Whether you call it financial literacy or something else, I’m fairly certain that all of us can agree that credit unions cannot do enough to provide quality financial education for their members, as well as non-members, who reside within the communities that each respective credit union serves. “Education, Training and Information” isn’t the fifth cooperative principle by mere coincidence. In fact, the cooperative principles have never been more important!
With the attention squarely focused on Millennials and Gen-Y, it has quickly become apparent that this generation of consumers has been “underserved” by the nation’s education system with respect to personal finance education. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Treasury Department of Education concerning the teaching of effective money management in schools, respondents born after 1970 scored a dismal 69% average. In another similar study carried out by the Jumpstart Coalition for Personal Finance Literacy, the average score of participants was 48%!
The Next Gen program at CitizensFirst Credit Union is our unique take on how financial education should be conducted, and from the results we’re seeing, there’s no doubt that it’s working. We’re opening more than 80 new accounts each month for members 34 years of age or younger! Furthermore, we are retaining these members from month to month. Viewing seven full months worth of trends, we fully expect our average net-new member-owners 34 years of age or younger to continue to climb. So what’s so different? Why is Next Gen special? Well, I’m biased, but let me explain a little bit more about what we’re trying to accomplish.
Traditionally, when speaking about issues related to money, responses generally elicit one of two reactions; fear or boredom. We’ve addressed these issues by creating our own curriculum and establishing a training program for any team member who will be working with our Next Gen members. Our group is open to anyone between the ages of 15 – 25 years old and they do not have to be a member at CitizensFirst (Voluntary and Open Membership #1).
In addition to the financial education aspect of the program, we also focus heavily on the importance of giving back to our community and the power of the Seven Cooperative Principles. Naturally, these two things go hand in hand. While a small portion of our custom curriculum is centered on the Seven Cooperative Principles, an even larger portion is focused on demonstrating them. For example, when we talk about Democratic Member Control (#2), we also demonstrate it by allowing all Next Gen members to vote on the location of our monthly meet ups as well as what they want to do as a community outreach project for the upcoming month. Our monthly community outreach projects can range from conducting a supply/food drive at a local non-profit, days full of random acts of kindness or even include an event as impactful as a cash mob (Concern for Community #7).
For the last several years, studies have consistently shown that young adults prefer businesses and brands that are forward thinking and show or demonstrate concern for community or a larger cause. Why do younger consumers prefer these businesses? Well, besides the fact that having a progressive business plan that focuses on giving back is never a bad idea, younger consumers also prefer these businesses, because they allow them to feel good about their choice to align themselves with a particular product or service (think Tom’s Shoes.)
As credit unions struggle with relevance and weigh options to grow organically, collaborate with others, or simply look for merger partners, many can no longer rely on the “we’re community-based” rhetoric that has been used for so many years. Instead, now we must change our messaging to, “values-based”. William Azarof of Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (Vancity) has completed a terrific blog on this concept that was recently posted on CU Water Cooler.
My project, the Next Gen program at CitizensFirst, is our credit union wide effort to provide young people with the financial education that we know they are not getting at home or in school, to demonstrate the power and beauty of cooperative, values-based banking, cultivate the future leaders of our credit union and communities and make credit union membership an experience rather than just a term that is thrown around in an effort to differentiate ourselves from other financial institutions.