Attracting Teenage Members Takes Teenagers and Talent
Teenager Eva Baker made what many of her peers would consider the ultimate sacrifice – getting up early on Saturday morning.
Baker (pictured at left) pulled on her 121 Financial Credit Union shirt and headed for Mad City Money, a two-hour event sponsored for teens by the Northeast Florida Chapter of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions.
Attendees received packets detailing information about a hypothetical life – profession, income, number of children, debts, and what their spouse earns. After determining how much money they had to spend, they visited a series of stations representing various items such as groceries.
The idea was to make all the necessary purchases – from children's shoes to rent or mortgage – and still have $100 left in a checking account.But Baker wasn't just one of the attendees. She is a blogger who writes the TeensGotCents Website and was asked to represent 121 at the event. In fact, she teams with the credit union on the site – but with some parameters. She is savvy enough to insist that the blog is hers, and she has the final say on what appears.
Her next blog told readers about Mad City Money. The site records 3,000 hits a month. It's an example of how credit unions are updating their efforts to appeal to teenagers. Another effort, Zard, has been created by State Employees’ Credit Union in North Carolina. That program has attracted 100,000 teens.
Cindy Breslin, vice president of marketing at the $443 million 121 in Jacksonville, Fla., explained she read an article in the Florida Times-Union about Baker, her blog, and her interest in educating teenagers about financial issues.
The credit union contacted her and asked if she would be interested in partnering with a credit union. Baker agreed, but explained she wanted autonomy.
“We sort of monitor what she's interested in or what we think teens would be interested in,” Breslin explained. “We forward information to her and she's free to use it or not. I think once a site becomes commercialized, it's not of interest to teens any more.
“We were fortunate recently that we had an onsite car sale. I didn't realize it at the time, but she was interested in buying a car. So she came to our car sale, and she's writing a series on her blog on car shopping. What's she's doing is all real.”
The key to the success of Baker's blog seems to be that it is peer to peer, not an adult lecturing. So Berline doesn't want to feed topics to her.
“It's radically different from what we’ve been doing and I think it's the correct approach,” Breslin said. “Before we would write articles or have seminars. Teens want to do things less and less face to face. They want it when they want it. They believe the information they receive from Eva. It comes back to what's real and how they relate to older people versus one of their own.”
Just as the credit union gains from its relationship with Baker, Baker also benefits. For example, she was asked by a local organization to conduct some classes for teens on budgeting and finance. Baker called 121 and asked if the credit union could help. So 121 provided calculators, pens, pencils and shirts.
Up in North Carolina, SECU's Zard program fits with the credit union's FAT CAT program for young members. When a FAT CAT participant reaches 13, they are automatically enrolled in Zard.
“It's a nice segue into their teen years,” said Leigh Brady, EVP for organizational development at the $28.3 billion credit union in Raleigh. “It expands upon what we initially introduced in FAT CAT with additional financial services such as money market and checking. They learn more through expanded topics. They have their own website and newsletter.”
SECU also works with parents to help them provide basic financial information to their teens. Sometimes that works. But teens know adults can be pretty clueless.
So another approach is financial education within the schools. In high school the credit union introduces reality fairs called The Reality of Money. It's very similar to the Mad City Money approach. Teens receive a piece of paper indicating they are, for instance, a computer technician with two years of education and making a certain salary. They must decide what kind of car they’re going to purchase, what kind of home they’re going to live in, how much they are going to spend on groceries, and so on.
“It's really the harsh reality of how much it costs to live,” Brady said. “Not only does it help convince them they need to stay in school, it helps them understand how far a dollar goes or doesn't go. It's a great approach to financial education and we’ve had a lot of success with that.
“They realize they’re going to have to make decisions and decisions involving money aren't as easy as they thought they would be. Teenagers, and I think even pre-teens, have a vested interest in money in general. They see the power of spending and saving. I think they recognize that earlier and earlier now.”
Brady noted topics of most interest to teens are credit and cards. Forget keeping a check register and balancing a checkbook – they don't write checks.
Most folks would agree financial education for teenagers benefits them, but what's in it for the credit union?
“When you introduce kids to financial services at an early age, and you establish a variety of ways you can go about providing good information to them and offering quality low-cost services, it's going to make them a better financially savvy member,” Brady responded.
“Topics such as risk-based lending and how to purchase a car can be introduced. I might not remember everything you tell me about purchasing a car. But I remember I can go to the credit union and they’ll tell me about that. They’ll see the value of a credit union and what a credit union can provide.”
Brady sketches an upbeat picture of what programs to attract young people can mean to the credit union. She would love to see every one of the FAT CAT and Zard members use SECU going forward as they get jobs, marry thus adding their spouse to the credit union, have kids who join, and broaden the membership base.
“If you don't get them early, someone else will,” she warned.