Financial Literacy Month: Financial Education is a Calling for CU Staffers

The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues are celebrating “April is Financial Literacy Month” by focusing on credit union financial education efforts. This week we conduct short Q&A sessions with five credit union staff who coordinate financial literacy programs for members and the community: Tyrone Conde, Downey FCU; Veronica Dangerfield, Patelco CU; Michelle Hale, Greater Nevada CU; Mike Jones, Educational Employees CU; and Kristi Longoria, San Mateo CU.

TYRONE CONDE—DOWNEY FCU

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What’s your title/position at the credit union? How long have you been doing this?  Vice President of Marketing. Three years

What financial education programs does your credit union offer? Which ones are you involved with? We have developed a pretty wide range of programs we. We quickly realized that through people’s different stages of life, they needed different information. High School students need a different pep talk than people who are already financially established – down to explaining the basics to elementary school aged children.  We developed a program named MoneySmart Jr. for older elementary and junior high students, this program has them do a budgeting activity with real-word expenses. We have also partnered with the RMJ Foundation to host Bite of Reality events. We have also developed several information capsules that we present or share information on with schools and other community organizations. Programs like Saving for Education, The Home Buying Process, Credit Building Tips, Tips for Rebuilding Credit, and The Power of Saving. 

What is the one thing/program/event you’re most proud of in either developing or expanding at your credit union—when it comes to financial education?  We are really proud of our MoneySmart Jr. program.  Our marketing team developed this program from scratch and it has picked up a lot of traction with the schools and youth program in our community. This program gives us the opportunity to speak to young kids about the importance of being responsible with money.  We have developed activities around this program that allow students to use math and critical thinking skills while working with real-world budgeting scenarios – the concepts we give to these students are basic but for most of these kids it’s the first time they are being asked to make decisions about money so they become enthusiastic during the exercises.

How did COVID-19 impact your credit union’s financial education programs? Most of the programs we offer were done in-person, so COVID-19 really hampered these opportunities for us.  However, once we; and all the organizations/schools we work with, settled into the new Zoom world we were able to take our show on the virtual road.  We’re happy to say that most of the programs we offered pre-pandemic are once again available to any organization or school within our field of membership.  It was not easy to transform everything we do to virtual options, but our team understood the importance of continuing to share financial literacy information with our community.

What is the importance of financial education for you? For your credit union? Financial education is a major pillar of who we are at Downey FCU.  For us, “People Helping People” extends beyond the products we offer our members.  While those are important, we believe that help also comes in the form of information.  In this case, financial education. We believe that by gearing our community, and the younger generation, with financial education and knowledge, we are helping them make better financial decisions in the future.

What future plans do you or your credit union have in terms of financial education?  Ideally we are working with school districts to make financial education a small part of curriculums. We teach very important subjects to our kids, but money management and financial literacy is one area where we can really help our students excel after their formative years. In the meantime we are focused on spreading as much financial education to anyone who will listen!

VERONICA DANGERFIELD—PATELCO CU

Veronica Dangerfield

What’s your title/position at the credit union? How long have you been doing this? Financial Health Educator AKA Financial Cheerleader. I’ve been teaching as a volunteer since 2002; teaching formally since 2008, and full-time as my job since 2016.

What financial education programs does your credit union offer? Which ones are you involved with? Patelco CU offers a number of programs for members and the community, including CFS counselors to all of our members and to the community and Balance on-demand trainings, a Financial Wednesday email that goes out to our members featuring personal finance content, as well as a CU@Work program that delivers financial health to our SEG groups.

I am involved with the credit union’s bi-monthly webinars and social media micro-learning to the community; webinars with guest hosts on timely issues (taxes, kids, and money, etc.); and classes to community partners, including homeless shelters, colleges and universities, emancipated foster youth, professional organizations, and the CalWorks program.

We also offer the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation’s Bite of Reality program for high school students and are on the radio for Financial Fridays. I have my own YouTube channel that promotes financial health on behalf of the credit union.

What is the one thing/program/event you’re most proud of in either developing or expanding at your credit union—when it comes to financial education? How did COVID-19 impact your credit union’s financial education programs? Short answer: producing videos.

When Covid-19 hit and everything started closing, we just thought of our members and became a source of information that was timely and relevant.  Using videos we touched more members and expanded our reach. We went from no experience on Zoom to producing videos that were of good quality.  On a typical year, we would go out into the community and reach a few thousand people.  Instead, we were reached more than 150,000 on social media with topics such as 3 Tips to Avoid Stimulus Check Scams, Living on a Reduced Income with Veronica Dangerfield, Budgeting During a Crisis,  Break the Cycle: Living Paycheck to Paycheck, and Paying off Credit Cards on a Fixed Income. Our topics were timely and were happening in real-time for our members.  I had to learn how to set up a home video studio/write and perform financial health information.  It was intense but beautiful time of stress and fear but overcoming together.

What is the importance of financial education for you? For your credit union? Patelco CU has placed financial health at the core of its mission.  Education as a way of liberation has always been the core of my existence.  I lead by passion wanting our members to have financial peace. I am guided by love and I believe they receive it.  I want people to be excited about how money can transform their lives one behavior at a time.  I believe that teaching is what I was put on this planet to do.

What future plans do you or your credit union have in terms of financial education? I want to use my leadership and passionate knowledge of personal finance to be like Moses and lead people into the confidence necessary to have, maintain, and achieve financial peace. My part is to give excellent information, delivered with passion and humor with maximum impact.  I want Patelco CU to be united as an organization to change lives from within the organization and outward to every point of contact with our community.   Our members can achieve all that life has to offer with us as trusted supportive partners.  I want Patelco CU to be that trusted partner in our respective communities and be a leader for credit unions worldwide. 

MICHELLE HALE—GREATER NEVADA CU

Michelle Hale

What’s your title/position at the credit union? How long have you been doing this? Community Outreach Supervisor. I have been teaching financial education for 20 years but teaching with GNCU for 7 years.

What financial education programs does your credit union offer? Which ones are you involved with? I oversee all the Financial Wellness programs for Greater Nevada. Greater Nevada Credit Union has a few Financial Wellness programs for different ages. Members can work through modules from our website through EVERFI. We offer the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation’s Bite of Reality program for ages 12-22.

In addition, my team and I have been facilitating virtual classes and webinars with the help of internal professionals for our business partners and the general public. For example, some of classes consist of credit building and re-building, fraud protection, debt management, etc. And we offer a six-month program for our at-risk youth programs starting with the Bite of Reality program. We tailor each group by necessity and want to keep each member engaged through the program. One of those classes includes checking and savings.

What is the one thing/program/event you’re most proud of in either developing or expanding at your credit union—when it comes to financial education? I am most proud of being able to convert our “Financial Wellness” to a virtual format during the beginning of the pandemic and watching it grow throughout the year. We have a program called Greater Perks where we partner with other businesses throughout the community. We have customized a financial platform which we call “Financial Acceleration” for them. “Financial Acceleration” encompasses financial education and finding accounts and loans that are tailored to assist our members to move forward to financial wellness. For one of our biggest partners, we offer a monthly virtual lunch and learn class. Our internal professionals even offer contact information to those attendees who may have confidential questions that they may want to ask our presenter at a later date.

How did COVID-19 impact your credit union’s financial education programs? It actually strengthened our programs by allowing us to reach more members through a virtual format. While the need for more financial education resources grew, we were able to meet that demand.

What is the importance of financial education for you? For your credit union? If I can take a person’s financial potential to a point where they are confident to move forward, I feel like I am making progress towards that person’s financial wellness.

Financial education for our community members is at the heart of Greater Nevada’s passion “To Help More People Live Greater”. If individuals can empower themselves with knowledge and make better financial decisions and plans, that benefits all of us. Learning at a young age can set someone up for a brighter future for themselves and their future families, and knowledge gained at a more mature age can be passed down to future generations—it’s a positive cycle that starts with education.

One example is our Keys to Greater program: In partnership with our wholly owned subsidiary Greater Nevada Mortgage and the Eddy House (a Northern Nevada-based nonprofit dedicated to ending youth homelessness), GNCU is providing free financial education sessions to help young adults get themselves into sustainable financial futures.

What future plans do you or your credit union have in terms of financial education? We are working on providing more financial education support to our rural areas of the state which contains at least six communities that we serve. We want to be the leader in Nevada for Financial Wellness and be able to strengthen the ties with our business partners. We plan to grow both our virtual and in-person learning sessions to serve even more people in the future.

MIKE JONES—EDUCATIONAL EMPLOYEES CU

Mike Jones

What’s your title/position at the credit union? How long have you been doing this? Member Education Director. Eight years as my full-time duty, an additional 12 as part of my “other duties as assigned,” and an additional eight years with a previous organization. So, overall a total of 28 years in the financial education industry.

What financial education programs does your credit union offer? Which ones are you involved with? Financial Wellness presentations to college and adult groups on a variety of topics (budgeting, investing, fraud prevention, understanding credit reports, home buying, car buying, etc.);  age-appropriate financial wellness presentations for K-12 grade audiences; Reality Fairs; on-line financial wellness material (Balance and Everfi); requiring financial wellness education for a Second Chance Checking program; a dedicated financial counselor to help members and their families with their needs; and a full-service, full-time branch on the campus of one of the local high schools and staffed by approximately 60 students. We are also developing a financial wellness program that will provide C- and D-rate members with a loan rate discount if they participate in our financial wellness online modules.

I directly provide all of college and adult presentations. I developed and delivered all of the K-12 material until recently when we divided this among other staff. (I still assist with the development and refinement of the K-12 and Reality Fair materials). I coordinate the Balance and Everfi online material. I provide guidance and leadership for the education portion of the Second Chance Checking program, and I am currently coordinating with senior management in developing the education portion of the loan rate reduction program.

What is the one thing/program/event you’re most proud of in either developing or expanding at your credit union—when it comes to financial education? Helping birth the financial wellness program at EECU. I originally provided a few workshops to EECU as an outside vendor and then came on as a full-time employee; building the workshop offerings from budgeting workshops to a full range of proactive workshops and programs to help the entire community with true Financial Wellness with five staff members committing 50 percent or more of their time to financial wellness.

How did COVID-19 impact your credit union’s financial education programs? We quickly switched to remote learning platforms for all workshops, including the reality fairs, as well as increased the reach of our online modules using Everfi and Balance. We also discovered that the work we previously did to modify the reach and format of our traditional classes laid a foundation for using the material in a remote learning setting.

What is the importance of financial education for you? For your credit union? Knowledge, Power, Far Reaching Impact. Knowledge: Facilitating people’s path to learn the financial realities of life. Helping them go from no knowledge to basic knowledge to advanced in-depth understanding of their own personal finances. Power: Once a person has knowledge and access to the appropriate financial products they have the power to make healthy financial changes in their lives. Far Reaching Impact: Studies show that the healthy financial choices of one person affect the realities of others around them. Families are better cared for financially, children learn financial basics at an early age, creditors are repaid in a timely manner, people qualify for low interest rate loans, and the local economy benefits from people making wise spending decisions.

What future plans do you or your credit union have in terms of financial education? We have already started expanding our financial wellness material into additional languages. We continue to reach out to underserved and lesser served populations with quality financial wellness opportunities. In addition, we’re modifying the current financial curriculum and reality fair curriculum to provide appropriate material for all ages/grades.

KRISTI LONGORIA—SAN MATEO CU

Kristi Longoria

What’s your title/position at the credit union? How long have you been doing this? I am the Financial Education Administrator for SMCU and part of a team of three in the Community Relations department. I’ve been in education for about 16 years and have been with San Mateo CU for eight years. My eight-year work anniversary was this March.

What financial education programs does your credit union offer? Which ones are you involved with? When I was brought on, my role was to take the existing financial education program and simply grow it; the position stood out to me when I was doing my job search because the organization was looking for someone who could immerse themselves in the community and just run with it. And that’s exactly what I did! I was given the freedom to create, and develop, and build, so I’m very lucky to be involved with pretty much everything financial ed at SMCU. From curriculum development, to leading presentations, to running our scholarship program, to doing data tracking, and partnership management, most of our programs either stem from my role directly or are part of larger department efforts. We offer programming for youth and adults and have many specialized education efforts to ensure our highest need community members are included in our outreach.

What is the one thing/program/event you’re most proud of in either developing or expanding at your credit union—when it comes to financial education? Of all the things that I’m privileged to be a part of, I am most proud of how inclusive our youth education programming has grown to be. We live in an incredibly diverse county where diversity means so many different things and creating content that can be adapted to fit anyone is so rewarding and important to the work we do. We are able to serve those with literacy challenges by having presentations driven by pictures and images, we teach to students in special day classes, we teach in juvenile hall to incarcerated youth (often times without any materials), and we offer bilingual programming in Spanish. The high-need, high-risk populations deserve financial education too and being part of an organization that supports those efforts makes me so proud of both myself and us as credit union advocates.

How did COVID-19 impact your credit union’s financial education programs? Having to rethink our outreach strategy from the ground up was really stressful. But what helped was taking time to let things settle before trying to deploy anything new. We were of the mindset that if we didn’t know the extent of the problem, how could we accurately address it? We listened and waited for our partners to tell us how they wanted us to help them, while simultaneously trying to anticipate what might come our way. It wasn’t long before our partners started working together to continue the work we were doing pre-COVID-19. Now, almost everything is still virtual and will be for some time. Most of our schools and colleges will be part-time or full-time remote through 2021 and until we’re able to step out again, we’ll just have to keep growing, adapting, and innovating. Never a dull moment around here!

What is the importance of financial education for you? For your credit union? When I joined the credit union, it was like a light bulb went off. There is so much power in financial education. I took advantage of everything that I learned, I taught my classes from a position of “we’re in this together”, and I have been able to grow alongside my own program. It’s been an incredible, life-changing experience so far. And really, my spotlight is my credit union’s spotlight too. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish for myself has not been without the support of my organization. SMCU has a longstanding history of advocacy—and financial education is very much a part of that effort. I’d say it’s central to who we are.

 What future plans do you or your credit union have in terms of financial education?  Right now, we’re doing our best to listen to the needs of our communities and address those things as they arise. That’s hard for us! We’re a team of planners and now it feels like we are planning for so much unknown—but at the same time, this past year has really shown us just how tight our partnerships are. We can trust that they will tell us what they need, and they can trust that we will respond. For right now, we are planning for virtual learning to continue, we anticipate the need for financial counseling to grow, and we look forward to new opportunities as we see them. At this point in time, we are all eyes and ears on our communities and if we listen close enough, it won’t be hard to find our way.

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