As a senior in high school, Brittany O’Malley took a part-time job at a credit union. More than a decade later, she’s stayed in the credit union industry and built up her knowledge of financial education and wellness.
Now, as Royal Credit Union’s financial education supervisor, O’Malley want to provide kids and young adults with the same financial growth opportunities she got by working in the industry. She has worked diligently to build up the financial education programs at the $3.7 billion asset credit union in Eau Claire, Wis.
“One thing that I've learned over the past couple of years is to be your authentic self when you're working with these groups,” O’Malley says. “I grew up in poverty and I became a young single mom. That resonates with the people that I am talking with and teaching. It gives me that different, unique perspective, which is really helpful.”
O’Malley believes financial education is important for everyone, no matter their job, age, or location. It’s never a bad time to engage an individual in financial learning. Therefore, many of Royal’s programs are targeted toward younger people.
Several years ago, Royal employees started going to YMCAs in the Twin Cities once a week for a five-week financial education program. The lessons grew and in 2021 the credit union conducted sessions at 18 different YMCAs, reaching almost 2,000 kids. To keep kids engaged, the program keeps them active by encouraging them to move around, use their hands, be part of the conversation, and have fun.
“I like to make everything I teach as engaging as possible,” O’Malley says. “It might be something like, ‘Let's have a big dance party and find coins. If you can find a coin, go run into this corner and see how many coins you have.’ It doesn't need to be just you talking at them. We get a lot of a-ha moments and a lot of little kids getting so excited about money. We ask, ‘What are you saving for?’ And they all raise their hand and want to tell you and share their knowledge.”
Royal's Future US Entrepreneurs program was implemented into the YMCA programming and intended for middle school-aged kids to develop a marketing plan for a product.
Royal’s programming for teens and young adults shifted after the coronavirus pandemic hit, leading to the creation of finU, which offers virtual financial education classes for people age 14 to 22.
The series of four classes, taught through Zoom, are designed to boost financial independence and foster creative financial learning. Program participants are incentivized with a rolling cash payout if they pass a post-test for each class.
Young adults can be difficult to reach, so Royal created Go Big or Go Broke®, an interactive 20-by-20-foot board game. Players throw giant dice and move around the board, exploring financial themes through the combination of trivia, decision-making, and chance encounters.
The game includes a big ball pit, surprise wheels, sound effects, and music, with players seeking to reach the Money Pit and avoid the Credit Chaos corner. Delayed a year by the pandemic, Go Big or Go Broke debuted in 2021 at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Players earn money and the person with the most money at the end of the game wins. The participants can take the money they earn and purchase swag from the prize shop, O’Malley says.
“That young adult age range is where they're finally understanding, ‘Oh my gosh, how do I budget? How do I do this?’ So that's a perfect time to reach that demographic. They're the ones that often need it most,” O’Malley says. “We hope this game is a good way to help start that conversation and engage them.”
Go Big or Go Broke and finU are examples of how Royal Credit Union adapted its financial education programs amid the pandemic and the changing financial environment.
“Our biggest thing is tenacity,” O’Malley says. “As long as you have that passion for helping others, just stick with it and work on ways to get past challenges and keep improving. Don't ever stop.”