<p>RALEIGH, N.C. – The "Fat Cat" is really purring at State Employees Credit Union. That's the moniker for a youth program, borrowed from the Canadians, that has taken off within the year attracting more than 40,000 savings accounts from youngsters 12 and under. "It's something that has simply caught on with kids, their parents and our own employees," declared Sandra M. Jones, a marketing staffer and desktop publishing manager for consumer education at the $8 billion State Employees. The "Fat Cat" children's account is actually the product of Credit Union Central of Canada and was originated in 1983 by a Vancouver, B.C. credit union. But two years ago, James C. Blaine, president of State Employees, at last won the right to adopt the program in the U.S. under a licensing agreement with the North Carolina Credit Union League, which acts as agent for CU Central of Canada. Fat Cat, which uses marketing hoopla based on attractive logos combined with T-shirts, coloring books and appearances by "Fat Cat" at local schools and branches, is designed to promote the value of saving money. The program is geared to children 12 and under who can open and add to a savings account with as little as $5. Youngsters receive a Fat Cat passbook for recording transactions and special statements are mailed to them each month. Also in the package is a quarterly "Paw Prints" newsletter and coloring contests. The program was so successful last year, said Jones, that plans are being made to start a program for teenagers sometime this fall. That program aimed at teens 13-19 will include checking account and debit card options and will be pegged at educating teens on credit purchases in preparation for car loans. Fat Cat was formally launched in Raleigh in November 2000 and within six months had 19,000 accounts. Another Raleigh credit union, Local Government Employees Federal Credit Union, which has close ties to State Employees under a branching pact also has Fat Cat. Maurice Smith, president of LGEFCU, said the CU "piggybacks" on the Fat Cat program and has found it working quite well in targeting the youth market. It has 3,000 Fat Cat accounts. "You know most financial institutions go after the teenage market but we want to be ahead of the curve by targeting young people right away and instilling good habits," said Smith. He said the program has been popular with youngsters "as we see young people wearing those T-shirts." And the program has generated "good will among parents and guardians." In cooperation with State Employees, LGEFCU expects to launch a teenage program in August or September "using our own collaborative marketing skills," said Smith. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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