April was National Financial Literacy month. What did your credit union do differently last month to improve the financial literacy of your members and those in the communities it serves?
Actually, I have to confess; I have a beef with limiting National Financial Literacy Month to only one month per year. That’s why you’re hearing me address this topic now. As America’s credit unions, for us, every month should be National Financial Literacy month. After all, education is in our DNA.
By making financial literacy a year-round initiative, we would closely live one of the guiding principles defining our cooperative business model. We would distinguish ourselves from the local “for-profit” financial institutions. Our members and those in our communities would benefit greatly by acquiring a deeper understanding and appreciation of banking and investment instruments. The underserved would be empowered by this knowledge and hopefully not fall victim so readily to the payday lenders. And, of course, our balance sheets would grow because we would see more demand for our services.
Yes, it’s a no-brainer that the more the public and our members understand the many products and services credit unions offer and how to use them for their own personal gain – which comes through education and financial literacy – the more likely they all would be to use them, and to use them wisely and correctly.
Now that you’re convinced there can be a lot of value and return to the credit union by having it make financial literacy a year-round initiative, we should consider how to go about making it happen.
Here are seven suggestions to get your credit union started.
- Engage young people—their energy will carry the initiative. They are a direct line to their parents and once they are knowledgeable on a certain subject, you can count on them sharing that knowledge with their parents, families and friends. Of course, they’re also media-savvy. They know computers and their way around the Internet like we used to know, well let’s say, our way around the carburetor of that ’59 Chevy.
- Teach using video vignettes—tap the delivery channel everyone is watching today. Imagine having a relationship manager or a front-line teller recording a short instructional video explaining the importance of making a budget and saving for a rainy day. To those watching the video, that manager or teller now becomes a teacher and guide, an authority on the subject. They also become a familiar face the next time the viewer walks into the branch. Post the videos on your credit union’s website and on Facebook and YouTube as well!
- Tap social media—use the power of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to communicate short, educational tips. Attach an incentive for those who respond to the messages by sharing their own experience, asking questions, re-tweeting the messages, or sharing them with their followers. Social media provides the perfect environment for nurturing member relationships in this way and for having others help you spread the word.
- Check out Financial Reality Fairs—The National Credit Union Foundation is behind the success of this initiative. In essence, the financial reality fair is an interactive financial literacy tool for high school students. To date, a number of credit unions and leagues have held reality fairs and the results have been extremely successful. You can access more information on the NCUF website.
- Extend a hand of partnership to the local community—by nature, credit unions are collaborators so why manage this initiative in a vacuum, keeping it only to the credit union? Engage our cousins in other cooperative sectors (food, housing or energy) to help spread the educational messages. Go further and reach out to schools, libraries and even TV stations. Improving financial literacy is a topic everyone can rally around, and from a “community service” perspective, this is great PR, particularly for radio and TV stations.
- Make financial literacy part of your culture—Each day at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, team members begin their shift by participation in a “stand-up” where they hear what’s on the agenda for the day, who today’s arrivals will be, plus other pertinent operational information. However, stand-up is not over until one of the Basics (basic operational principles for service) is discussed and owned by each team member. Incorporate stand-ups into your credit union’s culture during which team members review and discuss a financial product or service. This is one way to ensure that everyone at your credit union understands the importance of knowing and understanding what it is that they offer to your members.
- Fuel the conversation—people won’t admit if they don’t understand the basics of banking, much less how to invest wisely. So any outreach containing information on how to do so must be done in a non-threatening yet attention-grabbing manner. Develop an ad campaign and be sure to make it multi-lingual. Teaching points should be simple, concise and memorable. Remember Art Linkletter back in the day, interviewing the little kids on his TV show? Well, kids do say the darnedest things. I wonder how they would explain a jumbo-mortgage loan?