Times are tough. Like it or not, we are in a recession. Burying our heads in the sand when many of our members are hurting in not a smart move. People have lost their jobs, others have lost their savings and even those who haven’t been personally affected are afraid they soon will be. And yet, there have been silver linings. Credit unions have been painted in a very positive light throughout mainstream media, such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. People are taking savings seriously and working on getting out of debt. Your members care more now about their financial futures than ever before. What all this adds up to for your credit union is a thirst among your members for financial education. About two years ago, I wrote an opinion piece for Credit Union Times about financial literacy vs. financial responsibility. I argued that anyone who wants a financial education could get one, but for the most part, your members were not interested. The key, I argued, was financial responsibility. No item I’ve ever written generated as much feedback as that one. I was inundated with e-mails, most agreeing, but some passionately disagreeing with the concept of financial responsibility as the biggest piece of financial education. So much has changed in so little time. While financial responsibility may not yet be where we’d like it to be, your members are no longer apathetic toward information about how to budget, balance their accounts, save and get out of debt. Right now, they want to know. And no one is in a better position to give them the information they need than the credit unions they know and trust. If you’re new to coordinating a financial literacy program, start small. There are lots of free and low-cost resources available. Delivering the information to your members can be as simple and as cost-effective as including short pieces in your newsletter, on your Web site, on video screens in the branches or in your e-mail marketing. It doesn’t matter what you do, your members want this information, and they want it now. As hungry as recession-hit consumers are for financial education, you can’t get away with just throwing cut and dried information out there. Make it fun. Make it engaging. And, yes, hype it up. For example, a feature that helps parents talk to their kids about money can be called “Tomorrow’s Millionaires.” You may feel that that type of hype doesn’t match your credit union’s professional image as a financial institution. But before you make that decision, ask yourself this: Is wrapping your solid, important-to-know, beneficial information in pretty wrapping paper going to detract from your message in some way? Or is it going to attract more members and help them be better managers of their finances while accomplishing the important goal of getting the lessons of personal finance accepted and absorbed? Realize also, that people are ready to change now that the economic environment is so different. Whether they’re asking them out loud or not, and whether you’re hearing them or not, your members are asking questions. Big questions. Important questions. Questions your credit union is in a position to answer. Now here’s one for you: What is your credit union doing to give your members the education they’re silently screaming for?

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Peter Westerman

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