Credit Unions Engage in Lifetime Learning
John and Jane Member are going to purchase a house, and a year ago they attended your session on home buying.
But don’t take for granted they’ll follow through on the information you presented – and don’t assume they’ll look at the handout you gave them to remind them of the points covered at the seminar. But they may want to check on-line for the latest advice or text you a question.
Above, members attend a home-buying education session at North Carolina's State Employees' Credit Union.
Research from the National Endowment for Financial Education offers some key findings on financial literacy:
Educational interventions and financial literacy are only weakly linked to behaviors. That link is much weaker than in other areas such as workplace education or career counseling.
The amount and timing of financial education matters. Education that closely precedes a financial decision has greater impact. Diminishing returns mean more education isn’t always better unless education is tied closely to points of decision. The impact can dwindle within hours.
Billy J. Hensley, director of education at the NEFE in Denver, has seen several trends in financial schooling.
“A couple of things have changed,” he said. “People are looking for information in more places than before. As well as how that is displayed, it means who do they go to and who do they trust? People are seeking more information from independent sources, non-commercial sources.
“I also think that because of access to quick information, people want to get more information that is timely at the point-of-sale decision. We (the NEFE) are using social media and mobile websites as a means to engage people. It’s probably not the most comprehensive way to share information but it’s a way to engage people and bring up a point. It’s an on-ramp, if you will.”
Given the financial turmoil of the past few years, are people more receptive to financial education today?
“I think so, and that has a lot of factors,” Hensley said. “When people go through a situation that’s particularly difficult or very emotionally felt – for example, someone who was downsized and has never had to consider what it takes to save and not live beyond their means – it changes them fundamentally. That’s why at least some people are more open to financial education and gathering information before they make a financial decision.”
Hensley suggests financial education is at a turning point. The idea used to be sitting through a class and becoming financially literate. Today financial education takes place over the course of a lifetime. People make financial decisions over that lifetime and the factors affecting those decisions change. It’s important to look at what actually motivates people, and give them tools, context and understanding.
Efforts to begin early in the lifelong approach are underway at State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina, where SECU has partnered with the College Foundation of North Carolina and the North Carolina Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. On Feb. 22 SECU personnel will be available in all 252 branches to help students and their families prepare their Free Application for Federal Financial Aid.
Joan McCool, senior vice president of IRA/investment services at the $26.9 billion SECU, said people are always looking for guidance in various aspects of financial planning. For example, SECU offers pre-retirement and post-retirement planning.
“The public is becoming aware that they need to take charge of their financial lives,” McCool indicated. “SECU does not really have a social media presence, but we still find many opportunities to reach young people. We give presentations at their schools, and we can help them complete applications online. We’re trying to make sure we’re reaching people in any way they prefer.”
Read more: Embracing the gamification trend ...
The application is called Saving Magic and was developed through a partnership with the $2.5 billion MSU Federal Credit Union. Players control a wizard-in-training who battles dragons. Players collect coins, and the more coins they save the higher the earnings. The coins can be used to buy hats, clothes and spells for the fledging wizard.
M2 Research in Encinitas, Calif., projects that gamification in various applications, including financial education, is now a $100 million market that will reach $2.8 billion by 2016.
It’s just one approach MSUFCU has used to bring financial education to more than 3,000 people. Sarah Bohan, vice president of corporate relations at the East Lansing credit union, is seeing strong interest in how to manage money and how to budget.
“There is an element of concern,” Bohan noted. “We are seeing students wondering about getting jobs and managing debt. How can I be financially successful? How can I budget? How will credit today impact me in the future? It varies depending on the student level. An undergraduate has a different perspective than a graduate student. We customize our presentations.”
Feedback from those groups helps MSUFCU keep on top of the interests of each audience and keep the presentations engaging, she continued. The credit union can see trends as they develop, for example growing attention to guarding against identity theft and fraud.
One example of carefully tailoring financial education programs to specific audiences is the youth savers program offered by the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas. Pee Wee Penguin has been the program’s mascot since 1988. Now Pee Wee will focus on material for grades 1 through 3. He’ll be joined by a big sister, Kiwi, for grades 4 through 6, and baby brother Sheldon for kindergartners.
All three of the characters are intended to help young people learn smart savings habits.
Meanwhile, the $558 million Postal Credit Union in Woodbury, Minn., has launched a peer-to-peer approach in its Money Talks educational series. The program is led by PCU Student Credit Union employees, and in addition to teaching key financial concepts, the series is also expected to boost awareness of the student credit union and credit unions in general.
PCU points out the approach backs the peer appeal students embrace with the expertise offered by the credit union. For schools facing tight budgets, a bit of good news accompanying Money Talks is that it is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Credit Union League. For the students, those who complete the series and pass a final exam receive a $100 stipend.