Showing the financial literacy story

When I think back to Kindergarten, I recall the cubbies where we hung our backpacks, the world’s most dangerous playground equipment and, of course, Show & Tell.  We would bring an object from home to share with the class, and this fun experience helped my classmates and I get to know each other as unique individuals. Beyond the social value of Show & Tell, it is an important educational tool that helps young learners plan, organize, and communicate their thoughts. 

Fast forward to second grade Show & Tell. The teacher had us put away our objects and use only our words. My heart sank. “Show & Tell” had just become “…Tell.” I had brought in one of my grandfather’s old pipes that day (it was the Seventies after all) to help me talk about why I loved him so much. The smell of his pipe brought back summer afternoons on the screen porch and bedtime stories by the fireside. In that paralyzing moment, I realized that communication is bigger than words alone: it is a marriage of words and actions. 

Credit union leagues create potential value through their actions. Service corporations negotiate successful partnerships and build cost-effective economies of scale. Government relations staff advocate non-stop – mostly out of sight – to protect consumer access to credit unions and preserve the credit union difference. Value, however, is in the eye of the beholder. We have precious little time and limited resources to communicate our messages. So, those messages must achieve their desired effect as broadly and deeply—and as quickly—as possible. 

A credit union league’s ability to create and deliver value derives from the members themselves. After all, without members, there is only “Tell” and no “Show.” Supporting and showcasing the work our members do on the front lines is the “Show” for our “Tell.” And it is the leagues themselves who know their memberships well enough to utilize their stories to the greatest benefit. In true collaborative spirit, leagues often work together to amplify the impact of their messaging. For example, as the economic insult to the COVID-19 public health injury reached a fever pitch earlier this year, the Connecticut League launched its Financial First Responders campaign. This effort succeeded because it struck three harmonic notes: 1) credit unions are a good choice for the consumer because they are ready, willing and able to help right now; 2) credit unions deserve special attention because they are designed and built differently than banks; and 3) credit unions should be trusted because they have a century-long track record of success. The campaign utilized paid advertising, social media, and earned media to celebrate our credit unions. Then we set up a web store to sell branded merchandise with the proceeds going to fuel our efforts to expand Financial Reality Fairs in Connecticut’s underserved communities. Leagues across the country promoted the concept to their members and, with their help, we not only rallied our credit unions, we raised both awareness of the credit union difference and thousands of dollars for our charitable foundation. 

Effective communications are also thematic across campaigns. Building on the success of #FinancialFirstResponders, our latest campaign calls for all public schools to provide financial literacy education. We began with an op-ed calling for a mandated high school graduation requirement and will pivot to middle school because those grades more closely align with the time when kids are just beginning their lifelong relationship with money.

As with all our campaigns, we used the following three-legged stool analysis to determine whether this campaign is aligned thematically: 1) Are we supporting our members’ business interests (member retention and recruitment)? 2) Is the message crafted to inspire others to support the credit union movement actively (both CU employees and government officials)? and 3) will it advance a social good (community benefit)? 

The business benefit: Publicly provided financial literacy education supports our members’ businesses. Choosing a credit union is more than just a rational financial choice, it is a savvy choice. Credit unions offer better rates and lower fees, and plow profits back into the community. Moreover, credit unions embody relationship banking. The problem to be solved, however, is that most financial consumers do not act rationally. Leading the charge to training children in personal finance, while they have the time to absorb and adopt sound financial practices, not only helps the credit union member’s family, it will help to grow a new generation of financially savvy members. 

The advocacy benefit: Financial education provides a robust messaging platform. Exposure to financial education in childhood can lead to “Money Maturity” in adulthood. As the term implies, money maturity builds over time. As financial consumers develop the habit to act rationally, they will look for guidance to make smarter financial choices. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to meet people where they are and “Show” them the benefits of the credit union difference rather than merely provide a “Tell.” Financial literacy can be a potent rallying point to communicate with others, including government officials, about taxation, inclusiveness, business lending, consumer and student lending, and even charter expansion.

The community benefit: Training generations of students in the basics of personal finance levels the playing field for financial consumers. Everyone deserves an equal shot at financial independence, but our educational system currently gives some kids a head start. If America, as they say, is the land of opportunity, why then do we fail to teach everyone about money and personal finance? The state-sanctioned denial of this lost opportunity is a simple injustice that unfairly maintains and abides a widening wealth gap, and credit unions combat this economic injustice every day. 

Imagine if my teacher had followed up the exercise with taking away our ability to “Tell” and only had us “Show.” How would I show how much I loved my grandfather without using words? How would I use the pipe in my silent movie? Like any good drama, the action conveys far more of the story than the words alone. 

Now is the time to focus more on “Show”-ing the story of the credit union difference in action. For Connecticut’s part, that means pursuing our mission relentlessly to give everyone a fighting chance at financial independence. That begins with training a generation of children in the basics of personal finance.


The Credit Union League of Connecticut is a proud member of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) and is committed to collaborating with leagues nationwide to foster the prosperity of the entire credit union movement.

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams

Bruce Adams is the President and CEO of the Credit Union League of Connecticut (CULCT). He assumed this role in 2019, after spending the bulk of his 15-year career as ... Web: Details