The ABCs Of Student CUs

April 1, 2005

The ABCs Of Student CUs

By Lauren Geerdes

Walk into the Annandale, Va., Atom branch of Apple Federal Credit Union and you'll find the usual papers to process, hands to shake, members to serve, and questions to answer. But look a little closer at the employees and you might think you're old enough to be their parent.

Indeed you may. While many high school students' jobs entail working at a music store or at some electronics haven, these teenagers are learning the finer points of credit union operations thanks to Apple Federal's Student-Run Credit Union Program.

The Fairfax, Va.-based credit union launched the program during the 1995-96 school year to bring real-world financial literacy and education into Fairfax County schools. Apple Federal currently works with 19 schools in five school districts, involving hundreds of student employees who perform numerous financial duties for their classmates.

Through the Student-Run Credit Union Program, Apple Federal opens fully functioning branches within participating high schools. Students are instructed on how to run the branch and perform all duties from accepting membership applications to processing deposits. The goal is for students to become financially educated and gain practical work experience.

Only students, faculty, and staff at the particular school can conduct business at the Student-Run Credit Union, which is open during lunch periods. Nearly 2,000 students and their parents have become Apple Federal members through the branches over the years.

During a typical day, student employees meet with a teacher liaison in a designated area near the school cafeteria where they verify the cashbox and prepare to open the doors. On any given day, students face high deposit volume, new applications, several withdrawals, and a few missing passwords. Students know if they can't answer a question, the best course of action is to call someone who can. Apple Federal's phone number is listed first on speed dial, and students use it liberally.

The credit union faced several challenges when implementing the program:

  • Security. 'We were always reassuring members that students don'thave access to teachers' accounts,' says Cynthia Meadows-McAree, Apple Federal'smarketing manager.
Instead of giving students access to the credit union's mainframe, student-run branches use online banking as the primary account access tool. This way, student workers have access only to account balances and can't manipulate accounts from inside the database.

Accounts opened at student branches are cross-referenced to an operational account the credit union set up. When a student wants to withdraw money, the funds are transferred from the student account to the operational account and the cash is taken from the safe. The safes are replenished from the money in the operational account. Throughout this process, no student can interfere with the password-protected system.

  • Finding a home. Most student branches are placed inside or next to the schoolcafeteria, making it easy for students to conduct business during their lunch breaks. But notall schools have this space. It's up to the students and their teacher liaison to figure outhow to address space issues.
  • Cost. The program isn't a money-maker. But the credit union has loftier goals inmind, notes Robert L. Sowell Sr., Apple Federal's director of business development. 'We'reinvesting in our future. We're fortunate that our board members are former schooladministrators who believe in education.'
The strategy has paid off. Lee High School in Fairfax, Va., Apple Federal's first Student-Run Credit Union branch, has opened more than 700 savings accounts with combined deposits exceeding

$540,000; 414 checking accounts with more than $290,000; and more than $1.3 million in loans since its inception.

On Jan. 15, Apple Federal joined the Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda to promote a national curriculum for student-run credit unions. The partnership will expand the program nationally and will allow for easier dissemination of information to student and faculty.

'It's important to have partnerships because there are so many things we can do together,'

notes Barbara Smalls, director of education for Future Business Leaders of America.

The road to a successful Student-Run Credit Union program is paved with the desire to teach and help our young people make good early financial decisions. It takes solid partnerships and trust between the school, credit union, and students. The education these students receive is priceless--and the possibilities are endless.

Lauren Geerdes is a business development specialist for Apple Federal Credit Union, Fairfax, Va., which recently won the Virginia Desjardin Financial Literacy Award. Contact her at 703-788-4823.