Why Michigan First Invests in Schools: It's Elementary

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LATHRUP VILLAGE, Mich. — CEO Michael Poulos summed up why Michigan First Credit Union has 27 branches in local schools and spends $500,000 annually on the effort — "Banks have 200 retail branches and I have nine." That kind of competitive pressure necessitates MFCU getting the jump on building relationships with budding consumers, stressed CEO Poulos, who noted MFCU has locations in elementary, middle, and high schools. "We have to get our name out so students know about Michigan First. We have a captive audience in the schools."

The program is also another way to give back to the community and fight "financial illiteracy," Poulos said. From a bottom-line perspective, the high school program does not make money, acknowledged Poulos, who said the effort is an investment in the CU's future, as many students graduate and remain with the CU.

Greater than 80% of high school graduates are with MFCU after one year; the number drops to 60% after two years, shared Poulos, who noted the credit union has also begun its Young & Free Michigan program that targets 18- to 25-year-olds.

The Primary Objective

"Our objective is to teach the students how to handle their money responsibly," Poulos explained. "In the elementary school program we only allow students to make deposits (high school students over the age of 16 can open a checking account with a parent's consent). They learn how to save and watch their money grow. The students get really excited about coming into the banking area and completing their own deposit slips and making a deposit, no matter how large or small. In the high school branches the students appreciate taking care of their own banking in school. They often come into the student branch to ask questions."

Michigan First Credit Union has a 250-square foot location in four high schools, which is one of the reasons for the program's half-million-dollar annual price tag.

But the large majority of the in-school expenditures go to staff salaries. The credit union has an employee at each high school office, all of which are open every school day.

At elementary and middle schools, the credit union sets up in cafeterias and is open one day a week on "Banking Days."

MFCU opened in = its first elementary school in 2001, and then adding its first high school in 2006. Poulos said the credit union cannot "sit and wait" for students to come to it. "In a school environment you have to go out and bring the students in-that means presentations in classrooms and getting involved in as much of the school as you can. We try to make the environment fun for students, so they want to learn about what we have to offer."

Advice From The Lesson Planner

Poulos said in-school branches are most effective when the principal is excited about the program and provides a support persone. He recommended having a template for establishing and running in-school branches in CD and booklet format that explains the program to schools and promotes consistency from school to school.

The 84,000-member MFCU has 926 high school members that have $357,488 in deposits. In elementary and middle schools, the credit union has 2,603 members for $648,489 in savings balances.

"We are trying to reach as many students as we can," Poulos stated. "In a world where there are hundreds of choices in financial institutions, we expose our young people to Michigan First Credit Union as a viable option. We hope their good experience will result in further business as they move into adulthood."

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