Student-run credit unions have become a hot topic in Minnesota recently. Three credit unions – HomeTown Credit Union, St. Paul Federal Credit Union and Postal Credit Union – have received media coverage and high praise for their new in-school branches, all of which have opened their doors in the past three years.
To provide insight into the process, the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) and Minnesota Credit Union Foundation hosted an educational session on June 19 for credit unions to discuss the topic and share experiences.
The session was led by MnCUN Vice President – Association Services Kristina Wright, who is the lead staff liaison to the Foundation. She discussed the benefits of student-run credit unions and the various models, saying that personal finance aspects of in-school branches are "just the tip of the iceberg.”
"Not only do students receive financial education, but they get experience in life skills, like applying and interviewing for jobs, and learning the finer points of customer service,” Wright said, also noting that schools can incorporate the student branches into marketing, math, art and computer classes.
"Student branches also open the doors for credit unions to be more involved in the community, educate students on the credit union difference, and increase your positive reputation among students, faculty and parents,” Wright said. "This kind of involvement in the school positions your credit union as a valuable community partner and creates goodwill on a number of different levels.”
Richard Todd, Vice President, Community Affairs with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, provided an overview of the history and revival of in-school savings programs, which started in Europe in the mid-1800s and spread to the U.S. in the 1870s. Todd talked about the changes in these programs over the years, and the need for good support from financial institutions.
"Today, people have more responsibility for their finances, and consumers face different realities with more complex products and offerings,” Todd said. "The need for personal retirement coupled with a decline in household savings rates has renewed the financial education movement.”
He acknowledged credit unions' efforts to emphasize asset building, specifically using youth savings accounts to help establish that knowledge and practice from an early age.
Representatives from HomeTown Credit Union, St. Paul Federal Credit Union and Postal Credit Union each shared their experiences opening an in-school branch, including hurdles and lessons learned in the process. Each of the credit unions stressed the importance of forming a strong relationship with a school or district, and identifying a financial education champion within the school to help drive ideas forward.
While all the speakers agreed on a few key tenets – choosing a good location, being flexible, and engaging with the school in as many ways as possible – each student-run branch is unique in its structure, offerings and demographics.
"It's important to remember that you're educating families, too, because students bring information home to their parents,” said St. Paul Federal Credit Union President/CEO Theresa Malone of her credit unions' relationship with Como Park Senior High School.
"I look at [the student-run branch] as a reward,” Malone added. "If we can reach one more person in the community and build it to a stronger place, then we've been successful. We are there to fill the need in the community for financial education.”
Attendees said working toward strong schools and strong communities aligns perfectly with the credit union philosophy of "people helping people.” Owatonna High School student branch employee Kaitlyn Seykora agreed, speaking during the forum on the life experience she has gained through working at HomeTown Credit Union.
"[Working at the student credit union] has taught me everything from A to Z,” Seykora said, expounding on how easy it can be for students to save, and the importance of building credit. "I have seen what can happen when you don't care for your credit, and that's not a position any of us wants to be in.”
She also listed a variety of professional skills she's gained through working at the credit union, including communication, sales, customer service, teamwork and optimism.
A webinar archive of the Student-Run Credit Union Forum is available for purchase on the Network website. With questions, please contact MnCUN Director of Education Sue Groskreutz by email or phone at (651) 288-5521.
Mid-Minnesota uses new grant to expand personal finance classes
As a financial institution with deep roots in communities across central Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union (MMFCU) is all about the "dollars and cents” when it comes to teaching personal finance.
In 2008, MMFCU launched its Education Network program to educate members on a variety of subjects, such as identity theft and online banking. The program expanded to Brainerd High School and has since grown to a 13-week personal finance course offered every semester at the school, which touches every junior and senior in the school by the time they graduate.
"By partnering with local schools and the community, it furthers our vision of helping the community and future members,” said MMFCU President/CEO Chuck Albrecht. "Students who are financially well‐educated, prosper and thrive in the long run.”
Over time and solely through word of mouth, MMFCU has expanded its financial education and teaching beyond Brainerd, now reaching Crosby, Little Falls, Staples, Pierz and Pequot Lakes.
This fall, Mid-Minnesota Federal Credit Union will be broadening its personal finance repertoire by making its educational classes available in an online format, as part of an existing course offered by Central Lakes College in Brainerd, thanks to a grant from the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation. Through its newly-established Financial Education Grant Program, the Foundation made its inaugural award to Mid-Minnesota to assist with the transition to online learning.
We want to expand our offerings to provide financial education to young adults at a time when these topics have been cut from schools' curriculum due to budget cuts,” said Jill Carlson-Ferrie, MMFCU Director of Learning & Development. "By building relationships with local schools, we have the opportunity to fill that void.”
Mid-Minnesota provides all of the classroom materials for the teachers and the schools, including worksheets, handouts and a folder of reference materials that is intended for students to bring home and discuss with parents. Classes cover:
- The difference between credit unions and banks;
- Saving, investing and managing money;
- Establishing and maintaining credit;
- Identity theft;
- Applying for a loan; and
- Buying a car and insurance.
"Our financial education program is unique because we provide the school with outside experts who are able to talk about areas that they work in every day,” Carlson-Ferrie said. "Students like the variety with guest speakers, and their experience and diverse perspectives provide valuable information and variety in the classroom.”
Carlson-Ferrie said that the credit union is careful not to use the classroom exposure to sell the credit union or market to the students, but rather views its community participation as a part of MMFCU's mission and drive.
"Being involved in classroom and teaching personal finance is very impactful,” Carlson-Ferrie said. "We see this as part of our mission, to provide education to members and the communities we serve.”
Through post-course evaluation conducted through the schools, the knowledge gained by students is evident. At the end of the personal finance classes, many of the schools ask students to write a letter to their principal listing the top five things they learned. Some schools also have students write letters to their legislators to stress the importance of personal finance education.
Credit Union Notes ...
Paul Dammann, Senior Vice President of Soo Line Credit Union, was appointed as President of the credit union, effective July 1. Dammann has more than 25 years of experience working in the credit union industry, working for both large and small institutions. Dammann replaces President Lee Benedict, who will retire from Soo Line Credit Union on June 28, where he has spent 45 years of his career. Benedict was recently honored by SLCU as a Credit Union Builder through the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation.