Do our financial first responders have the PPE they need?

We know who gets hurt in economic downturns. It’s the same members that got hurt last time. Shame on us as credit unions if we march into another financial downturn and let the same communities get hurt again.”

That was one of many mic-drop moments from Maurice Smith during a recent panel conversation, held in partnership by Filene and the National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation).

Of course, the CEO of Local Government FCU and Civic FCU is right. The last few months have been exhausting. Violence and unfathomable loss; inflation and economic uncertainty. An already fraught nation is struggling to catch its breath. Now is the time for a cooperative movement, marching under the banner of People Helping People … but are we healthy enough to help?

Through the Foundation’s education programs, grants and events like CUFinHealth™, we are helping more credit unions embrace financial well-being as a strategic imperative. And as we do, we’re increasingly seeing just how fragile credit union employees’ financial health is.

Statistically, we knew this. More than two-thirds of people in the U.S. are financially unhealthy but that hasn’t softened the blow. The more the Foundation looks into this, the clearer it is that our Financial First Responders need their PPE. As a system, we must provide it.

One of the benefits of that system, however, is our cooperative principles. We are hard-wired to partner with one another. To learn from one another. And as a centralized part of the system, the Foundation is uniquely positioned to create, curate and share impactful examples.

Take Florida’s Suncoast Credit Union, where two graduates of the Foundation’s Development Education (DE) program asked a simple question: would our employees benefit from a food pantry? The answer was a resounding yes. Employees at every level of the organization utilize the pantry, which has since grown into a broader employee resource center offering everything from food to financial education.

In California, SESLOC Federal Credit Union implemented a simple yet extremely effective enterprise-wide goal: all employees (including the CEO) had to complete a minimum of three financial health activities in 2021. As a result, some employees increased their 401(k) contributions, some set budgets for the first time, others established emergency savings accounts.

This is the same credit union, by the way, that recently surprised every employee with a $100 “Tank you” gas card to alleviate some pain at the pump.

Ultimately, an individual’s financial wellness is as unique as they are. It’s a journey, and that’s an immense challenge for credit unions. Meeting everyone where they are, individually, is no small task. But the important part is we don’t overlook anyone. There’s a reason we talk about financial well-being for all.

So I’ll finish where I started – talking about a partnership between Filene and the Foundation. The Financial Well-being Quick Start Guide we published earlier this year provides the framework to place financial health at the center of your credit union’s strategy. It provides data, examples and connections to catalyze change. And of course, as the saying goes, “Change starts at home.”

Michelle Bonner

Michelle Bonner

Michelle Bonner is Senior Manager, Financial Inclusion and Impact at National Credit Union Foundation. Details