Is inclusion the missing piece in the finhealth puzzle?

I finally did it. I made it to CUNA’s GAC. And everything you all told me was true: it’s inspiring, empowering and, let’s be honest, exhausting.

But there’s an energy that keeps you going. A sense of unity and togetherness. That wasn’t so much about being next to humans again as it was hearing and feeling the credit union movement’s unwavering commitment to improving our nation’s financial well-being.

I didn’t realize I needed such a boost until I was there, but of course I did. Who wouldn’t? It’s been a long two years. The pandemic. The loss – of loved ones, of jobs, of freedom. The rebirth of a civil rights movement.

Successfully navigating society is tougher than it was at the start of the decade. We’re more divided than ever before and for a cooperative movement committed to improving financial well-being for all, that is a wake-up call.

Those already vulnerable have been hit particularly hard over the last two years. There’s a reason each Herb Wegner Memorial Award (a personal highlight of mine) winner referenced the power of inclusion.

The National Credit Union Foundation recently shared two powerful examples of work to include those who, even for a credit union, could all too easily be underserved.

  1. Pelican State Credit Union’s financial wellness program

Picture the scene: a member, someone you know by name, comes to cash their paycheck. Standing behind them is a payday lender, waiting to take it from them. That’s exactly what Pelican employees saw not too long ago.

Pelican knew affordable loans were important, but that helping members achieve financial well-being required new ideas. So they rewrote the lending playbook, changed the collections process and made financial counseling part of the loan experience.

More importantly, they focused on their least engaged members. Those with the lowest financial literacy, the lowest credit scores, those “risky” borrowers.

And what happened? Well, see for yourself. Spoiler alert: they tripled new monthly memberships and generated millions in loans – all while improving their community’s financial health.

  1. Royal Credit Union’s financial education program for incarcerated individuals

Imagine re-entering this divided, nervous, exhausted society with the additive stigma of incarceration. These are vulnerable people. Underserved. Excluded. They are precisely who credit unions were formed to support – and that’s exactly what Royal began doing in 2015.

For seven years, Royal has been transforming the financial well-being of incarcerated individuals. Now their program’s success has been compiled into a brilliant whitepaper, A Second Chance: Financial Education for Incarcerated Individuals.

There’s also this quick start guide to help credit unions interested in replicating Royal’s program start on the right footing.

This type of financial inclusion is integral to the credit union mission. It is the credit union mission. So, as you’re building your own financial health strategy, look around and ask yourself these big questions:

  • Who’s advising you?
  • Who is not at the table or represented?
  • Who are your products, services, and programs designed to serve?
  • Who is least engaged and most vulnerable?
  • Who has access to what you offer?

Make financial well-being your mission, add financial inclusion in your strategy, and put your plan into action.

Michelle Bonner

Michelle Bonner

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