So the $170 million credit union in Wall, N.J., wasn't too surprised that many of its members were asking a lot of hard questions about things like retirement income. Specifically, they wondered whether there would be enough there to live on during their golden years.
"There's a lot of fear within the membership. We're trying to do things to alleviate stress and fears," said Alice Stevens, chief operating officer at First Financial. "I think it makes them less vulnerable to information that they may be getting from the media or in the marketplace."
Working with CUNA Mutual Group investment representatives, who have an office at First Financial's investment and retirement center, the credit union has ramped up its education seminars to include an array of topics to address some of its members' concerns. At the top of the list are how to get the most from a pension and Social Security during retirement and what other sources of income are available to draw from. The credit union typically holds seminars each month but has recently doubled the number of sessions to keep up with demand. The seminars, which draw 25-40 participants, are rotated among the credit union's five branches.
Stevens said much of the feedback on which topics to cover is passed on by members to branch staff and call centers. At the end of each seminar, attendees are also asked several follow-up questions, including what areas they would like to see in future sessions and what other products and services they may need.
"They're saying they're afraid they won't be able to retire," Stevens said. "This is definitely one concern we're hearing more and more about."
Another huge worry members have is whether they should be in the stock market right now given their age. Others are asking if they will ever recoup their losses. Stevens said the credit union is seeing proof that members are looking for alternatives. First Financial has experienced "tremendous deposit growth" based on members who have decided to pull out of the market and park their money in money market accounts and share certificates for safety and security, she noted.
The summer retirement income seminars, which kicked off on June 10 and are scheduled to run to the end of the year, are expected to draw older members, Stevens said. Many of the attendees may have questions about their 401(k) plans as a growing number of employers have curtailed or eliminated company matches. In general, however, the other seminars tend to draw a diverse group of both members and nonmembers.
First Financial was founded by a group of Asbury Park schoolteachers during the Great Depression. Charted in 1936, the credit union grew into Mon-Oc Federal Credit Union and later changed to its current moniker. About seven years ago, First Financial obtained a community charter and now serves 26,000 members in Monmouth and Ocean counties. Stevens said much of the credit union's FOM still has ties to the education industry. Because the general population in one of the counties it serves has an older demographic, a number of health service businesses have set up shop there. As a result, First Financial has aligned with many of those companies. To extend its reach even further, the credit union has a presence on both Facebook and Twitter.
Stevens said the latest interest in retirement seminars reminds her of the demand for mortgage education seminars this time last year. As the housing market began its freefall, members were just as concerned about their homes then as they are about their retirement plans now.
"It's hard now to differentiate yourself in terms of products and services," Stevens said. "[The seminars] are one way the credit union is trying to be relevant in the community and to set ourselves apart. We want members to see the value in the relationship."