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Cornerstone Foundation Can Help CUs with 3 Keys to Financial Literacy
Friday, March 6, 2015 7:00 AM

Embracing financial education programs leads to many positive returns for credit unions because they're seen as do-gooders in the community. Financial education advocates, like Executive Director Courtney Moran of the Cornerstone Credit Union Foundation, says it exemplifies the credit union motto.

"By providing financial education—what some would view as an above-and-beyond service—you're creating lifelong members; together building a foundation based on trust," said Moran. "It's no small thing to entrust strangers with your funds, while also taking cues on how to spend, save, and share their hard-earned monies. Caring and honoring your members’ well-being truly exemplifies the People Helping People philosophy."

Kathryn Greiner, director of credit union education at University Credit Union in Ann Arbor, agrees that financial education is a win-win. "You get more hugs and people love your credit union," says Greiner. "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, Michigan.

Focus on one aspect of financial education, for instance. "Find that one thing 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 return on investment for 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, tap into CUNA's member education resources, or contact YOUR Cornerstone Credit Union Foundation to learn how they can assist with your financial education program through grants and/or proven resources.