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As the pandemic spotlighted community needs across the U.S., Rivermark Community Credit Union in Beaverton, Ore., began assisting people in crisis.
While some pandemic-related needs have faded, Rivermark Community continues to see “a need to be constructive and help people,” says Alisa Peck, financial wellness coordinator at the $1.3 billion asset credit union.
A big part of that effort is emphasizing financial counseling. Since 2019, 47 Rivermark Community employees have completed CUNA’s Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP), including 11 bilingual coaches.
“The designation propels them forward to see the significance of what they're doing,” says Peck, who joined the credit union as a teller in 2011 and became a certified coach in 2020. “It's about doing their job with more confidence. This is beneficial for everybody, including the people you are coaching.”
In Peck’s ideal world, every credit union employee would be comfortable providing financial counseling. That goes for people in both member-facing and back-office roles, including executives and entry-level employees.
Financial counseling education throughout the organization leads to more collaboration and communication, she says.
Rivermark Community encourages communication in a debrief session that allows employees to recap FiCEP’s content and examine how they can apply what they’ve learned.
Even after completing the training, some employees err on the side of caution when coaching members through spending plans. To raise their confidence, Peck created a “Spending Plan 101” program and stresses that when coaches don’t know something, they find someone who does.
The more Rivermark Community employees who are financial coaches, the easier it is for employees and members to find appropriate resources. While most coaching opportunities come from referrals, Peck hopes members become familiar with the credit union’s capabilities and make their own appointments.
“But for now it's referral based,” she says, suggesting coaching opportunities could stem from loan denials and efforts to turn that “no” into a “yes.”
Financial counseling “sparks from conversations with members,” Peck says, “whether that's through our contact center, video banking, or member interactions in the branch.”
Rivermark, which plans to hire its first full-time financial coach this year, is seeking more ways to get the coaches into the community. Enhancing the community connection will allow coaches to recognize people in underserved communities with limited access to financial institutions.
“Meeting people where they're at isn't just about where they live or work, it's how they communicate as well,” Peck says, noting it’s crucial to talk to people about money in their language of origin in a way they can understand. “It’s important to understand the environment and the membership so you can meet people and be ready.”