Bear reality: Credit unions focus on youth savings

Over the past few months, there’s been quite a bit of focus on youth savings and financial capability. In February, the Financial Literacy Education Commission (the FLEC), held a hearing on youth savings program. The FLEC is comprised of 21 federal agencies and was established under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 and is tasked to develop a national financial education web site and a national strategy on financial education.

In addition, in a special issue of The Journal of Consumer Affairs, there is an editorial by the FLEC Research and Evaluation Committee on four key insights for policymakers from the research included in the special issue and discussions at the related research symposium co-hosted by the CFPB, Federal Reserve and FDIC last September. One of the key insights is that financial capability requires skill development and mastery, along with financial knowledge, and these are a function of practice, repetition, and experience.

This aligns with the Foundation’s own information around experiential learning. Through high school financial reality fairs, the Foundation and field practitioners have seen the true value of learning by doing. High school students who attend learn through this hands-on experience in which they identify their career choice and starting salaries then complete a budget sheet requiring them to live within their monthly salary while paying for basics such as housing, utilities, transportation, clothing, and food.

So, why the title “Bear Reality?” Well, another amazing example of how children can learn financial skill development through practice and experience is a great program that Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union (FMFCU) has launched. In 2013, the credit union formed an exclusive partnership with Berenstain Enterprises, Inc. to open a Financial Literacy Center, Bear Country Credit Union, using the Berenstain Bears© series of children’s books to teach financial education. The Center, located at FMFCU corporate offices in Broomall, PA, creates a hands-on, interactive experience for young children (typically, kindergarten to third grade) to learn about money.

Over a decade ago, FMFCU realized that young people were not learning about budgeting and handling money. So the credit union developed a financial literacy program to help parents and younger members. In the 1990s, FMFCU’s multi-pronged approach included field trips for young kids teaching them to Save, Share, Spend and Earn. Rick Durante, VP of Education and the FMFCU Foundation Executive Director, started incorporating The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with Money to reinforce the important messages of the program. Children relate to the bears as do the parents.

FMFCU’s president and CEO, John Unangst, strategically took the success to the next level. He envisioned using The Bernenstain Bears© to teach young children about saving money. Working with second-generation author and illustrator of the series, Mike Berenstain, who loved the idea, the credit union developed Bear Country Credit Union and The Berenstain Bears Cub Account so the children can learn by doing. When they visit the Broomall branch, children visit the “human” credit union, and then Bear Country Credit Union. At the “human” credit union, the kids get to talk with the branch manager, a teller and member service representative, learn about loans, deposits, count coins at the coin counter and even visit the vault.

When they get to Bear Country Credit Union, they are enthralled by a colorful, interactive display complete with Berenstain Bears illustrations that offer kids lots of ways to experience what running a credit union is like while having fun. Kids get passports where they earn stamps when they visit each of the stations and displays at Bear Country Credit Union. Parents and kids are encouraged to open up a Cub Account at FMFCU so they can save money and make regular deposits. Children receive a $10 one-time mate from FMFCU when they deposit the contents of their pigging bank, and another match for a birthday deposit.

FMFCU’s team of educators packaged their financial literacy lessons and marketing material into The Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program, which is now available to credit unions nationwide through the credit union’s CUSO, Credit Union Network for Financial Literacy (CUNFL). One of the many perks to becoming a licensee is the ability to purchase and customize the credit union edition of The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money and the series’ book written exclusively for credit unions, The Berenstain Bears Visit the Credit Union.

This is just one example of what credit unions are doing every day to look through their members’/consumers’ eyes – in this case young members – to deliver financial information and education to improve the financial well-being of those members. Incorporating experiential learning and “reality” into those efforts, offers a better chance that the financial lessons are truly learned and will be applied as those kids grow up and make financial choices for their future.

For more information on the Foundation’s experiential learning programs, click here.

Gigi Hyland

Gigi Hyland

Gigi Hyland serves as the Executive Director for the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), the philanthropic and social responsibility leader of America's credit union movement. Prior to her work with ... Web: Details