To lenders, this generation of young adults seems like a new breed.
Borrowing money doesn’t represent the freedom to make large purchases that were once out of reach. It represents the opposite—a “#debtsentence,” according to an analysis of millennial social media trends around borrowing conducted by the Filene Research Institute.
Young adults embrace the sharing economy, and are open to new solutions for housing and transportation. And they expect financial services to be delivered online with the speed and convenience of a Domino’s pizza ordered with a tweet. So how do credit unions respond to these shifting attitudes and expectations? By sticking to their mission, experts say.
“Our product isn’t loans,” says David Klavitter, chief marketing officer for $1.6 billion asset Dupaco Community Credit Union in Dubuque, Iowa. “Our product is helping people improve their financial positions with better money decisions.”
Credit unions must reimagine their products to survive in a changing society, says Andrew Downin, Filene’s managing director of research. The most successful innovations will be those that stem from an understanding of which problems members want to solve.
To stay relevant with millennials, credit unions must address this group’s negative attitudes toward debt, their expectation of fast service, and the impact of the sharing economy on major purchases.
Negative attitudes around debt
The top two emotions young adults associate with debt are anger and fear, according to “Millennial Money Chatter,” a Filene report. Those attitudes reflect many millennials’ experiences during the Great Recession, when families lost jobs and then homes because they couldn’t repay their debt.
That experience, in addition to high student loan debt levels and lagging wages, has resulted in young adults being cautious about the debt they take on, often postponing major life events such as getting married or buying homes.
But credit unions are addressing those fears through a variety of educational programs. Combined with an improving economy, those fears are starting to diminish.
At Dupaco, “The Great Credit Race” is a contest designed to educate the public about the importance of having a good credit score. Participants compete to improve their credit scores with the help of Dupaco advisers, and the credit union shares their progress.
“It’s a unique way to educate people about how to build a great credit score,” Klavitter says. “It aligns with Dupaco’s differentiator of member intimacy. We exist to educate people. The race is a fun way to reinforce the credit union’s value proposition.”
The largest and most common expense for young adults is college tuition. The average student loan balance is $25,500—60% more than the $15,900 average from 10 years ago, according to Pew Research. But one credit union is doing its part to educate students about how much college will cost.
Fort Community Credit Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis., piloted “Debt Dragon,” a Filene i3 program, in local high schools this year to educate students about student loan debt before they enroll in college.
Debt Dragon allows students to predict how much money they’d need to borrow to attend the college of their choice. It also estimates their student loan payments upon graduation, depending on how much debt they accumulate.
“The point is not to scare them away from an education, but to get them to start talking about that debt and how they’re going to approach it,” says Marissa Weidenfeller, director of marketing at the $237 million asset credit union. “I ask a lot of high school seniors how they plan to finance college, and they have no idea. They’re planning to go, but it’s like, ‘We’ll figure it out when we get there.’”
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