From financial literacy to financial wellness for credit unions

Financial wellness has finally arrived.

When I started sharing financial wellness over a decade ago, many looked at me as if I had ten heads. Many didn’t understand why I was talking about thoughts and feelings and not just focusing on financial calculations. I was the educator talking about hopes and dreams. And using money in ways that made traditional financial gurus cringe.

In the past few years, things have shifted with many more realizing we cannot avoid our thoughts and emotions about money. We simply can’t be robotic and unemotional when talking about finances.

What is financial wellness?

There’s actually no single definition. But for years I’ve shared that financial wellness is about your health and wealth. It’s about the overall quality of the life you’re living. It takes into account how you think and feel about your given situation through the context of money and finance. And it’s not simply about having financial goals, but setting life milestones.

The shift from financial literacy to financial wellness is a move toward progress.

From financial literacy to financial wellness

The reason why financial literacy hasn’t worked is based on the goldilocks problem. Most financial literacy programs are offered before a person needs to make a financial decision or provided after they’ve experienced financial distress. So, where do most people go? Google to find answers. And I can almost guarantee the search results won’t include your credit union.

After going around the country for years, I learned it is much more important to get people excited about financial knowledge than it is to drill down on details of how to manage money. The steps and tactics are necessary, but what people don’t forget is how you made them feel during the session and the stories that are shared. This emotional connection to your credit union can drive your member back to you for these pivotal financial questions.

There has been a pushback on the word financial literacy: people have a negative association with the term. It labels them illiterate which often creates a barrier to knowledge that people actually need. A better term is financial wellness, and many credit unions are adopting the word. But I caution you to be mindful and avoid simply exchanging the word “literacy” for “wellness” without making actual changes to your financial programs.

What can you do?

  1. Start by breaking the money taboo with your staff. Have meaningful conversations around money and finances with them. You cannot expect to have meaningful financial conversations with members if your staff isn’t given the opportunity for themselves.
  2. Bring in engaging speakers. Let others talk about their financial messiness and successes. Having an educated and entertaining expert or someone outside the credit union willing to bear it all can give staff a sense of comfort. It also takes the pressure off management in forcing the conversation and allows for a more organic way to open the dialogue.
  3. Offer financial wellness challenges to help staff with their finances. There are things you can do to get them engaged without having to reveal financial issues when they aren’t ready. Consider a 7-day email series or a 30-day challenge.
  4. Don’t be afraid to test new ideas. You don’t have to commit fully to one program. It’s much more vital to have an open mind when it comes to the different ways to entertain, engage and educate your members. Get your staff involved in fun creative ways to entertain and engage members.
Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug is a former credit union executive and founder of the personal finance website He’s a bestselling and New York Times-reviewed author with a second book ... Web: Details