Karen Freeman

Financial freedom at daybreak

No matter what time it is, Karen Freeman brings a smile, and makes a difference.

September 25, 2020

Don’t talk to Karen Freeman and her team at Leaders Credit Union about bankers’ hours.

Freeman’s committed group has taught financial wellness seminars at 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. to improve members’ financial literacy.

“We meet our select employee group (SEG) partners where they are to help their employees, and it’s not often heard of in our industry to be quite that flexible,” says Freeman, chief operations officer at the Jackson, Tenn.-based credit union.

“We accommodate all shifts and come in during the middle of the night if necessary because that’s how passionate we are about financial freedom and moving people forward,” she says.

The credit union is involved in hundreds of events each year, many of which promote financial wellness. 

Freeman joined the $470 million asset credit union in 2017, when her team ran three financial wellness sessions.

That number grew to 51 in 2019, and the group conducted 21 sessions during the first two months of 2020 before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit.

The push on financial literacy began with an idea from the credit union’s chief marketing officer and has become a driver for growth. Between 2017 and 2019, Leaders’ events increased 60%, monthly new accounts grew 53% and yearly accounts increased 71%.

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“We also recognized that financial wellness goes beyond education, and we brought it full circle, offering free in-person financial counseling,” Freeman says. “We call all of our employees ‘financial champions.’ In 2019, Leaders started credit score checkups and financial counseling.”

Shea Brown, community engagement coordinator at the credit union, says Freeman has inspired her team to excel. 

“Karen glows,” Brown says. “She is the one who makes you smile when you see her coming. You feel better after spending time with her. She sharpens those around her with kindness, encouragement, clarity, and presence.”

Establishing community connections became more challenging during the pandemic, and Freeman has wrestled daily with how to strengthen links to members with new tools and approaches.

The credit union has plumbed database information to target marketing efforts, found creative ways to prospect for SEG partners, and evaluated new video and digital tools to connect with members.

“Like most credit unions, we’re relationship-based,” Freeman says. “We’re learning how to prospect differently. We’ve updated our member enrollment process to be completely digital.

We’re evolving and changing what engagement looks like.”

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