‘Balance Builder’ boosts financial well-being

Improving members’ financial health can be a competitive differentiator.

April 7, 2021

Saving is fundamental to financial well-being. That’s why $1.6 billion asset IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union (IHMVCU) in Moline, Ill., is making its “Balance Builder” program the cornerstone of its financial well-being initiative.

Ronald Gauvin, IHMVCU’s senior financial services leader, cites a 2019 GOBankingRates survey that showed 70% of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. The poll also revealed that 45% have nothing saved.

“Financial health permeates everything,” Gauvin says. “When you have enough money to pay your bills for the month or fix that leaky faucet, it makes a difference in how you see the world. It improves your overall well-being.”

With this in mind, Balance Builder takes a multifaceted approach, starting with dedicated savings and checking accounts:

  • Incentives. The program pays 3% interest on savings (up to $2,500) and checking (up to $5,000) balances with certain requirements. Members must have both accounts.

For savings, members must increase their monthly balance by as little as $1 from the prior month’s balance. For checking, members must meet monthly requirements (12 debit card transactions, ACH deposit, e-statements).

The credit union will refund up to $15 in ATM fees from other financial institutions. Dividends earned on checking are deposited into the member’s Balance Builder savings account to further stimulate saving.

Plus, each month IHMVCU draws the names of two members who meet the program requirements and deposits $500 into their accounts.

  • Encouragement. IHMVCU monitors participants’ savings habits and sends congratulatory messages when they earn 3% or words of encouragement and helpful tips if they miss the mark.
  • Support. Participants receive ongoing communications (emails, blogs, and videos) to help them manage their finances, including the quarterly Pathfinder magazine with articles written by credit union staff and experts with suggestions on improving their financial health.
  • Education. The credit union provides access to Compass, its online suite of educational support tools, featuring training modules on topics like improving your credit score, building a savings plan, preparing for college, and personal debt coaching.
  • Coaching. Credit union financial health coaches are available to meet with program participants to help them on their path. “The digital tools are nice, but sometimes it helps to talk face-to-face or phone-to-phone with one of our experts,” Gauvin says.
Ronald Gauvin

‘Financial health permeates everything.’

Ronald Gauvin

He says these bite-sized elements create a comprehensive stream that shapes members’ day-to-day lifestyle around saving.

“When I first entered this space, the emphasis was on seminars,” Gauvin says. “And while they can be engaging on their own, they don’t always move the dial. They might give me the recipe for the meal, but they don’t teach me how to make the meal.”

Financial well-being for all

IHMVCU is developing analytical tools to shape its messages to fit member savings goals more personally.

“Financial wellness means different things to different people,” Gauvin says. “But this makes it feel a lot less like drudgery.”

He also says it’s a big differentiator for the credit union.

“Financial services is a commodities business,” Gauvin says. “You can come up with an amazing checking account and the bank down the street will replicate it next week. But if you distinguish yourself as an organization that genuinely cares about members and their financial health, that’s your differentiator.”