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Jul 2012

Kiwibank Says No to Free Online Education for New Zealand Kids

And Special Needs Kids in New Zealand will need to wait for someone other than Kiwibank.

Making approaches to other business with proposals of one kind or another, is part of daily business for many companies, and sometimes those approaches bear fruit, other times they don’t – and that is all just part of business.

However when you approach an organisation, and attempt to open a discussion, with someone that is supposedly qualified to occupy a reasonably senior position of responsibility within the organisation, and then they refuse to return your calls, instead palming you off to a junior – that has to resort to out-and-out lies and blatant falsehoods as their excuse not to extend the most basic of courtesies – is simply appalling.

As a person that works in field of online education, I believe this is yet one more example of how we are continuing to producing generations of “dumbed-down” kids that have an inability to think for themselves, and certainly not creatively. It also demonstrates how relying on supposed educational qualifications – rather than common sense, is actually hurting business opportunity and inhibiting commercial growth, not only here in New Zealand, but many other countries too.

Being a Director of Zane Education – the owner of currently the largest fully subtitled educational video library currently available online – it is simply not commercially feasible for us to focus on an education market as small as that in New Zealand. However as a father – and a New Zealand citizen, I would love to be able to provide our Visual Learning resources to schools, students and special needs kids in New Zealand at no cost, so as to benefit them.

Being a person that likes to think outside the square, it had occurred to me that one of the most obvious choices available to me, was to team up with a bank so they could provide those resources to schools around New Zealand – and in doing so they would be seen to actively support education in a meaningful way. After all many banks have identified the youth and education markets as an important way of targeting young savers and future new customers. Currently those New Zealand banks attempting to build their brand in the education market are providing little more than lip-service, offering children free plastic piggy banks and providing minimalist advice about financial literacy – all of which may appear great, but is really doing little more than scratching the surface.

However if a bank really wants to make traction in the education market, they do need to be seen as making a sincere effort to support education for our kids. And this is exactly where the resources that Zane Education owns could be deployed so effectively.

It is common sense that if a bank were to provide meaningful curriculum content that actually provided a valuable online teaching resource at no cost to schools, parents and students, they would be seen as actively supporting education in the country. And what a wonderful story that would provide them with for the media. It is reasonable to expect that each school would readily provide links on their school website to that resource, so that their students could find and use that resource quickly and easily. Yes, this would provide a significant branding opportunity for a bank, especially one that was genuinely interested in the education market.

I therefore recently decided to speak to Kiwibank in New Zealand about the concept. I deliberately chose Kiwibank because they are currently the only 100% New Zealand owned bank. I knew they were looking to build their profile in the education market, and on the surface they appeared to be making an effort to improve upon the quality of service offered by the other High Street banks here.

I must admit I had initial reservations about approaching Kiwibank to discuss this, because 2 years previously I’d had a brief conversation with a marketing representative from the National Bank of New Zealand that had been a complete disaster. On that occasion I had encountered a lady who I believe now looking back could only have been responsible for arranging to have the National Bank’s name printed on pens and pencils and other cheap merchandise. I had terminated that conversation quite quickly when – knowing we had the video content to teach 11 of the main curriculum subjects in schools – she had indicated that she was only interested resorted if we had anything that taught the  Maori language. Hard to believe, but true.

New Zealand is a society where political-correctness has permeated all levels of society to a significant level, and while I have the greatest of respect for the Maori people, the fact of the matter is that New Zealand is the only country in the world where Maori is spoken as a language. So if anyone was going to assess the value of an online educational video library worth in excess of US$30m, by whether or not they provided video to teach the Maori language, I realize now that it was an early warning that I was speaking to someone that really has no idea about what children’s education is all about.

Despite these reservations, I procured the number of a person supposedly in charge of the Marketing Department at Kiwibank, and made the initial call. My call went to voicemail and I left a message, however the lady concerned kindly returned my call within 24 hours and informed me that I needed to speak to the person in charge of the ‘youth marketing’ department. And to her great credit, she provided me with the name and number of the appropriate individual.

And so I proceeded to call that person – Fiona M. Again there was no answer and I was delivered to voicemail, so I left a message simply stating that I had been given their name by another person in the Marketing Department, and that I wanted to discuss a proposal for the education market. During the following week I made 3 further calls – all of which we unreturned. By this stage I was starting to get visions of another National Bank scenario and decided to leave it. But 10 days later I did finally receive a reply.

But my call was not be returned by Fiona M. Instead a Rachel …..someone considerably younger, who was obviously a junior assistant of some kind, and who had been obviously delegated the job of ‘get rid of him, I don’t care what it’s about’ by her senior, who was obviously not up to the task herself. Well it’s about this time that the words impolite, unprofessional and ignorant started to come to mind.

Rachel, whose obvious knowledge of the education system in New Zealand was confined to the day she left school, proceeded to inform me that what I was proposing was not of interest, and that they were contacted with the same offer every day of the week.

But hey …I had not had any opportunity to propose anything to Kiwibank yet. The only information I had provided in my recorded message was my name, my position at the company, the name of the company, and my contact number.

So in her brief opening sentence, young Rachel had opted to present me with an assumption (and a misinformed one at that), incorrect information, sheer ignorance and a blatant lie. And this from a person representing a Bank!!!!!??!!

In the first instance, I had never had the opportunity to speak to anybody about anything because my calls had rudely not been returned. And in the second instance, how is it possible that “they receive such offers every day of the week”, when there are only two other companies in the world providing anything remotely like the online service provided by Zane Education – and neither of those companies had ever done any business in New Zealand.

It was at this stage I could have terminated the conversation, but I guess the morbid curiosity in me wanted to establish quite how far these assumptions, misinformation, assumption, ignorance and blatant lies would go.

Young Rachel soon informed me that she doubted William Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus and Genetics were part of the New Zealand curriculum. Well who am I to argue, they might well have been removed from the curriculum ……..the very night before she rang me – but hardly likely.

So far young Rachel from Kiwibank is not scoring too well.

So then she informs me that they get these offers every day, so intrepidly I ask if she know about the Karen project (a project where recently several million dollars was spent to provide high speed connectivity between the schools and academic institutions in the five main areas of New Zealand? She must have thought I was asking about her social life, because she responded with “Karen who”? I had deliberately asked about the Karen project, because while it was a great concept, it had left many people in the education world complaining about the fact that it was great having the high-speed connectivity, but there was a significant shortage of rich media to use over that network. So much for young Rachel having similar offers every day of the week?

But I will give Rachel credit. She had been tasked by Fiona M to do a job, and she was going to do it regardless of how foolish it was making her appear. Shame on you Fiona M. for giving a young lady the grubby tasks that you do not want to do yourself.

We arrived at a stage of the conversation where Rachel explained that they had taken a look at our website and had subsequently decided that that this was not of interest to them. I could not resist questioning that claim by explaining that not only had I never provided any details to anyone at Kiwibank about our business, or our website. And even if I had, it would have been completely impossible for her or anyone else at Kiwibank to make any assessment of our online learning content or service without a Username or Password. You see, Zane Education provides its curriculum content on a subscription basis. So why the lies? So why the lack of honesty and integrity from those very same people at Kiwibank tasked supposedly with the job of building Kiwibank’s profile in the education market?

Finally Rachel from Kiwibank seized upon an attempt to redeem herself by asking if we had anything that taught Maori or financial literacy. Before the words finished coming out of her mouth she realized she had made a major blunder. If they had indeed looked at the Zane Education website as she had claimed, she would not need to be asking me that question.

After the conversation finished I sat back in my chair and took a moment to ponder and reflect upon the “dumbed-down” generation amongst which we undoubtedly do live.

On one hand I feel for those thirty and forty year olds that have been charged by the companies for whom they work to market to attract the youth market. As they approach middle age they must live under the misapprehension think that proclaiming a sympathy for the artistic merits of graffiti, being able to hum a rap song and have a Michael Jackson doll sitting on their desk, and permanently carrying a mobile phone in one hand and a bottle of the most fashionable spring water in the other, provides them with the mystical ability to see into the heart of youth culture today. But if the likes of Fiona M and the young Rachel at Kiwibank are representative of a group that believes that giving the kids of today plastic piggy banks and teaching them how to speak the Maori language is going to cut it, I fear they are in for a rude shock.

As I sit hear proof-reading this article, it has just been announced that Marcus Agius the Chairman, Bob Diamond Chief Executive and Jerry del Missier COO of Barclays Bank in the UK have resigned amidst accusations and investigation for Barclay Bank’s alleged involvement in the manipulation of LIBOR interest rates. The fact is that we live in a generation where the reputation of the Banking industry is at an all time low. People simply do not trust banks any more. And quite honestly most Banks do nothing tangible to encourage that trust. They can continue to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV advertising telling people that they are the friendly bank, and how much they want to help, but the fact is – people are not totally stupid. People want to see tangible evidence of it – and sadly that tangible evidence is not there.

As for me …well I am left wondering what it takes to have a meaningful conversation with a bank that supposedly wants to build their brand in the education market, yet are being defeated by those that work within their own ranks.

Meanwhile the 5,000 schools across New Zealand, the hundreds of thousands of students that occupy them, and the many, many special needs kids that have little or no choice of online education whatsoever, will attempt to drag themselves into the 21st century, unsupported by those companies that seek their attention.

FOOTNOTE: Ironically, these events all took place in the very month that educational institutions across Australia, North America and the UK are supporting nationwide campaigns to promote the use of closed captions and subtitles on film, TV and video to improve children’s reading and literacy skills, to provide greater access to educational material for special needs students, and to improve the English language skills of foreign students. Even more ironically is the fact that Zane Education is one of the few companies listed by the organisers of the campaign, as one of the few online educational video providers in the world that can provide these resources for schools and students. http://www.capthat.com.au/useful-links


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