The ideal of “thrift” has always been part of the DNA of savings banks. The savings banks concept has its ideological roots in the “Age of Enlightenment”, in the 18th century, when the principle of self-help made its breakthrough. The intellectual elite (clergymen, industry leaders, etc.) found it their mission to pass on the “light of knowledge” to the masses. The “Enlightened” thought it was of utmost importance for the individual to be responsible for organising his life, and they therefore found it their task to communicate and impart the deeply middle-class virtue of “thrift” to the lower classes.
Later, in the 19th and early 20th century, this ideal took the form of social policy developed by the several countries that had entered the industrialised era, which had caused great disruption to the social and economic climate, in their efforts to regulate the labour market. The foundation of the savings banks by local elites in the early 19th century can also be seen in this light.
In addition to their obvious economic mission, the savings banks clearly stated that they had an important educational mission.
The savings banks organized themselves and formed savings banks associations on a national level and these associations launched in turn several interesting initiatives on a national scale.
For these initiatives, savings banks relied on the support of schools, clergy, and cultural, sports, trade, and women’s associations. Specific attention was paid to the publicity of thrift among schools. School savings gained ever greater importance for savings banks, and school savings banks were created.
Some extensive research has already been performed on school savings systems in several countries.
The drive for cooperation, for exchange of experiences on an international level and create a common ‘Savings Banks Identity’ reached a watershed moment in 1924.
31 October 1924: World Thrift Day
At the First International Thrift Congress, in Milan in 1924, the International Savings Banks Institute (ISBI) was founded, it was the precursor to the World Savings and Retail Banking Institute (WSBI).
The congress had been organised by the Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, which was celebrating its centennial anniversary. The congress gathered 354 delegates representing approximately 7,000 branches of savings banks from 27 countries.
At the closing of the congress on 31 October, Professor Filippo Ravizza, the first director of ISBI, proclaimed 31 October “World Thrift Day” and created the slogan “Live the Thrift Ideal. Make Every Day a Thrift Day”. Ever since, savings banks all around the globe have celebrated World Savings Day, as it is called today, every year and it has become a fixed holiday on the calendar of all savings banks.
Although the idea of a global World Thrift Day was approved at the International Thrift Congress, several national initiatives existed already.
The Soviet Union (USSR), for example organised a global “Two Thrift Weeks” in March and April. It was only in 1928 that they switched their thrift campaign to begin on 31 October.
In the United States, since 1916, “Thrift Week” was celebrated yearly on 17 January, Benjamin Franklin’s birthday, and sponsored mainly by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). In the beginning, savings banks in the United States were a little sceptical because of the number of special occasions/days to celebrate thrift. Publicity was generated mainly in schools where contests were organised on the subjects of thrift and Benjamin Franklin.
At the first celebration of World Thrift Day on 31 October 1925, 27 countries from all over the savings banks world participated.
In the early years of World Thrift Day (1925-1930), which comprised a period of economic depression, it was commemorated by more than 5,000 savings banks in 27 countries.
In its efforts to coordinate all these national initiatives under one umbrella, the ISBI launched two important promotional tools and stimulated the national associations and savings banks to make use of them as much as possible in their communications.
Firstly, it created the International Seal for World Thrift Day, to be used by all savings banks and savings banks associations in all correspondence.
Secondly, in 1928, Gino Valori and Giuseppe Peitri composed the “Hymn of Thrift”. Subsequent hymns were composed in Belgium (1929), Great Britain (1930), Austria (1931), Poland (1932), Czechoslovakia (1933), France (1934), Spain (1935) and Germany (1936).
Early promotional campaigns all around the world
The celebration of World Thrift Day took various forms: posters, lectures, brochures, leaflets, press articles, songs, radio broadcasts, educational and publicity films, etc. Special interest was also paid to promoting savings in schools. Special courses were organised to educate children about the virtues of thrift. Money boxes and savings bank passbooks were distributed in schools. Overall, the introduction of World Thrift Day had a clear influence on the increase of school savings.
In the monthly Bulletin of the ISBI called ‘World Thrift’ extensive attention was paid on the numerous thrift campaigns organised all over the world and which culminated in the World Thrift Day on 31st October.
Here’s a glimpse of what happened during the World Thrift Day campaigns of 1927-1929:
In Russia, for the 1928 campaign, the Savings Banks Head - quarters Office ordered 350,000 money boxes from the Leningrad Mint, to be distributed the following year. The money boxes were varied, coming in the form of small barrels, cases, small trunks, books or table calendars.
Also, beginning 1 October 1928, a new post of “Departmental Inspector” was created in each department of the Soviet Union, whose duties were to look after the instruction of secondary savings bank staff and supervise savings publicity in the villages. Prizes were distributed to depositors who were the most active in promoting savings in the villages.
In Spain, on 31 October 1927, several initiatives were organised all over the territory. The Municipal Savings Bank of St. Sebastian opened 94 new savings passbooks. The Provincial Savings Bank opened 245 new passbooks in its central offices and 475 in its branches. The two savings banks collected a total of 5,888 deposit transactions The Provincial Savings Bank of Guipuzcoa (Basque Country) created “Workers’ Savings”, whereby the savings bank sought the help of employers to open passbooks for their workers and by giving prizes to the best depositors. In certain establishments, the workers, who were called together by their employers, agreed to regular direct deposits of part of their wages. The savings bank created a new workers’ passbook with new stamps, and even used the places where the people worked as its branches.
In 1928, the Municipal Savings Bank of Bilbao, with the consent of the Minister of Labour, awarded 15,000 pesetas to working men, members of the cooperative society for the construction of affordable housing, to help them become homeowners. The prize was awarded on World Thrift Day.
In Belgium, numerous conferences were held on thrift. The use of passbooks was encouraged by distributing them to children entering the first class of state-subsidized elementary schools.
In 1927, 5,997 schools participated in World Thrift Day, a yearly increase of 13.5%.
In Germany, World Thrift Day was celebrated by distributing leaflets, pamphlets, illustrated calendars, and posters and screening films in cinemas. Richly illustrated pass books with a prize deposit of 2 to 3 marks were distributed in schools. In 1926, 50,000 money boxes were distributed in Hamburg and another 50,000 in Altona. In Wilhelms haven, schoolchildren wrote essays on thrift; the best were awarded prizes.
In Braunschweig a comedy on thrift was performed. In Lilienthal, the savings bank arranged a school race. The Deutsche Sparkassen – und Giroverband (DSGV) coordinated all World Thrift Day activities, producing vast and rich publicity material (circulars, games, leaflets) at the disposal of their member banks.
In France, savings banks organised public meetings. In the presence of public authorities, boards of directors of savings banks, schoolchildren and members of the public, prizes were awarded to deserving savings bank officials, pupils who had distinguished themselves during the year, and depositors in need. Academic lectures were given and nearly everywhere the “Hymn of Thrift” was sung at concerts and by choirs.
On the occasion of the 1928 World Thrift Day, the Savings Bank of Sézanne organised a competition for private and public school pupils “to induce school children to give due thought to the necessity of saving and direct their attention to its moral and material advantages”. Participating pupils had to have passbooks (either school or ordinary savings books) of the Sézanne Savings Bank with at least three deposits registered between 1 January and 15 October 1928. The competition consisted of submitting a thesis on the necessity of thrift, how to practise thrift, retain savings and properly use returns.
The minimum prize was 20 francs with a maximum of 20 prizes, deposited into winners’ passbooks, which were publicly distributed on World Thrift Day.
In Sweden, the Association of Swedish Savings Banks inaugurated in 1928 their publicity campaign in a very original way: 2,000 passbooks, each registering an amount of 5 krona, were scattered into the streets of Stockholm by five airplanes. The campaign was budgeted at 10,000 krona and the savings banks gained 1,957 new depositors via this publicity stunt.
In Czechoslovakia, in 1928, the savings banks distributed leaflets, local technical reviews, advertisements, more than 100,000 money boxes, and 90,000 of the so-called “Rocenky Almanacs”.
In Hungary, savings publicity was directed by a permanent committee under the chairmanship of M. de Tormay, Director of the Post Office Savings Bank and member of the Permanent Committee of the International Savings Banks Institute (ISBI). Much of the press placed its services free of charge at the disposal of the committee for this publicity. Numerous articles, written by prominent political and financial personalities, were published in the newspapers. The Head of the State, M. Horty, the Regent, repeatedly drew public attention to the importance of savings. Many conferences and speeches were organised. Handbills were distributed – among them a “decalogue of thrift” – and a large number of placards were posted. Many savings banks began distributing money boxes.
In Australia, the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales, Sidney, in collaboration with the Commonwealth Bank, also active in Sidney, organised numerous radio conferences and published articles. In 1926, the Savings Banks of South Australia distributed 30,671 Home Savings Boxes, of which 11,804 were actually opened for a total amount of £29,833 and with an average per box deposit of £2 10s 6d. These savings boxes were sold to the public at 6d. each and were presented to newborn children and substituted when brought back full. The Government Savings Banks of New South Wales also distributed 92,372 such boxes (in 1926: 79,362). The boxes returned contained £54,920, which was credited to the depositors’ accounts. Considerable publicity was also carried out by means of special pay envelopes and by Savings Bank Clerks making home visits.
Towards the end of the 1929 particular attention was paid to the usage of the new ‘media’ called Cinema to promote thrift. At the second International Thrift Congress held in London in 1929, the idea of using films for the propaganda for thrift has been promoted by the ISBI. Several films from, for example, the Savings Bank of St. Etienne, the Provincial Savings Bank of Guipuzcoa, and the Italian Savings Banks Association have been shown at the Congress. The ISBI invited the other savings banks to do the same.
We can continue enumerating the large number of activities taken at the occasion of World Thrift Day, however, we can resume and conclude the following:
The World Thrift Day was established by the ISBI in an attempt to improve and intensify international cooperation and create a common identity among the savings banks all over the world. The ISBI supported the different national, regional and local savings banks in their thrift campaigns by handing them promotional tools like the International Seal for World Thrift Day, the ‘Hymn of Thrift’ or simply by covering the World Thrift Day News in the monthly bulletin ‘World Thrift’.
All of these thrift campaigns are also to be situated in the ideal of the ISBI to promote and educate the virtue of thrift among the different layers of society. In 1928, ISBI stated that saving was “a virtue and a practice which is essential to the civil progress of each individual, of every nation, and of the whole of humanity!” To fulfil their mission the different savings banks associations and the ISBI used all existing channels and media at their disposal. They also relayed on the collaboration of the schools, the clergy, the workers associations, the women’s clubs, etc... to propagate their ideas.
Correspondingly, the 1928 International Thrift Congress declared schools the most reliable allies in the field of teaching future customers. As stated in the 1928 World Thrift Journal, thrift education was not only about “the usefulness and necessity of spending their money wisely and of fortifying themselves against the uncertainties and adversities of the future”, but also about “opposing and fighting everything which may be an obstacle to the practice of thrift”, such as gambling and lotteries.
After the Second World War, World Thrift Day continued and reached the peak of its popularity in the years between 1955 and 1970.
It became a tradition! In Austria, for instance, the official mascot of saving, the so-called ‘Sparefroh’ (literally: ‘Happy Saver’) reached a higher degree of brand awareness than the country’s president and even a street was named after him. In the 1970s the Sparefroh Journal, an educational magazine for young people, reached a circulation of 400,000.
Next to the underlying “philanthropic” educational nature of the World Thrift Day, the aim of the participating Savings Banks was of course to attract as many depositors as possible and to intensify the number of transactions. This is also the main reason why money boxes and passbooks were distributed freely during the World Thrift Day.
To give an idea of the results of the celebration of World Thrift Day in Germany, I would like to share the following figures:
It could be interesting to concentrate further research on the impact and significance of the World Thrift Day campaigns on the amounts and the number of deposits with the savings banks.
Do these campaigns have only a temporary effect or can we identify a long-term evolution on savings deposits? It would require more research to come up with the answer to this question.
The different savings banks associations as well as the ISBI had established special marketing and publicity departments which only task was the organisation of publicity campaigns. It could be interesting to investigate further the evolution and impact of thrift publicity on the budget of the different national savings banks associations and ISBI over the years.Today, it can be said that financial education in developed countries has been a success because the vast majority of people have a bank and a savings account. However, the idea of saving money for “a rainy day” of for “a nest egg” remains as valid as ever, even if developing countries are now the focus, because there , in the worst case, the number of saving accounts does not exceed 10% of the eligible population. This not only decreases the chances of people to improve their lives, it also severly hampers the traditional intermediation function of banks, where the savers’ money is used to grant credits to enterprises, homelbuilders, etc.
Savings and retail banks play an important role in enhancing savings in these countries, with campaigns and initiatives such as the WSBI Doubling Savings Accounts Programme, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which aims to double the number of savings accounts held by the poor.
Do you want to know more on the WSBI World Savings Day, the oldest initiative of the savings and retail banks? Do you have interesting stories or material to share related to the world savings day? Have a look at the website www.worldsavingsday.org