Financial wellness succeeds with relationships
Collaboration with community partners creates life-changing results.
The credit union system was built on relationships when groups of like-minded people pooled their funds to form cooperative financial institutions. Not surprisingly, relationships also are linchpin that form the basis of many credit union financial wellness programs today.
At Travis Credit Union (TCU) in Vacaville, Calif., 209 community partnerships are the foundation for a financial wellness program that meets the varied needs of its community, even beyond the demands of its membership.
“It all begins with the idea that financial wellness should be built around relationships,” says Damian Alarcon, community relations director at the $4.4 billion credit union. “We develop relationships and we listen to the needs of our partners.”
TCU’s commitment to financial wellness comes from the board of directors and extends to the front line.
“Our whole organization is engaged in financial wellness, whether it’s a business lender or a frontline employee helping a member with a transaction,” Alarcon says. “We have one team member focused on youth, another on diversity, and others broken out by region.
“We serve each unique community and make financial wellness an everyday part of each community.”
Among the community partnerships TCU has formed:
- Travis Air Force Base (TAFB). In 2020, TCU elevated its collaboration with the TAFB Airmen & Family Readiness Center’s Financial Readiness Program with the launch of the online TCU Financial Wellness Hub.
After pausing community seminars and other activities in April 2020 due to the pandemic, by June TCU unveiled access to an entire catalog of free virtual financial wellness webinars, self-paced online modules, pre-recorded webinars, and downloadable resources, many of which focused on military and veteran topics.
“Again, we relied on our intelligence in the field and we remained connected and committed,” Alarcon says. “We offered improved support for programs we already offered and started offering new content as well.”
TCU also extended its annual “Military Saves” promotion from one week to a month. TCU is one of only six credit unions to receive the Military Saves Designation of Savings Excellence Award from the Consumer Federation of America.
- Financial Education Forum for at-risk youth. This event provided nearly 250 foster and homeless students from nine local high schools with information about financial aid for post-secondary education.
TCU hosted the event in partnership with the Contra Costa County Office of Education, California Student Aid Commission, and Diablo Valley College. TCU has hosted the Financial Education Forum annually since 2006 to increase student awareness of available state and federal aid.
Alarcon says foster and homeless youth represent a population that is virtually invisible to the mainstream financial services system.
“We want to make them visible,” he says. “We want to make them heard. It's not something we just sponsor and walk away.”
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Alarcon says the challenges created by the pandemic have made this partnership with the Internal Revenue Service and the United Way of the Bay Area more important than ever.
Many organizations that previously offered the VITA program couldn’t afford to do so in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic safety concerns. With safety measures in place to make the process virtually contactless, TCU filed more than 200 tax returns in 2020 and more than 250 in 2021.
Alarcon says the VITA program serves TCU’s financial wellness vision of reaching beyond its membership to serve its entire community.
“It’s more important than ever that we extend our presence, especially at a time when tax laws have changed so substantially, and consumers have so many questions and challenges,” Alarcon says. “People need this assistance more than ever.”
- Driving Clean Assistance Program. Through a partnership with the Community Housing Development Program, TCU provides auto loans to members who may not qualify under traditional credit standards.
The Driving Clean Assistance Program is part of the California Climate Investments Initiative, a statewide program to reduce greenhouse gases while providing benefits to California neighborhoods with an emphasis on disadvantaged communities. There’s also a financial counseling component to the program.
“A ride to work literally changes someone’s life,” Alarcon says. “We’ve identified alternative means of verifying creditworthiness to make this program work, and our members have backed up our trust. We’ve had few charge-offs with this program because members want to make it work for them.”
Alarcon says TCU’s wide reach in the financial wellness space reflects its membership and credit unions’ cooperative ownership.
“Everything is people-related,” Alarcon says. “It’s one thing to draw it up on paper, but it’s another to listen to your membership’s needs and the needs of the communities you serve. That’s the great thing about the cooperative model and being governed by members.”