Metro Credit Union, Chelsea, Mass., is part of a community partnership that provides its neighbors with resources and life skills to advance financial security.
Since 2012, Metro has been a partner in CONNECT, a nonprofit financial opportunity center offering education, housing, and career support.
Charlene Bauer, Metro’s chief development officer and senior vice president for outreach and advocacy, explains that “if individuals have the necessary skills to advance their job, create stable housing, and have access to sound financial management, they are going to be more successful.”
With resources located in one place and a shared data base, “whatever that person comes in for, whether it’s help with taxes, heating assistance, poor credit, unemployment, we help them with that service and then engage them with other partners.” CONNECT serves about 4,000 people each year.
For people who hope to qualify for a consumer loan but lack a banking history or FICO score, Metro considers utility and rent payments instead. “We’re becoming more accommodating,” says Robert Cashman president/CEO of Metro. “Our goal is trying to find ways of saying yes.”
Sometimes an individual seeking assistance through CONNECT is offered financial coaching for several months, with the goal of qualifying for a product offered by Metro. The coaching program was established with a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation.
Metro also partners with Boston Saves and other local organizations to encourage families to start saving early for the college education of their children. “We work with college savings accounts, to help families have the dream and realize the dream of sending children to college,” Bauer says.
The credit union’s focus on financial literacy for the entire family includes work with students in schools. “Our belief is that it’s very important for graduating seniors to know how to manage their finances,” Bauer said. “There are 14 high schools in our branch communities where we donate to integrate financial education into their curriculum.”
Metro also participates in Financial Reality Fairs for high school students, championed by the Foundation. “Students select the job they’d like to have one day and learn what their salary would likely be. They receive a credit score and need to take that income and work through decisions, create a budget. Will they live with their parents, buy a car, have a school loan? They need to make all of these life decisions … which is supposed to bring some reality into money management,” Bauer says.
In addition, two high schools have fully functioning, student-run Metro branches. “There’s a full teller line and everything else you would need. Students receive credit, mentoring and work experience. Metro provides students with scholarships and part-time jobs.”
Bauer completed a week-long National Credit Union Foundation Development Education (DE) training last spring, and found the empathy mapping training to be particularly eye-opening. “Many of the exercises helped us put ourselves in the shoes of members, including one where we visited alternative financial providers. At a pay day lender, I was amazed at the high cost of a $5000 loan an elderly person was getting. I also got a sense of how people of varying classes, races and ethnic groups were treated differently elsewhere.”
Before attending Development Education training, Bauer “really didn’t understand the magnitude of the good that credit unions do worldwide. In many countries they’re the primary type of financial institution: cooperatives. Many of the different co-ops work on helping with key international issues: housing, water, food insecurities. The light bulb went on in my head that we need to look at how we do business” and try to better understand the challenges faced by members.
Bauer has traveled to Puerto Rico as part of an international team helping credit unions in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Cashman and Bauer believe collaboration with the Foundation has been a significant contributor to Metro’s ability to continually evolve and best serve its members.
“What the Foundation has done is show how other credit unions are assessing needs,” says Cashman, who cited Metro’s reliance on the Foundation’s research, best practices and strategic planning assistance. “It’s done a great job locally and nationally assisting credit unions with tools. It’s walked the talk in terms of rallying credit unions--it’s important that we understand we’re all in it together.”