Three key takeaways from The Foundation’s Start at Home grant report

The results of a recent National Credit Union Foundation (the Foundation) research grant are in—and they’re exciting.

Launched in mid-2020, our Start at Home grant project asked a relatively simple question: if credit unions sent prompting emails that encouraged employees to split their paycheck—i.e., send part of their earnings directly to savings—could it help establish positive savings behaviors?

The grant afforded research leaders at Duke University’s Common Cents Lab and the University of Southern California to design the study and oversee data collection and analyses across three credit unions: Alabama Credit Union (ACU), Credit Human, and Educational Employees Credit Union (EECU).

In a recent webinar, the participating credit unions each confirmed their commitment to either continue or expand the project. Here are three key takeaways to inspire you to take similar action:

  1. The need is real

Credit unions are increasingly aware that their employees are as financially vulnerable as their members. As a colleague at Heartland Credit Union Charitable Foundation recently shared: “Finances are complicated … There’s no magic once you’re hired at a credit union—sometimes we forget that because we’re so caught up serving other people. We need to serve ourselves too.”

Earlier this year, another Foundation grant project helped more credit unions unearth similar realizations. From entry-level to boardroom, your peers, colleagues and friends need support.

  1. A gentle nudge can have seismic impact

Whether you have five employees or 500, it’s relatively straightforward to email your team. So what if I told you that employees who receive an email encouraging them to save part of their paycheck are 354% more likely to do so than those who do not.

This was the crux of the study: Tracking the saving behaviors of employees who were encouraged to save a specific percentage of their paycheck, versus a group who were simply told it was an option available to them. The results don’t leave too much open to interpretation.

  1. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction

One of the key nuances of financial well-being is that it is a measure of how someone feels about their money as much as how they use it. That’s such an important distinction for organizations committed to putting people before profit.

The Financial Health Network’s FinHealth Score® Survey is a powerful tool that helps credit unions gauge an individual’s financial well-being by establishing their subjective perceptions of control and influence over four core categories: Spend, Save, Borrow, Plan.

More than 80 EECU employees took the survey before and after receiving the Start at Home prompt emails and when their before and after responses are compared, the project’s research leads estimate that the simple intervention increased EECU employees’ FinHealth scores by eight percent.

Even more impressive, scores increased by roughly 20 percent in the Savings category.

The full report and webinar are available in the Foundation’s Resource Hub. In both, our research partners clarified that this was a relatively small sample size. This requires—and deserves—further study.

And this is where you come in.

There’s a barometer the credit union system uses: Could the average U.S. citizen weather a $400 emergency without having to borrow money? For the first time five years, that number declined in 2022. I like to think our cooperative movement could move that needle significantly if we agreed to take just the simple step of just sending an email.

Michelle Bonner

Michelle Bonner

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