For a little over a year a revolution has been slowly building in Lowell, Mass. and Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union is at the center of it.
"We wanted to try to understand how a person entering the financial marketplace feels and that person could be 16, 22 or an immigrant," said Mark Cochran, CEO of JDCU. "When it comes to conversations about money, unfortunately, many view it as being a mystery, having anxiety about it or feeling powerless. We’ve provided financial education for years but it’s been more an incremental case-by-case basis. We wanted this to be more of a movement where we could give people the tools to feel in control of their money, rather than money controlling them."
For years the credit union has been offering members of all ages a mix of community workshops and financial education classes. In addition, for students, JDCU offers college scholarships and opportunities to gain work experience with its high school branches, said Michelle Silveira, senior vice president at JDCU.
"We had an off-the-shelf program for teens, but it just didn’t connect with the kids," said Silveira. "So we talked with our ad agency about how to make something educational that would be fun, unique and online."
Working with brand development and marketing communications firm Raoust+Partners, the result was Money Strong, a complete financial education program aimed at helping younger members and those with credit challenges build their money confidence. Built around the idea of empowerment, Money Strong has become a young, fresh, hip movement designed to morph into what’s going on in locals’ lives. According to Olivier Raoust, CEO of Raoust+Partners and chief creative of Money Strong, it wraps financial literacy, support, products and services, local events and encouragement in one program.
"It has been embraced and spread virally throughout the region. It is producing results that are far above the most aggressive expectations set by Jeanne D’Arc. But, more importantly, Money Strong has also become a vehicle for positive change in the lives of those in the area that need to resurrect their credit. That is the ultimate definition of service to the community and giving back," said Raoust.
With four high school branches, JDCU initially developed Money Strong with an eye on building deeper connections with young members. Student advisory groups served as focus groups to discover what made area teens tick, from identifying their needs and music, clothes and colors they liked to favorite local hangouts. A multi- media mix using billboards, radio and movie theater ads, word-of-mouth guerilla marketing campaigns and social media channels helped build awareness of the new microsite, moneystrong.org.
"Instead of generic concepts, we involved the young adults and high school students in the process and really listened to them," said Raoust. "What appeals to a boomer audience may not resonate as clear and loud with younger audience so we had to represent JDCU through a different prism to reach that audience."
He said the local neighborhood feel has been built into Money-Strong’s DNA, so everything from the bold colors used on the microsite to the high school branches featuring murals depicting local hangouts came directly from those conversations. In addition to offering relevant financial advice and tools online, Money Strong also offers customized products such as a 7% APY for the first $500 deposited in a primary savings account, a credit-builder Visa card, and auto and personal loans, where members who make their payments on time have the opportunity to get their rates lowered each year for three years.
"We wanted kids to start saving, so the 7% rate was a way to encourage that, and we know that there are many teens who don’t have credit, want, say, a car loan, but they get turned down or must have a co- signer. Now they don’t have to be denied, and as their credit history improves, their rate goes down. Down the road they’ll always remember we were there for them and stay with us," said Silveira. "We quietly launched the products in January, have 132 loans and 111 are building credit and the average Money Strong new member age is 23 years old. We’re hitting the mark of what we wanted to do. To get that momentum going is awesome for us."
She added that now that JDCU has made inroads in building awareness, the focus this year will be to keep locals engaged in learning.
"We’re still in a learning phase but we’re on the right track because I think now they see that we respect their opinion and are willing to change," said Silveira. "We don’t talk down to them and when they walk into a branch they’re thrilled that we’re taking them seriously and not treating them like little kids."
Silveira said that word of mouth about the JDCU has been spreading not only among the younger set but also those who are looking to become more financially savvy.
"We realized pretty quickly that wanting to feel empowered about money is something that’s relevant to everyone, not just younger members," added Cochran. "There are people older than 18 who may have lost their jobs, made mistakes and need credit repair, so why not give them another chance."
To that end the microsite offers two paths–one for students and the other for those who are interested in building their credit scores.
"It’s still in the initial stages and the response has been great– almost a sense of disbelief, that there must be a catch," said Cochran. "So right now people are pleasantly surprised but holding back a little. This is still a process, one we’re sharing with our members, and we’re seeing that people are getting the word out about Money Strong."