Setting members and employees on a track to financial wellness is a goal for many credit unions, but figuring out how to start, measure the success of and maximize the impact of a financial wellness program can be daunting. During Inclusiv’s 2021 Virtual Conference Thursday, leaders from University Federal Credit Union ($3.7 billion, Austin, Texas) and Greylock Federal Credit Union ($1.4 billion, Pittsfield, Mass.) discussed the tools and strategies they’ve found to be successful at their institutions.
Both speakers emphasized there is no silver bullet or one-size-fits-all approach to implementing a financial wellness program. “It all depends on what your organizational goals and priorities are, and whether you want to measure several financial health indicators or just one,” UFCU Financial Health Program Manager Monica Andry noted.
Deciding how to assess the existing status of members’ and employees’ financial health is the first step in the process. UFCU worked with the Financial Health Network, a Chicago-based non-profit, to survey each individual about their habits around spending, saving, borrowing and planning, and used the results to assign financial health scores between one and 100. The survey results revealed that 48% of employees were struggling financially (with 35% “coping” and 13% “vulnerable”) and 61% of members were struggling financially (38% were defined as “coping” and 23% as “vulnerable”).
UFCU then used survey data to launch several small pilot programs while taking an employee-centric approach, Andry said. “We know ultimately if our employees are financially healthy, they will have newfound confidence and experience, and that would translate into our membership’s financial health, eventually allowing us to build a financial health platform for all.”
One of UFCU’s pilots was a microsite it developed in May 2020 in response to COVID-19, which included an online financial education center and the ability to contact staff for help with specific financial concerns. The credit union also leveraged Inclusiv’s Pathways to Financial Empowerment counseling platform, and using data collected from both the microsite and Pathways platform, UFCU gained insights about users’ financial journeys that it later used to adjust its approach to measuring and improving their financial health. Seeing that lowering debt and building savings was a key pain point for both members and employees, UFCU also launched incentivized savings campaigns.
After six months, UFCU found that program participants reduced their total debt by $5,697, opened 39 new loan and asset products, and took actions to fix their credit and organize their finances. “It’s not one of our goals to sell products or consultations by any means, in fact we require the counselors to remain impartial and recommend many alternatives, but we realized that as a byproduct of helping the member and having their trust, they wanted to take action and use us for refinances and other products,” Andry said.
The “why” behind a credit union’s implementation of a financial health program expands beyond improving the lives of members and employees, according to Cindy Shogry-Raimer, vice president and director of community development for Greylock.
“Our vision is to enable our community to thrive, and financial wellness is a key indicator of that, but it also drives our strategic plan, the products we create, the services we offer, educational topics we need to deliver and even strategic community partnerships,” she said.
Greylock is also working with the Financial Health Network to administer surveys to financial health program participants as a measurement tool, but coaching is a major focus for the credit union in its quest to improve member financial well-being. The coaching process begins with collecting the member’s story in order to capture the narrative of what’s going on with them financially, the goals they want to set and the things they need to fix, Shogry-Raimer said. Stories are then shared with the credit union’s staff, executive leadership and board.
“Sharing the stories with the staff has really inspired them, and I’d say over the last two years we’ve had staff self-recruit, they talk to either myself or the team and are so excited by the work that we’re doing that they want to become coaches,” she said, adding that the number of Certified Credit Union Financial Counselors at Greylock is at 27 and growing.
Greylock measures members’ progress along the way by looking at things like whether they have $400 in savings for an emergency expense, how many overdrafts they experienced, how the balances of their share accounts have changed and whether their credit scores have improved. Shogry-Raimer noted that 64% of coached members have seen their credit scores go up.
The credit union also recorded its overall community impacts from 2020, which included saving 4,000 jobs, making 91 ITIN loans, giving nearly 4,000 deferments and making $2.5 million in emergency loans. Shogry-Raimer encouraged other credit unions to track similar metrics – and to show them off. “Do a little shameless self-promotion,” she said. “Put that community impact report on your website, you’re going to need it if you’re going for grants, and it can be a great report for people who are looking to work for you. Also, members and businesses like to bank with financial institutions that are active in the community.”