When we say that credit unions offer consumers better deals on loans and savings, we have the numbers to prove it. When we say that credit unions are safe and sound, we can corroborate that too. And when we say credit unions offer members a voice in their financial institution, we have our universally democratic, cooperative structure to back it up.
But when we talk about credit unions’ commitment to financial literacy, the evidence is largely anecdotal.
We think it’s high time to change that–to drop the anecdotal for the quantifiable.
Is your credit union up to the challenge?
April is financial literacy month. It offers our country, and particularly financial institutions, a time to help its citizens focus on and learn more about dealing with their financial lives.
And a key emphasis during the month is helping our young people get a handle on money management. As President Obama said last year when proclaiming financial literacy month: This is a time when Americans can recommit "to teaching ourselves and our children about the basics of financial education."
National Credit Union Youth Week, April 17-23, is the credit union-sponsored opportunity for credit unions to put up the numbers to prove that they are, in fact, committed to improving young people’s financial behavior.
We know that changes in behavior can really make a difference; our experience with the National Endowment for Financial Education’s High School Financial Planning Program proves it.
But Youth Week is another chance for credit unions to jump-start year-round and, ultimately, lifelong savings habits for their young members with a bang. In fact, this year’s theme of the Youth Week, "Money Rocks at My Credit Union," reflects that vigorous sentiment.
While Youth Week officially runs during the third week in April, credit unions can opt to celebrate the entire month. In fact, last year’s event saw two-thirds of participating credit unions celebrate throughout the month.
Further, this year marks Youth Week’s eighth annual National Youth Saving Challenge–a free contest tracking youth deposits. Last year, more than 350 credit unions joined the challenge and engaged nearly 177,000 young people.
Collectively, those young savers put up $24.8 million in savings accounts at their credit unions.
Further, and importantly, more than 10,000 of the participating youths were new savers to boot.
Those are some solid numbers–and credit unions which have participated in the Saving Challenge last year and years prior can and should give themselves a pat on the back.
But more credit unions can and should be involved. That’s the essence of the challenge I put forward here today: Push the numbers ever higher, to beyond 177,000 and $25 million in 2011.
It can be done.
Daviess County Teachers FCU of Owensboro, Ky., is a great example of a successful and growing challenge, as it has exceeded its Saving Challenge goals each year since 2005.
The credit union strongly believes the challenge provides an opportunity to teach young members the importance of "paying yourself first." Lauren Mayhew of the credit union notes that youth at the credit union have an amazing enthusiasm for saving.
We would love to see that sort of passion spread to even more credit unions–which is why there is now a mentoring program to help credit unions mount a successful event. Essentially, it links credit union staff new to the Saving Challenge with individuals who have already planned, hosted and completed many Youth Week celebrations.
The best part may be that it can cost little or nothing for credit unions to participate in financial literacy month, National Credit Union Youth Week or the Saving Challenge. With some imagination, and determination, credit unions can develop some imaginative programs that help their young members learn, and have some fun as well. Additionally, CUNA provides an array of resources to help credit unions make their challenges and celebrations even more appealing.
Flexibility is vital. With the Saving Challenge, for example, credit unions set their own goals and run the contest at any time during the month that best fits their community calendar.
We like to say that no one does a better job of helping consumers in general, and young members in particular, reach their financial goals than do credit unions. Let’s see how much better we can make the numbers this year.
Are you up for the challenge?
Bill Cheney is president/CEO of CUNA