At Pelican State Credit Union in Baton Rouge, La., a quote from tennis great Arthur Ashe serves as the mantra for its financial wellness program: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Jessica Sharon, director of financial outreach for the $387 million asset credit union, furthers Pelican State’s financial wellness program one step at a time. “Our program has grown tremendously over the past 12 years,” she says. “But it took us building upon it for 12 years.”
The credit union’s financial outreach department seeks to empower its 55,000 members to make sound financial decisions through free credit counseling, financial wellness workshops, and its Financial Wellness Program.
Seven full-time certified credit counselors held some 1,900 one-on-one sessions last year. Members also receive a free review of their credit reports and guidance on how to improve their credit scores.
“We know that putting in the work on the small things daily helps us grow and expand our reach in the long run,” Sharon says. “My best advice for credit unions is to identify members who could benefit from credit counseling.”
When you turn members down for a loan, for example, offer to review their credit reports and provide suggestions on how to improve their financial situation, she advises.
‘We’re not here to tell people how to live their lives, but to help them.’
“Many people will be open to this because they want to reach their goals as much as we want to help them,” Sharon says. “We’re not here to tell people how to live their lives, but to help them.”
She also believes staff training is important when counseling members. “I strongly encourage anyone interested in this career path to become a Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor through the CUNA FiCEP program. It offers a wealth of financial knowledge, as well as techniques that will help new counselors approach difficult subjects.”
Sharon suggests taking a holistic approach to financial wellness by connecting with like-minded community support organizations.
This way, “members will see you as someone who cares about their needs, which will build rapport, trust, and long-term member loyalty.”