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WESTBROOK, Maine-Realizing the potential of today’s vital yet often under-served youth market-estimated at 90 million strong-the Maine Credit Union League has conducted a series of focus groups to determine best practices for reaching out to youth, as well as their understanding of personal finance, budgeting and credit union services. Results of the focus groups in a summary report are available to interested credit unions. “This was everything we could have asked for and more,” says John Paradise, government and public affairs manager for the league, in regard to the positive reaction by youth participants, parents, teachers and members of the business community. “All [youth participants] were very positive about speaking about their spending habits. They all seemed very enthused about being listened to.” Organized under the direction of the league’s Marketing and Statewide Advertising Committee, focus groups were conducted in two series – one involving CU marketers, the other involving youth primarily between the ages of 11 and 14 from three areas of the state at three regional sessions. Half the youth participants were CU members. Key results of the focus groups indicate that a service gap exists for preteens, who no longer feel connected to “kids” clubs but also are not ready for full teen programs. Preteens felt it was important to be recognized as a distinct group. And, contrary to beliefs by CU marketers, preteens are most interested in having a safe place to save their money, rather than having access to cash through checking accounts and debit cards. “Rewards” that encourage saving money were of particular interest. However, rather than offering prizes, such as CD players, T-shirts and cash drawings, youth participants preferred gift cards to favorite stores and restaurants. In terms of marketing, preteens want to be treated as such and not as “kids.” Personal touches, such as being addressed by their first names, were a draw. Adults that use teen “lingo” were definitely a turn off. Knowledge of money and credit unions varied by region. For example, youth from an area of Maine hurt by job layoffs had a greater understanding of money management and budgeting, according to Paradise, although the majority of youth recognized the importance of self-control and the dangers of debt. Students from one group with an in-school credit union were particularly pleased with their knowledge of CUs. But, one of the most eye-opening responses was that of youth toward their parents. “Many didn’t realize how much their mother and father had to spend to support them in a given month,” Paradise says. “They came to really appreciate what their parents do, which is exactly what we wanted them to realize.that money doesn’t grow on trees. “Several weeks after,” he adds, “we heard from teachers that this really hit home, how expensive it is to live. We know that, but 17-year-olds don’t necessarily.” To obtain a full copy of the Maine CU League’s focus group report, call Debra Trautman, director of marketing, at (800) 341-0180. [email protected]

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