Money for nothing

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist on why you should never let your kids near your money

“Ha ha ha ha!” Daughter Number Two was laughing at her parents. Nothing unusual about that. But it was what she was amused about that made my eyebrows rise – mum and dad’s complete lack of financial acumen compared to her own.

What?! Now this was a young woman who spends actual real world money on pictures of gold coins in Animal Crossing, a video game. (Or, to be strictly accurate, she spends Dad’s actual money on pictures of gold coins.)

How could she be more financially astute than her pin-sharp parents, who took only 22 years to work out that no sensible person shops for staple items at Wellcome or ParknShop?

Her laughter came when she noted that she was earning 25 cents a day on her trendy virtual bank account and asked how much interest mum and dad got from their boring brick-and-mortar bank.

“Fifty cents a year,” her mother replied, truthfully.

“Ha ha! Suckers! Twenty-five cents a day is a lot more than 50 cents a year,” she said, a mathematically accurate statement that proved to me that all those school fees had been worth it, I suppose.

But that was just the start of it. Two weeks later, we were at the computer centre in Wanchai buying a Nintendo game for a birthday present when the shopkeeper declined my credit card and asked for “payment by FPS app.”

I was stumped, but Daughter Number One showed me how to zap payment to the man with a thumb on the phone.

When Chinese New Year came round, there was a big debate about whether people trying to practice social distancing should touch lai see packets – but my children sent out their virtual account numbers from ZA Bank, a Hong Kong virtual bank, and received cartoon packets on their screens, containing real money that could be spent. It was kind of the Animal Crossing thing, but in reverse.

A rival virtual bank named Livi Bank lets you check your YUU shopping loyalty points. I guess you can use it to see if you have enough points to make it worth the risk of entering the supermarket and having your ears assaulted by the horrible “why-you-you” theme song.

All virtual banks offer round-the-clock banking, so the kids can “shoot” cash over to each other to share the cost of late-night snacks, for example, which is useful.

But there is one thing that I found to disapprove of. Virtual banks make spending fun. That’s bad. That’s very, very bad.

ZA Bank enters your card purchases into a lucky draw. My daughter won 10 percent back, but her friend won 200 percent of what she’d spent. Think of the lesson that friend has been taught: Spend money! Get free stuff! Get your money back too!

As proprietor and guarantor of the Bank of Dad, I can tell you that anything that makes spending that much fun is evil, maybe even satanic.

You see, I reckon the main psychological difference between parents and children is that when I part with any amount of money, it causes me enormous physical pain, so much so that I sometimes fall on the floor, writhing.

But the young generation thoroughly enjoys spending, and talks of “retail therapy.” That cannot be good.

Why can’t virtual bank people install functions that are actually useful? There should be some app open in the background that waits until my children are in a shop reaching for something, at which time it should say: “Do you really need that? Don’t you have one just like it at home? Now put it back and step away from the shelf.”

Now that’s a hi-tech app I could get behind.

Still, I did find myself reaching towards the ZA Bank app the other day. Twenty-five cents a day IS more than 50 cents a year.

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices

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