A Month to Stand on the Shoulders of Giants
“Standing on the shoulders of giants” is a favorite quote of Rudy Hanley (soon-to-retire CEO of SchoolsFirst FCU and former National Credit Union Foundation board member). He uses it often and always says it with the utmost humility and awe at the good works of others. This despite the fact that Mr. Hanley is a giant in his own right for his accomplishments on behalf of his members and the credit union movement.
Think about the visual for a moment. Imagine the vista you would see standing on the shoulders of giants. I think a lot about what that vista looks like in the context of improving people's financial well-being. I also ponder what Mr. Hanley would see and I surmise that it might look a lot like the vision of the NCUF – a vision to make financial freedom achievable through credit unions.
A vision where people have control over their financial decisions and money now and in the future; where people have the ability to plan and to anticipate what's coming; and where people have options (e.g., they can save for retirement, send their kids to college and go on a restful vacation).
Well, dear reader, that vision can become a reality. And, timing being everything in life, now is the perfect time to help make it happen because April is National Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to do? Start here.
Focus on your members: Members are why credit unions exist, and your mission is to serve them. And, they need you more than you might think. In a 2012 survey of 25,000 American adults conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 19% spend more than they earn; 26% are living with unpaid medical debt; 56% have no rainy day fund (e.g., money to cover living expenses for three months); and 59% have not tried to figure out their retirement savings needs. These are our colleagues, our employees, our neighbors, our family, our friends. And our mission, as a credit union community, is to help them.
Get involved: Strive to become part of the strategic architecture of your community's financial literacy efforts. You deal in money matters. That's your business. Look around your community and reach out to unlikely partners – nonprofits, local government, other cooperatives, farmers’ markets, food banks, asset-building coalitions, etc. – who are working to improve your community's financial well-being.
Be strategic in your philanthropy: When you think about your credit union's philanthropic efforts, think about how they connect to improving consumers’ financial lives, to credit unions’ dedication to financial well-being. Are you really connecting the business of your credit union – saving, lending, education, other financial products and services – to the charitable donations you make? Leverage what you do best – consumer finance – into philanthropy that focuses on strengthening the financial well-being of everyone in your community.
Lead efforts to improve your community's financial well-being: Provide good, solid financial information in your branches and on your website so consumers see you as a trusted source to find such information. Hold a reality fair for high school students. Hold a retirement fair for community members to help them plan for retirement. The possibilities are endless.
Document your efforts and talk about them: Credit unions do such amazing work to bring financial education resources to their members. It's critical that you let your community, your members and your lawmakers know about your efforts. Why? Because leveraging credit union's financial education outreach is an ideal way to build credit union awareness and to reach potential members, lawmakers and the community. It's also a key way to let consumers know that credit unions are an option – the best option – to help them with their financial needs.
What else can you do? Take a hard look at what you are doing. Are you just getting “butts in seats” for seminars or are you measuring the impact of your work (e.g., improved credit score, eligibility for a lower rate loan, etc.)? Everyone, regardless of age or demographic, needs financial education resources for where they are in their financial lives.
Those giants? You’ve probably figured it out by now – well, they’re your members. They are kids, women, men, students, retirees, African-American, Latino, low-income, middle-income individuals and working families. When you help them succeed financially, you are indeed standing on their shoulders, gazing at a future where financial freedom is achievable through credit unions.
Gigi Hyland is executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation. She can be reached at (202) 824-6282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.