LOOKING back on my maths lessons in school, I can’t remember anyone ever relating the formulas, equations and functions to everyday life. But the reality is those maths lessons were fundamental to helping me make financial decisions, and they still are for students today.
Take your most recent visit to the supermarket. You might have worked out whether the 500g cereal box was better value than the 750g box. You might have checked the weights of different vegetables to match the ingredients for a recipe.
You probably kept track of how much you were spending when you went round the store.
Now think about everyone else who was in the supermarket with you. Most of them will have been doing the same: making sure about the best deals, calculating whether they had enough food to cook that weekend’s tea, watching the pounds and pence on each item.
But, if they were representative of the general working age population, half of them would have had the numeracy skills we expect of primary age students, according to National Numeracy.
That doesn’t just mean that they might struggle to work out which shopping option was best value for money, it also affects managing their finances.
That’s bad for them and their families, and bad also for the economy. For example, we know that 16.8m working-age Brits identified by the Money Advice Service have less than £100 in savings.
Many are driven to high cost lenders to cover necessary purchases, like a broken washing machine, or new tyres for their car, feeding a cycle of debt and disadvantage.
It also means that when it comes to more important financial decisions, like considering the interest rates on different loans or negotiating salaries, they are at a disadvantage.
When it comes to savings and mortgages, consumers often have a range of choices between products which have very different features and can be complex to understand.
In our branches, we offer personalised, face-to-face advice to customers. We work hard to reduce the risk of confusion but the Financial Conduct Authority recently found that 30 per cent of mortgage customers do not get the best deal for their circumstances so it is clear many consumers could benefit from having better maths skills.
In my job, I use numbers more than most. At Yorkshire Building Society, we constantly seek the best value for our members, to offer the best mortgage and savings rates we can to our three million members and customers.
That means our colleagues need to understand a huge amount about the mortgage market, personal finances and consumers’ preferences.
Behind the scenes, we also need to make sure we understand the Bank Rate, Gilt Rates, the operation of covered bonds and the complexities of a 4,000-strong payroll.
Because we care about our communities, it also means we have the responsibility to put those skills to good use and explains why colleagues have taught more than 10,000 students lessons which bring maths to life.
Our award-winning Money Minds programme brings numbers to life for students at all stages of school. It’s a fantastic initiative, and by giving up just some of our time, we can see students getting to grips with crucial issues.
I will be teaching money minds classes to primary school students today with my colleagues, hoping that some of our financial expertise helps them understand maths for the future.
That’s why we’re proud to be supporting the first ever National Numeracy Day today.
It’s a national campaign aimed at helping people understand everyday maths. Some people won’t have thought about maths since they left school, but it’s never too late to brush up on your skills.
You could do so now by taking a numeracy check-up. It’s a quick online test which shows what you’re good at, and what you might need to work on, with some handy hints for how to do so. Just visit www.nnchallenge.org.uk/ybs to put your skills to the test.
You never know, it might help you pick the best savings rates, refinance your mortgage, or plan your next holiday that little bit better.
Even if it just helps ensure you get the best value packet of cereal next time you’re at the shops, it will have been worthwhile.
Mike Regnier is chief executive of Yorkshire Building Society. Today is National Numeracy Day.