Seeking to be the institution that can tell members "yes," financial education has pervaded every program, product and service offering at St. Louis Community Credit Union.
"We take a completely holistic approach to education," said Treina Lind, assistant vice president of business/community relations at the $194 million credit union. "We make it our mission to not say 'no,' so we do our part to better educate our members while developing products that can help them get to where they need to be not just financially but to help improve their lives. Our education efforts are based in the real-world context of helping our members be in control of their lives rather than being a victim of past poor choices. So they understand that building credit is not just about being able to get a loan but helps with everything, even getting a job since many employers look at credit ratings as part of their background check."
With an eye on delivering programs that meet members' needs, some of the products developed in conjunction with its education efforts include the Freedom Checking account, for those with a bad credit history. Since the introduction of Freedom Checking, over 5,500 accounts have been opened, and 90% of the accounts were still open and actively used.
In addition, St. Louis Community CU has created Credit Matter Loans, which are credit builder loans for individuals who either need to establish credit or who need help in repairing their credit. The loan amount is capped at $600 for a 12-month term. During the first half of 2010, 242 Credit Matter Loans were opened, and only one has been delinquent. The credit union also offers Freedom Loans as an alternative to payday loans. The maximum loan amount is $500 with a term of 90 days and 10% of any loan advance must be placed into a locked savings account that can only be accessed once the balance of the loan is paid off. Lind said more than 550 Freedom Loans have been opened this year.
"Our team here has made a conscious effort to develop products that serve what we know are the needs of our field of membership, and we do our best to stay true to that in everything we do," said Lind. "We know not everyone can be banked, but we're here to stand by all our members and ensure we're out there in the community offering educational seminars, advice and even one-on-one counseling to help make their lives safe."
Lind said that focus is how the credit union has built the reputation of being the local go-to resource for trustworthy, unbiased financial information.
As far as helping younger consumers make better financial decisions, Lind has had success in the Junior Achievement classes at local elementary, middle and high schools. The curriculum includes the National Endowment for Financial Education material and issues related to budgeting, credit, identity theft, insurance and using one's skills, values and interests when making important life decisions. But Lind said it's the presentation that makes all the difference.
"We make it all relevant to the students' lives, their interests, what matters to them and how it ties back to real life," said Lind. "The reason our seminars and classes are so popular is because we're not reading off a PowerPoint slide or just providing handouts. We're having real conversations about more than just money but life including their dreams and professional goals."
Lind added that the connection is so strong that students are comfortable enough to contact the three St. Louis Community CU educators via e-mail or by phone.
"We hand out our business cards to every student in the class, and the students want to keep in touch. What we're doing is bigger than us. We've become mentors. One student came in to show off how much she'd saved, and another student, who is currently a junior, expressed interest in working at the credit union. It is a great feeling to help make a difference in the lives of kids that have a desire to learn and do more."
With a goal in 2010 of reaching 75 students a month in local public schools, Lind said the demand for classes was so great that by the end of the school year in June, they had taught 160 classes, reaching almost 3,500 students.
"Thankfully, we received an innovation grant from the National Credit Union Foundation, so we were able to hire a full-time financial literacy specialist to help meet the demand," said Lind.
So far during the fall semester, the number of total students reached in 2010 has jumped to 4,276 and the number of classes taught to 201. In addition, on average, the students' financial literacy test scores improved by about 20%, with a bigger increase of 24% to 36% for high school students. Lind said the most dramatic increase came from high school students in early workforce development training satellite classes. Their improvement in post-test scores over that of pre-test scores ranged from between 39% to 73%.