Why 1 CU Is Operating 20 'Student CUs' In 6 Districts

Register now

Fifteen years since opening its first student credit union, Community Financial Members Federal Credit Union now boasts 20 such operations in six school districts.

The elementary, middle school and high school-based credit unions are part of the credit union's overall strategic initiative to provide financial literacy education to the community.

"Our board determined that education should not only be for our members but for the entire community that we serve," said Natalie McLaughlin, Senior Education Partnership Coordinator at CFMFCU, noting that the first program was designed by a branch manager and a principal to help teach children about finances and other career skills.

"In the Plymouth-Canton district, the program is run by the advanced marketing students who also operate their school store," McLaughlin said. "At the middle school level, the seventh graders are the volunteers who run it."

At the elementary school level, she said, fourth and fifth graders learn job skills by taking on various tasks within their credit union.

At all levels, children are invited to make deposits during specified transaction days. The middle school and high school students can also make withdrawals and loan payments. Community Financial, which has $315-million in assets, invites students who are at least 13 years old to apply for ATM cards-with parent permission, of course-and allows those who are at least 16 years old to open checking accounts.

"There is a staff person at each transaction day," she said. "We take a laptop and connect the computer in real time. For the high school students, I am able to take them on the Internet and show them the actual transactions being recorded."

McLaughlin acknowledges the program isn't about the actual money. Nor is it about luring young members for future business.

"While we do track percentages (of retained members), we don't use that as a measure for success for the program," she said, noting that those numbers are more important to marketing efforts. "This program is about education."

McLaughlin said the CU has dedicated three full-time employees and $25,000 annually (excluding salaries) to this cause that includes classroom training, lesson plans for teachers and tool kits that cover topics such as the differences between wants and needs, balancing check books and the responsibilities that come with credit cards.

"Kids at all levels seem to have a pretty good grasp on what we're talking about," she said, adding that the teachers who sometimes struggle with ways to teach the different age groups about finances, are showing that they, too, are learning from the program.

"We provide The Wall Street Journal classroom edition to five high schools," McLaughlin said, explaining that these issues include hot topics from the daily publications and a teacher's guide that suggests ways to use the materials in a classroom setting.

Last year alone, the CU also gave schools some 2,000 packets called "Your Checking Account" to help teenagers better manage their finances.

McLaughlin said while the CFMFCU now has the technology to keep track of its young members into the future, she doesn't expect that'll have an impact on the student-run operations.

"Operating student credit unions and making donations to educational programs in Michigan are just two of the ways Community Financial is committed to expanding financial literacy in the communities we serve," said Roger Ballard, president/CEO. "The scope and depth of our program runs much deeper."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.