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Royal Credit Union’s journey with financial wellness began 28 years ago with the development of School $ense, a student-run financial education program.
Since then, the $3.7 billion asset, Eau Claire, Wis.-based credit union has flourished in making financial wellness and education an everyday part of its members lives. School $ense now operates 29 student-run credit unions within Royal’s footprint.
On average, School $ense students save more than $575,000 and make almost 15,000 transactions each school year.
But Royal has expanded its financial wellness program to reach both students and adults through multiple channels that serve varying learning styles and educational needs within today’s digital environment.
“It’s been a quite a journey since we opened that first door 28 years ago with our first elementary school,” says Kathy Buyze, Royal’s financial education manager. “We are fortunate to have a board and executive team who believe in and are committed to financial well-being for all. It’s just one of the ways we make a difference in the communities we serve.”
Royal’s school programs now include virtual education, entrepreneurial training, virtual and in-person reality fairs, and a “Takeover Day” that provides financial lessons to all students in an elementary school in a single day.
During the summer, Royal provides financial education programming at several YMCA locations across Wisconsin and Minnesota, reaching close to 1,000 students each year in grades K-5. The curriculum teaches the concepts of saving, sharing, spending, and earning in a fun and engaging way.
Buyze says Royal understands the value of teaching children the basics of personal finance at a young age, both for their personal development and the credit union’s stability. This knowledge carries over to their parents and peers as well.
“We’ve tracked them, and we know that kids who started with the School $ense program are now adults who have come to us for their first car loan, student loan, or home loan,” Buyze says.
‘Security is a key part of financial education today.’
For adult members, Royal offers a free one-on-one financial review with a Royal financial counselor.
Buyze says this is a great opportunity for members to develop a financial plan for goals such as repairing and building credit, saving for a home purchase, or paying down debt. She says thousands of members take advantage of the service every year.
Royal also reaches out to members through community partnerships, virtual education, and its Money Donuts podcast to share the financial wellness message. The credit union also has created a Facebook group to share information and best practices about personal finance.
“Social media helps us speak to so many different audiences,” says Cooper Larson, Royal’s community financial education coordinator. “We want to open the door to that financial discussion and continue to build engagement from there.”
Larson says security is a key part of financial education today. “That’s a great example of identifying a need and filling it, and of serving our purpose.” Larson says. “There’s lots of fraud out there and members want to learn how to protect themselves. We put the resources together and share them. It’s a topic we’ve discussed on our podcast.”
Royal is also dedicated to underserved populations. The credit union offers educational programs in county jail facilities and a state Department of Corrections facility to assist incarcerated individuals in preparing for financial life upon their release.
In 2020, the credit union received a grant from the National Credit Union Foundation to develop a tool to measure skill development, attitude changes, and predictive behaviors upon completion of the financial education course.
Larson says working with people in the justice system isn’t much different than working with adults in the financial mainstream.
“We’re all equals,” she says. “And no matter what group you work with, everyone has questions. I’m still learning and I’m a financial educator.
“The special part is being able to drive those conversations to provide people with the solutions that they’re looking for,” Larson continues. “Then those people have the tools they need to build their financial future no matter where they are in their lives.”