Teach Early and Often

How one CU grooms youth into fully engaged members.

April 1, 2013

What's the best way to groom youth members into fully engaged credit union members?

When its “junior partner” youth members turn 18, the $2 billion asset Redwood Credit Union in Santa Rosa, Calif., transitions them to regular membership.

After two years, about 80% of those former youth members have retained their regular memberships. Currently, the credit union has 25,000 members between the ages of 18 and 29. It has total membership of about 225,000.

The growing comfort with, and demand for, remote financial services make it possible to hold on to young members who relocate away from the Bay Area for college or jobs, according to Robin McKenzie, senior vice president of marketing and communication.

But products and services are only part of the equation. She also attributes the credit union’s success to its extensive financial education outreach to children and their families. “We want people to think of us as a resource for financial information and education, and not just products and services,” she says.

To that end, the credit union organizes the financial planning content on its website by both product and life stage, so members can take either route to find what they need.

Redwood partners with the Santa Rosa School District to offer the Banking and Finance Academy—an accredited 16-hour financial literacy program for high school juniors and seniors.

Offered during spring break and summer, the program routinely fills up early. The credit union is currently planning online programming to extend the reach of the academy and other financial literacy training, she adds.

“It’s empowering to learn how to manage money,” McKenzie says. “If this recession taught us anything, it’s that a lot of people lack the education they need to make the right decisions about their finances and their futures.”

Underlying all of the efforts is the familiar notion of building trust: If members find the information and education they need from Redwood, they’re more likely to turn to Redwood for the products and services, too.

That’s good for the credit union, but it’s also good for the members who won’t fall prey to financial institutions that, unlike Redwood, don’t have members’ best interests at heart.

“Start educating young people early about credit unions and financial matters,” McKenzie says. “It’s a great equation for success.”