Credit union employees who commit to financial education programs often say it’s life-changing for both members and themselves.
Embracing financial education programs also leads to many positive returns for credit unions—they’re seen as do-gooders in the community. It’s really a win-win, say financial education advocates.
“You get more hugs and people love your credit union,” says Kathryn Greiner, director of credit education at $519 million asset University of Michigan Credit Union in Ann Arbor. “Members won’t want to cause a loss because they’re very dependent on the wonderful support and service they get.”
Greiner and other financial counseling advocates recently shared their experiences and three keys to successful financial education programs in a CUNA webinar, “Successful Financial Counseling and Education Programs.”
1. Make it simple
Successful financial education programs teach people how to help themselves, says Greiner, who aims primarily to simplify budgeting.
She works with troubled members on a budget analysis that lists income, base living expenses, and debts. Together, they develop a monthly spending plan, which she emails to the members so they can implement the process.
Members set up automatic transfers to separate savings accounts to make it “like paying a bill,” Greiner says. “I found that when people had an understandable, livable budget and spending plan, they didn’t need to go bankrupt. They just needed to see an end to the debt—how they were going to do it.”
2. Discover your path
New or prospective financial counselors should develop other strengths, says Certified Credit Union Financial Counselor Sandie McKay of $270 million asset Option 1 Credit Union in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Focus on one aspect of financial education, for instance. “Find that one thing that you are passionate about and can focus on, and it will stay with you for the rest of your life,” says McKay, who specializes in adult education programs and protecting vulnerable members from fraud and scams.
Once you have a focus, keep it simple and grow your program slowly. Don’t take on too much, McKay says, but spread the word as much as possible, including with credit union colleagues.
3. Understand the value
When trying to quantify the value of financial education, Sarah Borland asks, what’s the ROI (return on investment) of changing someone’s life?
“For us, financial education is not a choice, but a way of life,” says Borland, director of business development and public relations at $387 million asset BMI Federal Credit Union in Dublin, Ohio.
When people see value in the services the credit union provides, it breeds goodwill with members, the community, and staff, according to Borland.
To learn how to guide members through financial situations, register for CUNA’s Credit Union Financial Counseling Certification Program, and tap into CUNA's member education resources.