Student loan debt has surpassed $1.3 trillion in the United States. Over 38 percent of households carry some sort of credit card debt. One in three Americans has nothing saved for retirement.
These sorts of statistics provide a rude awakening. As a result, local banks and credit unions are stepping up to the plate.
“In order to not keep going down this path, people need better information,” Amy Vetrone, financial literacy coordinator at 1st National Bank, says. “I think banks and financial institutions are seeing a way that they can help and in turn build longer-lasting relationships with their clients.”
An emphasis on education
Indeed, credit unions and banks are becoming more proactive about educating their customers, as evidenced by the numerous different programs, seminars and initiatives that have cropped up in the area.
Oshkosh-based credit union Verve delivers financial literacy programs in elementary, middle and high schools, as well as to community programs like the Boys and Girls Club and Girl Scouts.
Fox Communities Credit Union hosts numerous member seminars throughout the year on issues ranging from identity theft to retirement planning. 1st National Bank offers educational opportunities for age groups from children to seniors.
It doesn’t stop there. Associated Bank has a Bank at Work program, where bankers visit worksites to offer seminars to employees on various topics. And, Prospera’s comprehensive LIFEstage Personal Guidance program delivers personalized financial guidance based on customers’ life circumstances.
More than a marketing ploy
So, what’s the deal? Sure, education has obvious benefits for customers and their own financial wellbeing. But, what’s in it for the banks and credit unions? Why invest so much time, energy and resources into these sorts of financial literacy initiatives?
Well, all of them are quick to say that it’s so much more than some sort of clever marketing strategy.
“We feel offering education is a great way to give back to our members,” Linda Fickau, member education officer at Fox Communities Credit Union, says. “We’re able to offer sound financial advice, helping members make informed choices in their financial lives.”
Karrie Drobnick, chief marketing and strategy officer at Verve, echoes that sentiment when she says, “Creating opportunities for financial education is so important, because it empowers community members to make better financial decisions with greater confidence.”
While the knowledge that they’re helping customers is a great reward, financial institutions enjoy some benefits as well — in the form of increased customer satisfaction.
“We launched this program just four years ago,” Kristina Flores, vice president of marketing at Prospera, says of its LIFEstage program. “We continue to make headway in creating awareness in both the community at large and within our membership.”
In fact, Prospera’s 2016 annual satisfaction survey results were positive. Awareness of the program jumped from 44 percent in 2015 to 53 percent in 2016. And perhaps more importantly, its overall satisfaction rating increased from 69 percent to a solid 80 percent.
With that in mind, these financial literacy initiatives have already enjoyed measurable growth in the area.
“When we first started teaching financial education, we offered classes at two high schools,” Drobnick says of Verve’s program’s growth. “Today, we’ve expanded the programs to elementary, middle and high schools, as well as at community programs.”
When it comes to experiencing growth, Verve isn’t alone. “Annually, we give over 100 presentations and reach over 2,000 people,” Vetrone says. “These numbers continue to grow each year.”
Interest in 1st National Bank’s educational opportunities has been so strong, the bank created Vetrone’s position, financial literacy coordinator, in May of 2016.
Because these sorts of programs have resonated so well with customers, many professionals assume that they’ll continue to gain traction with those who are eager to be informed and become smarter money managers.
“I hope we see them continue to grow,” Flores says. “Financial security is such an important part of life. It can be a huge stress factor for many individuals and families. It’s our job to guide our members toward a path of financial prosperity and lessen the stress and burden they feel.”
Financial institutions also will continue to step up their education game to remain competitive. “In order to stay relevant in this industry, the education piece is key to help people reach their financial goals and live the life they want to live,” Vetrone says.
As the old saying goes, knowledge is power. And local financial institutions take their responsibility to inform their customers very seriously.
“The way we see it, financial education is one way of paying it forward that has a real, positive effect for our youth, our members, and the communities we serve,” Drobnick says. “We know that building a prosperous community begins at the individual level by empowering community members to make smart financial decisions for themselves and their families.”