Credit Unions Filling Financial Literacy Void See Great Success; Education, On-Site Services Are Key
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Credit unions have a unique opportunity to take the lead in fulfilling the consumer need for financial education.
"There is a lot to be said for financial literacy as a way to demonstrate the credit union difference," said CUVA President Laura Enock. "Since banks are involved in financial literacy as well the way for credit unions to stand out is to motivate members in a painless way that is more intuitive so members really learn something and it's got to be a continuous effort. A one-day course once a year isn't going to help anyone get a better grasp on their financial lives."
For the past two years Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Affinity Federal Credit Union has formed an innovative partnership with Middlesex Interfaith Partners with the Homeless and the Amandla Crossing Transitional Housing Program to help homeless women get back on their feet.
"It was our dream to not just offer rubber stamp gifts but to really get involved and establish really meaningful relationships," said Affinity FCU Assistant Vice President Beth Degnan. "When we heard about the homeless program that was it. We knew we could offer something of real value and if we had any doubts they went away when the director almost fell out of her chair when we asked if she'd be interested in having a financial education program."
The Affinity FCU Women's Financial Literacy program was developed in-house and consists of highly interactive weekly financial literacy workshops. The 15-week customized workshops are taught by a cross section of Affinity employee volunteers and focus on a more personal approach.
"There's a lot of hugs and sharing going on. Believe me I think sometimes we get more out of it than we give," said Degnan. "These women are incredible and so determined to break out of the cycle of homelessness. One of the most critical skills to accomplish that is managing money responsibly, and understanding basic financial products and services. We sit side by side with them working one-on-one. Our program fills a very important need in the Amandla curriculum, and is one that is ideal for a credit union to fill since our focus is people helping people."
Amandla Crossing's support services include: life skills training, education/family literacy, childcare/development, daily living, nutrition, good tenancy classes, and counseling and support groups. In addition to breaking the cycle of homelessness, the program focuses on helping parents develop a long-term education, job training and a plan to end dependence on public assistance.
Upon completion of the program, each graduate moves in to permanent, safe, affordable housing. The staff at Amandla Crossing is currently 100% successful in placing all graduates into permanent housing. Over 98% are still in permanent housing one year after graduation. Additionally, 85% of graduates are employed full or part-time, attending school, or a combination of both. After leaving Amandla, families are encouraged to participate in the Graduate Program, which is designed to give them added support as they make new lives in the community. Creating Creative Partnerships According to TopLine Federal Credit Union Marketing and Communications Manager Diane Welter, the first step in having a big financial literacy impact is to get creative and really look at resources in the community to partner with to further the credit union's efforts.
"At TopLine, we saw a great opportunity and a responsibility to use our resources and talents to help educate young people about the importance of careful planning and avoiding debt, and how smart decisions today can positively impact their choices and opportunities in the future," said Welter. "That's why we partnered with KARE 11 to promote and launch our Get Smart with Your Money seminar series for kids and their parents. It's clear from the tremendous community-wide response to our seminars that parents are eager to help their kids establish a foundation of knowledge for a lifetime of responsible money management." Welter says that from the very beginning, local news provider KARE 11 has made community involvement a key component of its brand and works together with the community through a variety of events to make it a better place for everyone. The move has been a wild success and exceeded initial expectations so much that 20 seminars were added to meet demand, most of which were filled within three days. The fun Get Smart with Your Money seminar series is designed to educate young people about financial responsibility using a mix of material drawn from the National Endowment for Financial Education, NAFCU, Moonjar, and the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. The credit union offers three age-appropriate seminars Building Dreams for grades K-4; Dollar Power for grades 5-8; and Dollars & Sense for grades 9-12.
All seminars are held at Grand Rios Water Park in Brooklyn Park or the Water Park of America in Bloomington, and participants receive a free pass to use at either park.
"What is neat is that parents have been so appreciative and telling us how glad they are someone stepped up to do something like this," said Welter. "Our over arching goal is to keep the conversation going and heighten awareness of financial literacy."
Playing up the idea of conversations about money the credit union also offers a "takeout" box of big money questions provided by Moonjar for parents and kids to discuss ranging from "Does money buy happiness and how long does happiness last?" to "What things in life are free?"
"We want to make a difference now and we're excited about where to take this initiative next," said Welter. "It is amazing people have been asking for something like this and no one has been offering it so it is a perfect fit for us to kick it off."
Over in Indianapolis, KEMBA Credit Union is extending consulting services to members as part of its Financial Fitness Program.
Members now have a free valuable personal resource to help with consolidation, understanding and managing their personal finances.
"There is definitely a need here given the nationwide epidemic of negative savings so we thought it would be better to launch a more personal consulting service," said KEMBA CU Marketing Coordinator Michael Dukehart II. "We're emphasizing the flexibility of the service and working with them one-on-one."
Encouraging savings is also a priority at South Bend-based Teachers Credit Union, which recently kicked off a new TCU Savers Club Program.
The program is designed to help members save money for the things they want and need by providing money saving tips and special access to exclusive offers.
"Indiana has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country and the average American lives paycheck to paycheck," TCU Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Paul Marsh said. "This offering is the result of a brainstorming session on how we can best help our members start saving so they can withstand unforeseen circumstances that happen in life."
The TCU Savers Club Program includes e-mails with money saving offers, special product offers, money management seminars, money saving tips and budget sheets. There is also a TCU Savers Club Money Market product that will only give members a higher percentage rate if funds are continually added to the account every month.
The program has taken off with over 5,000 accounts opened with over $7 million in balances.
Marsh credits TCU employees for the success. Before launching it to members the program was first piloted with staffers.
"They love this product, use it themselves and have been talking it up to members," said Marsh. "The combination of the word-of-mouth buzz and making it so easy and convenient to save--there's no stringent balance requirements--is why I think it has been so well received." --firstname.lastname@example.org