CU Alumni: CPFCU Finds Students Leave, Then Return

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JACKSON, Mich-Is running 50 in-school branches worth the time and expense?

Like a prepared student, CP FCU answers that question by pointing to the fact 46% of its new members come from the schools in which it has a presence, and its most recent data showing 8,845 of young adults have remained with the CU following high school. The 43,000-member CU's average member's age is 38.

"Many credit unions are aggressively working now to lower their average age and at CP Federal we are in a very good position that we think helps guarantee our viability," said Sarah Ermatinger, VP-marketing. "What we are doing in the schools, besides giving children at an early age the tools to be wise managers of their financial resources, is taking out an insurance policy for our future."

CPFCU has been running elementary, middle and high school branches for 20 years.

"We did a survey about two-and-a-half years ago to find out how our financial education program was working. We targeted 1,400 high school students that were part of our program and who graduated within the last two years," said Ermatinger. "We learned that 98% would recommend CP Federal, 97% still continued to keep their account open with us past high school, and 97% found our program very helpful. We were impressed with these results and we believe in getting them on board at a young age."


'Warm & Fuzzy--But Real'

That bond has resulted in numerous students heading off to college, trying another financial, and coming back to the CU. "They become comfortable with us as they grow up. They ask us a lot of financial questions and trust us. When they come back to the credit union after trying another financial institution they tell us they like the familiarity. It's a warm and fuzzy-but it's real."

While CPFCU has two different programs to work with youth as they progress from elementary through high school, it takes a similar approach to the delivery of its services. One of the nine members of its financial education department visits the school and recruits students to help, acting as tellers and classroom reps. One day out of the week the CU opens to transact business around a simple savings account for students below age 16. Those 16 and older can open a checking account and get a debit/ATM card with parent's OK.

"We don't have any brick and mortar inside the schools," said Shelia Troxel, director of financial education. The member of the financial education team stops by with a laptop, brings a portable table if necessary, a calculator, paper receipts and sets up in a public area, often in a hallway or the cafeteria. "It actually is easier to work with students this way because they are always on the move," said Troxel.

The $325-million CU will do classroom presentations to explain what credit unions are, share its offerings, and promote financial education. It's much easier to get classroom access at the elementary schools than older grades, Troxel explained. "Our objective is to start with the kids very early and then follow them through middle and high school."

CPFCU has $4.6 million in deposits from the students. It's Kirby Kangaroo Club (ages up to 12) gives students a quarterly newsletter with stories and puzzles, a birthday card each year, a Kirby "savings pouch," and an interactive website and special events.

The CU Succeed program is designed for teens ages 13 to 17, and gives young adults the opportunity to practice the habit of saving weekly, earning the CU's standard share dividends on balances that exceed $5. Participants receive a quarterly teen newsletter, a CU Succeed carabiner savings wallet or lanyard, and invitations to youth events.

Troxel said the most important thing to pay attention to when starting a school branch program is program size. "You have to think, from the very start, how big could the program be some day. You never want to promise too much to the students and make commitments you may not be able to keep if the program becomes large."

For example, Ermatinger said while it's nice to give away t-shirts and gifts, that is a bad move if the program significantly expands. "Giving away t-shits at a few branches is never expensive. But get to 20 or 50 branches, and suddenly those gifts are very costly. So we start small and build. We had great success giving students little prizes for building a savings habit, like...rubber bracelets and silly bands."


Increasing The Budget

CPFCU spent $47,000 last year on the program, and the total does not include costs for employee salaries and benefits. This year the expenditure is expected to increase to $70,000.

"We have to find new ways to stay cool with the kids, and we think that having special giveaways for iPods (middle school) and iPads (high school) will help keep us current in the minds of the students," Ermatinger explained. "We have student advisory boards that we are always working with to make sure our programs remain interesting and useful."

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