Special Report: National CU Youth Week

‘Get them in Early’

Multifaceted youth marketing involves community outreach, education.

April 25, 2013


State Employees' Credit Union’s (SECU) “get-them-in-early” strategy to youth marketing is a multifaceted approach that involves community outreach, education, direct marketing to existing members, and participation in CUNA’s National Credit Union Youth Week each April.

Just last year, the $25 billion asset, Raleigh, N.C.-based credit union, added 614 new youth accounts and more than $3 million in new deposits during the week of deposit challenges and other events.

SECU divides its youth membership into two groups:

1. Fat Cat is a branded program for children from birth to age 12. It has its own website, newsletter, and savings games along with a mascot that appears at schools, parades, and other community events.

2. Zard is geared toward teens. It also has its own website and promotions, and provides small loans for that first car plus checking and money market accounts to manage those first paychecks.

Beyond its two savings programs, SECU engages in far-reaching financial education and service programs. Staff members teach Biz Kid$ and National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) programs.

In 2012, SECU instructed more than 68,000 students statewide. And the SECU Foundation awards annual scholarships as well.

“We’re out there and we’re becoming more visible to the youth and their parents in our state,” says Leigh Brady, senior vice president of education services. These efforts build relationships, and set SECU apart from other financial institutions.”

Even if these efforts don’t translate directly into new members, Brady believes there’s value in sharing the credit union’s expertise. “Not every child is going to become a credit union member, but everyone has an opportunity to become a financially educated consumer, and I think that goes a long way toward helping a young person in life,” Brady says.

In agreement is Lynn Wright, marketing director at $825 million asset SAFE Federal Credit Union in Sumter, S.C. In addition to a two-tier youth account program, movie events every six months, contests, prizes, and even personalized debit cards for members when they turn 15, SAFE teaches the NEFE curriculum to its members and operates a local high-school branch.

It’s the same at Directions Credit Union, a $560 million asset credit union serving Toledo and northwest Ohio. Financial education is a cornerstone of youth outreach at Directions.

“It’s never too early to learn about money,” says Brenda Covrett, vice president of growth and development. The credit union helped nearly 200 children make deposits during Youth Week in April last year.

Like SECU and SAFE Federal, Directions offers a two-tier youth savings account program. To distinguish its youth accounts from those of competitors, Directions pays a slightly higher rate for youth accounts than for regular savings accounts. The credit union also allows children to personalize their savings accounts.

“If they want to save for an Xbox or an iPad,” says Covrett, “we can set up a special account, so when they check their accounts online, they see “My iPad Savings Account” or “My Xbox Savings Account,” Covrett says.

The credit union’s most successful youth program might just be part of its financial literacy outreach efforts. Directions offers hundreds of hours of financial education reaching thousands of children and teens every year.

The credit union also works closely with area schools, churches, summer camps, and other community organizations. Employees even volunteer to read books about money during story times at local libraries.

The standout, though, is Finances 101. This is experiential game of life the Northwest Ohio Credit Unions—a regional league chapter—offers. The chapter presents the game at events throughout the year. One of those at Bowling Green University last October attracted more than 700 students who showed up work their way through a month of expenses and life circumstances.

Students start by drawing a card to determine their careers and marital status. Then they’re assigned a certain amount of credit card and student debt. A roll of the dice determines how many kids they have, any.

Next up: They have to buy a car, find a place to live, and meet other monthly expenses while encountering setbacks and opportunities as they move through the game. The goal is to finish with some savings and enough money to pay bills. Not all students accomplish that, but all quickly figure out that money doesn’t go as far as they thought it would.

Covrett says the program is so successful that the chapter sometimes has to turn away schools that want to participate. In response, the chapter created an online version for teachers to take into their classrooms.

At Directions, the chapter participation and other educational efforts are part and parcel of the credit union’s mission and commitment to the region it serves. For that reason, Covrett says, the credit union doesn’t try to link revenue to its educational programs.

“We don’t really look for a return on investment,” she says. “We look at our outreach as our investment in, or our giving back to, our community.”

But, like both Brady and Wright, she acknowledges that she hopes the educational outreach will eventually translate into increased membership somewhere down the road, as teens become adults and recognize that not all financial institutions have their best interests at heart.

“If we can make them aware of the credit union difference,” she says, “we’re hoping they’ll continue their relationship with us when they turn 18.”