If you have been in the presence of a financial literacy teacher for more than a minute, you have probably heard these statistics from Harris Interactive:
- 56% of American adults don’t have a budget or track their expenses.
- 28% of adults admit to not paying all of their bills on time.
- 41% of adults would give themselves a “C,” “D” or “F” in personal finance.
Many financial literacy programs offered by credit unions tend to focus solely on educating members. How often, though, do credit union employees experience these same financial issues? The assumption that all credit union employees are somehow better with their personal finances is dangerous. While placing a focus on providing financial literacy to external members, a strong case can be made for the benefits of extending the same training to credit union employees, who are, after all, internal members.
In 2009 Meritrust Credit Union began to offer Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to employees as part of the employee wellness program. Twenty-nine employees (and their spouses) have attended the program with outstanding results. Although not every participant agrees 100% with Dave’s stringent plan, many have expressed their gratitude for being given the opportunity to learn. As a group they have decreased their debt by over $70,000, increased their savings by over $12,000 and report feeling more in control of their finances.
Are we on the right track? I think so. Could we be doing even more? Absolutely.
I’ve spoken with a number of credit union peers in the industry and about half of their credit unions offer financial literacy in various forms to employees. Some provide a money management session at orientation, while others offer ongoing classes or programs for interested employees. Some utilize online courses, like Balance, while others have developed their own curriculum. Resources such as Dave’s FPU or CUNA’s Seminars in a Box exist for those who don’t have the personnel dedicated to curriculum creation.
For the other half of credit unions not offering employee-specific financial literacy, the benefits of higher employee productivity, increased employee loyalty and a culture of member advocacy are worth its implementation. Regardless of the method, if a financial literacy program is good enough for your members, your employees and your credit union will benefit by participating as well.
Consider that 65% of employers surveyed say their employees are less productive at work when worried about financial issues, according to a Met Life study. Nearly 73% of adults express concern about their finances and 45% specify concern over not having an emergency savings account, according to Harris Interactive.
Stress due to financial hardship leads to more absenteeism, more time spent taking care of financial matters at work and even an increase in workplace theft. These issues create a cost that could be offset by offering a financial literacy program for employees.
Financially confident employees bring an invaluable benefit to members. Claudine Oriani, advocate of financial literacy and webinar instructor at CUNA, said, “It begins with your in-house members first. If they are [financially] literate, they can help others succeed. If they struggle, they’re not present on the job.” Tinker Federal Credit Union Assistant Vice President of Financial Empowerment Cynthia Campbell agrees educated employees spur credit union growth. "Employees who are financially savvy are more likely to discuss relevant products and services with members who need them. If an employee doesn’t understand the financial benefits of an IRA or the leverage a HELOC can provide, they will never recommend them to a member because the fear being asked questions they can’t answer. Providing financial education to your employees is a win-win-win (CU, employee, member).”
At Meritrust, we have not reached all employees with financial literacy classes yet. However, as the success of the employee wellness program continues to grow, we will offer more opportunities to teach employees. By offering financial literacy to employees, we’re ensuring all members, both internal and external, have access to the education they need to be financially successful.
The Crash Network is a grassroots organization of more than 100 young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships online collaboration and development projects. Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author.
Chris Wolgamott is community development liaison at Meritrust Credit Union, Wichita, Kan.
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