Credit Unions Share Insight, Experiences in Establishing In-School Branches
Minnesota CU Foundation, Minnesota CU Network host educational forum for credit unions
ST. PAUL, MN (June 20, 2013) Student-run credit unions have become a hot topic in the state of Minnesota in recent years. Three credit unions – HomeTown Credit Union, St. Paul Federal Credit Union and Postal Credit Union – have received media coverage and high praise for their new in-school branches, all of which have opened their doors in the past three years.
To provide insight into the process, the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) and Minnesota Credit Union Foundation hosted an educational session on June 19 for credit unions to discuss the topic and share experiences.
The session was led by MnCUN Vice President – Association Services Kristina Wright, who is the lead staff liaison to the Foundation. She discussed the benefits of student-run credit unions and the various models, saying that personal finance aspects of in-school branches are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Not only do students receive financial education, but they get experience in life skills, like applying and interviewing for jobs, and learning the finer points of customer service,” Wright said, also noting that schools can incorporate the student branches into marketing, math, art and computer classes.
“Student branches also open the doors for credit unions to be more involved in the community, educate students on the credit union difference, and increase your positive reputation among students, faculty and parents,” Wright said. “This kind of involvement in the school positions your credit union as a valuable community partner and creates goodwill on a number of different levels.”
Richard Todd, Vice President, Community Affairs with the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, provided an overview of the history and revival of in-school savings programs, which started in Europe in the mid-1800s and spread to the U.S. in the 1870s. Todd talked about the changes in these programs over the years, and the need for good support from financial institutions.
“Today, people have more responsibility for their finances, and consumers face different realities with more complex products and offerings,” Todd said. “The need for personal retirement coupled with a decline in household savings rates has renewed the financial education movement.”
He acknowledged credit unions’ efforts to emphasize asset building, specifically using youth savings accounts to help establish that knowledge and practice from an early age.
Representatives from HomeTown Credit Union, St. Paul Federal Credit Union and Postal Credit Union each shared their experiences in opening an in-school branch, including hurdles and lessons learned in the process. Each of the credit unions stressed the importance of forming a strong relationship with a school or district, and identifying a financial education champion within the school to help drive ideas forward.
While all the speakers agreed on a few key tenets – choosing a good location, being flexible, and engaging with the school in as many ways as possible – each student-run branch is unique in its structure, offerings and demographics.
“It’s important to remember that you’re educating families, too, because students bring information home to their parents,” said St. Paul Federal Credit Union President/CEO Theresa Malone of her credit unions’ relationship with Como Park Senior High School.
“I look at [the student-run branch] as a reward,” Malone added. “If we can reach one more person in the community and build it to a stronger place, then we’ve been successful. We are there to fill the need in the community for financial education.”
Attendees said working toward strong schools and strong communities aligns perfectly with the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.” Owatonna High School student branch employee Kaitlyn Seykora agreed, speaking during the forum on the life experience she has gained through working at HomeTown Credit Union.
“[Working at the student credit union] has taught me everything from A to Z,” Seykora said, expounding on how easy it can be for students to save, and the importance of building credit. “I have seen what can happen when you don’t care for your credit, and that’s not a position any of us wants to be in.”
She also listed a variety of professional skills she’s gained through working at the credit union, including communication, sales, customer service, teamwork and optimism.
Dedicated to providing the resources for credit unions and communities to prosper and thrive, the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 1969 to serve as a charitable arm of the Minnesota credit union movement. For more information, visit www.mncufoundation.org.
The Minnesota Credit Union Network is an organization representing the state’s 133 not-for-profit cooperative credit unions serving more than 1.5 million member-owners in Minnesota. For more information, visit www.mncun.org.