Launched in fall 2007, Young & Free is a unique financial services platform created to help credit unions connect with Gen Y on their terms. Built for and with young people's input, Young & Free has gone beyond just creating a buzz and has become a popular destination for 17- to 25-year-olds.
On an interactive microsite (www.youngfreealberta.com), Walkiw communicates with her peers via blogs, vlogs, YouTube videos and offers polls on everything from finance to pop culture. Considering that the 19-year-old visual artist with a quirky, friendly personality managed to secure 49% of the Young & Free spokeperson votes with her creative video blogs and e-journals, it is no wonder she beat out the competition. And it's little wonder that the youngfreealberta.com site now attracts an average of 300 hits a day and has resulted in more than 2,000 Young & Free accounts, with total funds held at over $2 million.
"It has been wonderful and so far I can't complain," said Walkiw. "My one job wish is that there could be 48 hours in a day because there is not shortage of what can be done."
As someone who didn't really know much about credit unions until she got the spokesperson job, her energy about spreading the CU word is infectious.
"I wasn't a credit union member, had no previous experience with credit unions and at first I was worried about it. Here I am applying to represent something I don't know much about," said Walkiw. "It was shortly after, I realized it was actually a great advantage because I am my own target market."
She added that not knowing the credit union difference helped her create the now popular "stickman" videos, which uses simple stickman graphics to explain how credit unions are different from banks and why it matters.
"It's based on what I wanted to know about credit unions to better understand what they're about. As I researched, working on the video helped to make it clearer to me. And I learned credit unions weren't just another financial institution," said Walkiw. "I was quite surprised that it generated such a big response. It's very flattering that so many people are taking notice. But at the end of the day, my role is to educate young Albertans and no number of YouTube views change that."
She said that if it helped the credit union industry as a whole realize that it is OK to have a little fun, push the creative envelope, then she's thrilled about her small contribution to that.
"From what I've noticed, credit unions have more flexibility than banks, so why not go for something different to draw in new members; you are the ones that can really get away with it," said Walkiw. "The media label of Gen Y as the 'entitled generation' can't be further from the truth. It's important for credit unions to know that Gen Y is very observant, cautious and not afraid to do research in order to know we're making the right decision for ourselves and our future. If a credit union were to do something innovative, we're paying attention even if it doesn't seem that way. But it has to be authentic otherwise it'll be hard to win back our respect."
A typical day doesn't exist for Walkiw. The only constant is that you'll find her at her computer doing everything from creating videos or blogging about what rising gas prices mean for Gen Y and offering saving tips to searching for topic ideas, answering e-mails and taking a poll on which Indiana Jones movie was the best. Walkiw says the freedom to just go with whatever inspires her has been a vital part of Young & Free making a splash with young Albertans.
"It is so appealing and admirable that a financial institution is so open, and it is admirable the lengths they'd go to really put it all on the line. Frankly, nothing I post on the site is screened, reviewed or censored in any way by anyone. Common Wealth CU saw that stickman video at the same time as everyone else," said Walkiw. "That's why young people are able to connect, the site offers something real, not some brochure without any original thought, style or creative value. There aren't a lot of resources for young people to learn about general financial topics. This site is a place where basic financial concepts are laid out in a concise but simple way. Walking into a financial institution can be very scary if you don't know what you're getting into, so I hope the site helps bridge that gap a little."