teaching young New Zealanders to be financially Savy


Thousands of young New Zealanders have been taught basic financial literacy because of a charitable trust that began life at the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Savy was initiated in 2008 by Velocity participants Shiva Gopalan, Lynn Lai, Akif Malik and Dipra Ray. The founders had seen how students (including themselves) had fallen into financial traps and were unprepared for financial life after secondary school. Class visits from banks left students disengaged because of how irrelevant the content was to their lifestyle. The concept of students teaching students was conceptualised and Savy was developed through the University of Auckland’s Velocity student entrepreneurship programme.

Since its beginnings Savy has expanded to run throughout Auckland and Wellington. In the last 11 years 60,000 secondary school students have participated in one of 2,400 workshops delivered within secondary schools, and over 250 university students have developed their leadership and teaching skills through facilitating workshops.

Savy’s business model takes into account turnover from graduation. Each year more university students are invited to take part as facilitators or join the leadership team. The structure ensures that Savy stays relevant and able to connect to students with modern vernacular around contemporary financial issues, such as students not understanding the actual costs of Afterpay. Savy’s programmes consist of modular workshops covering topics like Budgeting, Banking, Moving Out, Preparing for University, Apprenticeships, CV’s and Interviews, Debt, Credit Cards and Online Purchases, IRD and Tax Refunds, Kiwisaver, StudyLink and RealMe.

The original founders of Savy have gone on to become business leaders and entrepreneurs around the world, but regularly fly back to New Zealand to train each new cohort of Savy facilitators. Having gone through the Velocity programme and establishing Savy has provided an amazing career springboard for all involved. Shiva Gopalan says “After graduation, within a few months of work as a physiotherapist I designed a framework for ethical treatment which helped increase funding received by my organisation by millions, and within six months I was promoted to look after physiotherapy services for the whole organisation. The experience in Savy gave me the skills to critically analyse, to be confident in myself and lead people. Most importantly, I’ve become an effective educator of my team members. Working with Savy also gave me more perseverance and determination”.

The current generation of Savy student leaders exhibit potential that is being unleashed too. Dhilesh Vasan is a conjoint commerce and science student at the University of Auckland who is currently serving as the CEO of Savy. He is passionate about educating young people to be financially literate.

“It is concerning that there are Year 13 students in New Zealand high schools that cannot comprehend a budgeting table. At a workshop I delivered last year instead of focussing on the budgeting concepts planned, my partner and I needed to spend 20 minutes walking through the simple budget template. I found this alarming as these students would be facing the real world the following year without a solid comprehension of numeracy. I couldn’t help but worry about the financial decisions that they would make in the future without realising the consequences of those decisions”.

When breakthroughs in financial education are made, it is uplifting. “At one workshop a Year 11 student approached me afterwards and asked what the current inflation rate is. He then asked what the bank interest rates were. Following this he made the insightful statement that there would be no point in putting money in a bank account if the bank interest rate was lower than the inflation rate. There have been many more small interactions like this and I relish every single one as it proves that some students are thinking about their finances already”.

Savy continues to grow and the leadership team are looking at introducing new tech tools to incorporate into the programme. At its core Savy will continue to revolve around genuine human connection and interaction, which is where Savy’s unique value proposition lies.

Shiva says “We can see success in our alumni who are in jobs that range from the government sector to top corporate roles, all looking back fondly on the learnings and experience they have gained from Savy. It’s become more than just working on financial literacy for the youth of New Zealand. Savy is empowering our next generation of leaders to be purpose-driven and drive change for our country”.

Learn more about Savy


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