FOUR YEARS AGO, Bryce Roth fell into an unexpected job that launched a career as a credit union marketing whiz.
“I stumbled into a job at a small credit union in Ohio,” he says. “It was completely different from my college major in psychology and my first job as a social worker.”
Today, Roth is director of cooperative outreach at CitizensFirst Credit Union in Oshkosh, Wis. He’s recognized as a program innovator with a passion for educating young people about personal finance and cooperative principles.
“They really want to do business with organizations that are concerned with the well-being of their communities. Some people might say those are just warm, fuzzy sentiments, but I know they’re more than that.”
Acting on that insight, three years ago Roth and his mentor, CitizensFirst CEO Kevin J. Ralofsky, started “Next Gen Outreach,” a financial literacy program aimed at 15 to 25-year-olds. “Beyond teaching financial principles, the goal is to relate on a human level doing service projects,” explains Roth. “Young people don’t have money, but they do have time.”
Roth says the “sweet spot” in Generation Y is the 20 to 22-year-old age group, but CitizensFirst is working more with high-school students.
“One boy wrote a fascinating account in which he related how he took lessons on building credit from Next Gen and applied them to financing his first car,” he explains. “When kids send me emails enthusing about what we’re doing and showing that they’ve learned, it gives me goose bumps.”
Another ambitious concept is Chatter Yak!, a marketing credit union service organization that Roth co-founded in 2011. “We can do entire marketing campaigns on a credit union’s behalf, train them to do their own, or build their websites.”
But Chatter Yak’s thrust is a bit different. “Credit unions do a lot of talking, but often it’s just to one another and not to the community—it’s back-scratching rather than focusing on the people out there,” Roth says. “We wanted to start meaningful conversations with people on the benefits of being credit union members in a fresh, creative way.”
He cites one campaign that was based on “pop-cult” movies. “Without mentioning specific rates, we placed posters outside movie theaters that reflected their themes. Outside a ‘Harry Potter’ movie, our poster proclaimed, ‘Magical Loan Rates!’
“Outside ‘Twilight,’ the poster read, ‘Debit Cards That Won’t Suck the Life Out of You.’ For ‘Matrix,’ the posters read, ‘Mind Blowing.’ We even reached out to kids with a ‘Shrek’-themed poster, knowing they would draw it to the attention of their parents,” he says.
When Roth joined the industry, Ralofsky told him, “These are our principles. Every decision we make has to follow these.”
That’s some of the best counsel Roth’s ever received.