MADISON, Wis. (9/2/15)--Students aren’t the only ones returning to hallways, lockers and cafeterias over the next few weeks--many credit unions are heading back to school as well.
As not-for-profit financial institutions, credit unions are generally well-connected to the communities they serve, and this includes the proliferation of in-school credit union branches.
For Heritage Trust FCU, Summerville, S.C., this school year marks the first that it will have branches in two local high schools, Goose Creek and Summerville.
Tana Lee, director of career and technical programs at Berkley County School District, which contains Goose Creek High School, told News Now the district visited a Tennessee-based credit union several years ago and saw how successful its in-school branch system was.
“Eventually we began talking with Heritage Trust, and we ended up getting the CUNA resource guide on youth programs,” she said. “We shared them with Heritage Trust, and let them tour our schools and see if they wanted to partner with us.”
Goose Creek uses an empty office as the school’s branch, which is staffed by students in the banking services major/pathway in school. The students trained at the local Heritage Trust branch during the summer. When school kicked off Aug. 19, they were ready for business.
“These students are in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, and they’re getting hands-on financial experience, while getting paid and learning what it’s like to perform transactions, count money, conduct audits and do everything they would do as a credit union employee,” Lee said. “It is absolutely a credit union within the school: they have teller stations, signage and member service stations. Students have been marketing the credit union during lunch periods.”
Heritage Trust President/CEO Jim McDaniel told News Now he has been impressed with the students who applied to work at the branch.
“These kids have been very enthusiastic from day one. They went through the interview process, which includes answering questions from a panel of five adults, and they were just phenomenal,” he said. “There’s one student, who had been described as ‘attendance challenged.’ But he got interested in the branch concept when it was first proposed, and since he’s been a part of the program the school said he’s been a different student, just a great worker and student.”
McDaniel said it’s been exciting for Heritage Trust to familiarize young people with the credit union system, and the parents are excited their children are getting valuable career experience before graduating.
Several local news outlets covered the branch's opening, featuring interviews with students and teachers who are participating.
Heritage Trust FCU and Goose Creek students will give a full presentation on their credit union branch at the upcoming Association for Career and Technical Education Conference in New Orleans in November.
While Heritage Trust FCU is just getting started in its local schools, Community Financial CU of Plymouth, Mich., has operated student-run branches in schools since the 1990-91 school year.
Bill Lawton, president/CEO of Community Financial CU, highlighted the program in February before the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Literacy and Education Commission. He noted the importance of building on the success stories the program creates and getting the message to local school districts about the good workdone.
Natalie McLaughlin, senior education partnership coordinator at Community Financial, told News Now that there’s no shortage of success stories.
“We had an intern this summer. He just graduated high school, and he used his Community Financial Account throughout his school days. He told us that he always felt like Community Financial valued him as a member, that we were interested in empowering him to meet his goals, and that’s why he wanted to work here,” she said. “And during his time here, he’s helped out a lot with our software and hardware needs, and even helped us install fingerprint ID authentication to our terminals.”
Belvoir FCU, Woodbridge, Va., has started its credit union employees even younger. It operates a branch in Fort Belvoir Elementary School, located on the grounds of the military installation. Teachers there nominate sixth-graders who excel in math to staff this branch of Belvoir FCU.
The branch is a part of the credit unions financial education mission. “We’re all about teaching children at a young age how to responsibly approach finances,” Shannon Lindstrom, Belvoir FCU’s financial counselor, told News Now. “We’ve got some great feedback, but not always in the traditional sense. Parents who watch their kids go to the credit union branch will take pictures and post them to Facebook, which gets our name out there and shows how deep we’re connected to this community.”
Students operate the in-school branch before school begins one day per week. Students can deposit money they’ve earned by doing chores into their savings accounts. The branch even has its own version of prize-linked savings, allowing students to take a prize out of the “treasure chest” with each deposit.
“We had one student who started as a teller at Fort Belvoir Elementary, and eventually went through school, graduated and came back to work with us as a teller for a number of years,” Lindstrom said.
Sharon Leake, membership development officer with Belvoir FCU, told News Now that the students who become members at a young age often continue as members as they grow up.