What credit unions do wrong: Do this instead – help members achieve financial independence

I’ve worked with two dozen credit unions in content strategy and financial wellness programs. I love the enthusiasm and desire to help members get ahead. We need to continue the conversation around health and wealth. But I’ve also seen a growing trend: credit unions need to elevate their financial education strategy. You must become the channel to help members achieve financial independence.

Through the years, I’ve learned a reality: people want to aspire for something greater.

Members don’t just want a budget. Members don’t simply want to increase their credit score. Members don’t merely want a house. Members have big goals, but these conversations aren’t happening between members and credit union staff. It’s happening with social media influencers and online marketers who often work for well-funded marketing departments of your competitors.

Yes, we need to talk about budgeting, paying off debt, and improving credit scores, but the fintech and social influencers winning the attention of your members are focused on giving them something big and bold to achieve. They are helping them achieve financial independence.

I’m challenging credit unions to pick up the BAG.

The BAG stands for Big Awesome Goal. Help your members dream big and bold. Give them the resources needed to make it happen. You’ll come to realize it doesn’t take much at all.

We need to help members get a better handle on their daily finances. But to keep them motivated and want more, you need to give them something to work towards that changes their lives. And something surprising happens along the way: they will use your products and become better members.

What can you do?

Help your staff and members achieve financial independence.

Hear me out: give them something to aspire towards and provide them the financial knowledge and tools to make it happen.

Have you ever discussed financial independence with your staff and members?

I’m not talking about the vague “financial freedom” campaigns. I’ve seen marketing around “financial freedom” and “living your dreams,” but none, and I mean zero, have developed a program that helps members achieve those things (one workshop doesn’t count). There’s also a fear that assisting people to achieve FI means they’ll start banking with someone else. That isn’t the case. Instead, you develop trust and loyalty for being the channel that helped them achieve the impossible.

You want your members saying: “I’m working with my credit union to achieve financial independence.” No one wants to actively share they are attending a budgeting or credit repair workshop.

I’ve worked with fintech, neo-banks, and challenger banks, and they understand this concept better than community banks or credit unions. Some go about this in a predatory way which I’ve argued against, but there are lessons we can learn and infuse into your credit union strategy.

When I speak to people across the country, they don’t simply want to buy a car or pay off credit cards; they want to change their life. You can be the guide in that transformation. Credit unions can play a pivotal role in fostering their progress towards money and life goals.

And unfortunately, I don’t see too many credit unions having this type of discussion. We’re still selling product features or trying to use benefits to sell products. Instead, I want you to start making financial independence dreams come true using your products.

But, “Aren’t many members financially struggling?”

That is a reality in our current economy, but when you have deeper conversations with people, you’ll realize a commonality: they also dream about becoming financially independent. FI can help insulate people from the uncertainties of market conditions and economic changes. You can still have thoughtful and helpful conversations that meet members where they are, whether struggling to pay bills or wanting to make their first investment.

Help your members reach the BAG.

What can you do?

Develop a financial independence program.

Your tired education program isn’t cutting it. Elevate your financial education efforts by helping members thrive, not just survive. A FI program involves a step approach to educate members on financial independence and how your credit union can help them achieve such a lofty goal. If you’re wondering why your financial education is underutilized, it’s this: people want to learn about money but need inspiration. It isn’t inspirational to attend a debt payoff workshop, but talking about debt payoff in the context of financial independence is a game-changer.

You want to entertain, educate, and empower.

Take a multi-faceted approach.

Think of social, email, offline, and streaming.

Social: Identify highly engaging staff to become your social media avatars. Have insightful dialogue and invite experts, authors, and influencers into live streaming events. Email your members about these efforts. Upload these videos on YouTube. Use clips from interviews as your IG Reels and tiktok content.

Email: Offer your staff and members 7-day challenges or 28-day financial boot camps. Get them to opt-in to the email campaigns. It’s an opportunity to connect knowledge with related products. Celebrate members who’ve completed challenges. Perhaps, it’s possible through your online banking platform to give them badges for completing different challenges and workshops. Find ways to encourage them to share on social.

Offline: As you build your online engagement, offer them an opportunity to interact with staff at the branches or at fun events. Beer, bowling, and budgets, anyone? Or perhaps a money mindset and meditation workshop at the local yoga studio.

Streaming: Offer more education opportunities by streaming workshops. The traditional talk-through slides and no personality facilitators won’t cut it. You need people with stories that can be easily verifiable. People remember stories, not facts.

Other ideas: Invite speakers to your staff appreciation events, start a financial book club with dates to meet authors, and participate in national events that allow you to be the local representative.

Start with your staff.

Ignite the conversation around FI with your employees in a meaningful way. “Wouldn’t FI employees just quit?” Not necessarily. Imagine having staff who work at your CU because it is a choice, and you’ve made that happen. Financially healthy employees will have better conversations and become inspirational examples for all members.

I’ve encouraged more employers to talk about FI with employees that includes contributing to 401(k) plans and taking advantage of stock purchase programs. You can have these FI conversations too.

Does this mean we have to pay staff more? Possibly, but not necessarily. Income is just one component of the path to financial independence. There’s managing money, multiplying income streams, borrowing as leverage, and more. You will elevate your staff’s understanding of money. And you may inspire staff to start side businesses that credit unions serve.

Celebrate your staff and members’ milestones. Imagine your staff sharing how their employer is helping them achieve financial independence. They become your advocates for the lessons learned and the milestones completed.


There is an opportunity to help staff and members by supporting their big and bold dreams of financial independence. Credit unions can play a pivotal role in improving the health and wealth of millions of people. But, we can’t simply continue doing more of the same. We need to evolve and move quickly. The good thing is that there are methods that have proven to work that credit unions have yet to implement. There’s an opportunity to do more good, and I hope you, as leaders in the credit union movement, help people secure their BAG.

Jason Vitug

Jason Vitug

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