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Credit unions’ mission is to serve and connect with their communities. So, why wait for community members to come through the door?
That question sparked INOVA Federal Credit Union’s decision to bring its financial well-being efforts directly to the community.
“We owe it to our community,” says Kerie Sekal, vice president of marketing and member engagement at the $676 million asset credit union. “We've been in Elkhart, Ind., for 81 years, and we are the city’s only locally headquartered credit union. We take a lot of pride in that. We don't wait for people to walk in the door. We’re out there and invested in those who have supported us.”
INOVA Federal renewed its efforts two years ago by creating a new role: manager of community relations and business development.
Samuel Kamwenji filled that role, and immediately immersed himself in the community, creating relationships and offering various forms of financial education.
“We go out with the goal of meeting people wherever they are and helping them with their financial goals,” says Kamwenji, noting that INOVA Federal employees go through similar sessions to improve their financial well-being. “We look at how we can be part of their journey to financial freedom. There’s a great need for financial well-being. When you talk to people, you find many of them aren’t getting the right advice and encouragement.”
That’s where Kamwenji and INOVA Federal come in. Much of the education takes place at the Tolson Center for Community Excellence, which revamped its programming and opened a new building this fall.
The local center, located in an underbanked area, also sought a financial partner that could provide financial education to people using the facility.
“We serve people from all walks of life who come in, transact with us, and take advantage of the benefits, services, and products we offer,” Sekal says. “This is translating that same approach into the community, making us more accessible. It's important to have a broad range of exposure to this kind of education no matter what part of life or age you’re in.”
Kamwenji visits the center to host presentations, group sessions, and one-on-one meetings about a variety of financial topics. He does the same at a number of organizations, including area schools, the Elkhart County Drug Court, and Elkhart Public Library, where he has set “office hours” open to anyone seeking to improve their financial well-being.
The group meetings and presentations typically start with a survey to see where everyone is on their financial journey. For adults, he follows a curriculum based on general knowledge, such as understanding banking principles, maintaining an account, building credit, budgeting, and preparing for home ownership.
Adults will also meet with a financial advisor about investing, wealth building, and retirement planning.
Those who wish to follow up with one-on-one meetings get more personalized information based on their specific situations.
“If your goal is to buy a house, we’ll provide some of the steps that can get you there,” Kamwenji says, noting that many people meet with him throughout their journey. While the credit union can’t always approve loan requests, “we’ll say, ‘here is the path to get you to where you need to be.’ It requires that step-by-step guidance, especially when they’re building trust.”
That trust often leads to deeper, longer relationships with INOVA Federal. That generates business, highlights the credit union difference, and fulfills the mission of people helping people.
“It’s about more than just writing a check for sponsoring an event,” Sekal says. “Use your connections to have deeper conversations. Take advantage of well-established community relationships to create opportunities to go further.”