Educational Programs Credited For Growth

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The $675-million Community First CU sees its membership of 70,000 expanding by as much as one-tenth this year, thanks in part to gaining new members through educational programs.

"We have a part of our mission statement that deals with education and information," said Chip Coenen, the CU's vice president of business development, adding that if people in the community receiving free financial education "choose to do business with us, we see that as a secondary benefit."

The credit union's financial education programs target groups as diverse as high school students, Hispanic and Asian immigrants, and people unfamiliar with computers.

He said that compared to the potential benefits, costs are relatively low. The credit union projects that new members and higher lending may help assets expand even faster than the 10% rate of increase in membership targeted.

"We create hand-out materials, we serve food and drinks. We host seminars at our branches and in schools so there are no costs there. By and large, it is our people's time" that is invested, he said.

Coenen said that the credit union helped push a high-school class called personal financial management. It is taught in high schools located within the 12-county market around Appleton that is the CU's field of membership. "Now the class is required for graduation," he said. Appleton is about 100 miles north of Madison, Wis.

The credit union also offers seminars on topics that vary from buying used cars to understanding investments. "Now we are putting one seminar together on understanding and managing credit," he said.

Community First CU is very involved with high schools, he said.

"We have student-run, full-service branches inside public high schools in our market that are operated by students under Community First's supervision. There are teller supervisors on site but these branches are actually run by students," Coenen said.

Jim Hall, an 18-year-old student at Appleton West High School, said he worked at the credit union branch at his school for more than one year. He said services he offered included helping students that came to withdraw money to pay for lunch. He also cashed or deposited checks earned by students who worked part-time.

Hall, who will graduate this year and is considering going to business school to become a stockbroker, said the average withdrawal transaction was "anywhere from $5 to $25." The experience was good to get hands on experience in handling money, he said.

Coenen said the credit union's main contribution to the students it hires is to teach them to build up resumes and start marketing themselves for the labor market.

Computer Lit For The Non-Computer Lit

Community First CU also holds seminars to educate people about home buying, new home construction and understanding the Internet.

The Internet classes are provided "so people who aren't computer-literate can have a broad understanding of PC banking, PC bill payer" and other services provided online by the credit union.

There is also the "money conference," a one-day-long seminar where all residents are invited to discuss any topic related to money management. "We had one in October. For these seminars we reach out significantly to minorities and people with lower to moderate income."

Coenen said the credit union will expand as "we are very lending driven. We have consumer loans, auto loans, home equity loans and mortgages." Education provided will help potential borrowers make better financial decisions, he said.

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