San Luis Obispo, Calif., has been called the happiest city in America. But that joy comes with a price tag: It’s also an expensive place to live, which is a challenge for many employees at $1.2 billion asset SESLOC Federal Credit Union in San Luis Obispo.
“Our housing costs are 52% higher than the national average,” says Devon Goetz, SESLOC Federal’s senior vice president of human resources and talent development. “You can’t survive here on entry-level wages. We were dismayed by the number of 401(k) withdrawals and loans we were seeing. We had to do something.”
In 2021, SESLOC Federal President/CEO Geri LaChance made it an organizational priority to improve employees’ financial well-being. The credit union offered staff a menu of options to improve their financial standing and asked them to pick three actions to take and to document their progress and what they learned.
Among those options were starting an emergency savings fund, contributing to the credit union’s 401(k) plan, increasing existing 401(k) contributions, paying down debt, creating a household budget and sticking to it for six months, and taking financial education classes.
SESLOC Federal’s leadership team was “blown away” by the results, Goetz says: 12% of employees began contributing to the 401(k) plan, several more increased their contributions to the plan, and 18 started an emergency savings account, each saving at least $400 by year’s end.
“The comments from employees about what they learned were so heartwarming,” Goetz says. “It opened up a lot of eyes. Because they were budgeting, they realized how much they were spending every day at Starbucks, on subscriptions, and on extra items at the grocery store they didn’t need.”
The initiative was so successful because it tapped into a real need for employees, Goetz says.
“Our CEO is a big proponent of having an emergency fund, and knew that helping our members achieve financial success starts with financially healthy employees,” she says.
In 2022, SESLOC Federal extended the initiative with Financial Bingo, a game that features personal finance activities such as increasing 401(k) contributions, canceling unneeded online subscriptions, purchasing rental insurance, and creating a budget.
The game included $200 certificates for Save to Win, the prize-linked savings game sponsored by CU Solutions Group. Prize-linked savings accounts let consumers enter raffles for cash prizes by making deposits into a savings account, certificate of deposit, or savings bond.
Every time participants make a $25 deposit into their Save to Win savings account, they’re entered into monthly and quarterly cash prize drawings.