A Leading Woman Banker Shifts Focus to Children

Neale Godfrey was one of the best-known women in banking when she dropped out of the limelight.

In 1988, after three years at the helm, Ms. Godfrey left her post as president of First Women's Bank of New York -- now named First New York Bank for Business. She became an author of educational books, which she now sells to banks and schools to teach children about money and banking.

"America's children are financially illiterate," Ms. Godfrey said.

She had found that her own children were "always occupied with money" but often failed to realize how it really works. Her daughter, Kyle, had the impression that money "grows in a vault." Her son, Rhett, didn't realize that after purchases are made with a plastic card, someone must pay the bill.

Getting a Head Start in Thriftiness

Hankering to start a business of her own after three years running First Women's Bank, Ms. Godfrey drew on those observations to launch First Children's Bank in the F.A.O. Schwartz toy store in New York. It provided a lesson in saving, encouraging young shoppers to put money aside for desired purchases.

A year later, Ms. Godfrey used First Children's Bank as the prototype for the Children's Financial Network, a marketing and educational program for banks to offer through local schools.

Banks can tailor Ms. Godfrey's program to their own products and set their own prices. Schools can use her 1991 book, "The Kids' Money Book," (Checkerboard Press, New York) as part of their regular curriculum.

Ms. Godfrey says the program goes not only teaches children but also lets banks repair their tattered public images.

"The Kids' Money Book," for ages 4 through 8, is one of what is planned as a series aimed at different age groups. Characters who introduce children to the world of money include Common Cents and Dollar Bill, in such locations as the Blue Chip Deli and the Sinking Fund.

Ms. Godfrey preaches financial responsibility and charity, with no regard to socioeconomic background. She said financial illiteracy cuts across all groups.

Her marketing of the book and educational program are beginning in the eastern United States before expanding westward and eventually, she hopes, to Latin America, Europe, and Japan. Ms. Godfrey recently signed a contract with Disney for the release of four other books along the same lines -- teaching kids about money.

Aiming to Help |Latchkey Children'

A pilot program is scheduled to begin this month in child-care centers in New York's Harlem neighborhood. Many of those Ms. Godfrey hopes to reach are "latchkey children," ages 8 to 12, left in day care by parents who are outside the economic mainstream.

Ms. Godfrey, 40, did not originally plan for a banking career. She studied international affairs at American University, Washington, and also attended Universidad de las Americas in Mexico.

In 1972, Ms. Godfrey joined Chase Manhattan Bank in New York as a platform assistant.

By 1983 she was a vice president, managing an $8 billion loan portfolio. She was instrumental in financing the $4 billion Du Pont-Conoco transaction.

She was lured to First Women's Bank in 1985. It was ailing, and Ms. Godfrey engineered its recapitalization.

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