Why One Ore. CU Sees A Return In Educational Seminars

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Wauna Federal Credit Union has made a regular habit of hosting educational seminars in this market, and in the process has learned some lessons itself.

The reasons, said Debi Smiley, Wauna FCU's chief operating officer, are twofold.

"It fits our philosophy. We are a community credit union and have been since 1976," she explained. "We give back to the community that supports us. And some people join at the seminars. That is not the primary reason, but we always want the opportunity to introduce who we are and what we offer. It is not a sales pitch-it is nice to be able to give back."

Smiley was Wauna FCU's marketing manager for 17 years before being promoted to COO. She started with the credit union in 1988, and began the seminars two years later. She said the early topics included checkbook balancing, budgeting, retirement planning, investing, living trusts, estate planning and home buying. "Many were standing room only," she recalled.

As the years went by and members' needs became more sophisticated, the credit union developed new topics. In 1996, it offered a seminar on the then-new IRS tax rules. Other topics included women in investing, how to buy a home computer, deposit product information and identity theft.

"We also came up with 'Suddenly Single,' a seminar for people who found themselves in a new financial situation after being divorced or widowed," said Smiley. "We have done a wide variety, and they have been very well received. We have people do an evaluation after each seminar, and the feedback is good."

Wauna FCU, which is situated on the Columbia River, serves two lightly populated counties in Northwest Oregon: Clatsop and Columbia. The total population of the area is just 39,000, with 16,000 of those in Astoria, Ore., to the west. The credit union has five branch locations, and each seminar is hosted once at each branch to give as many people as possible a chance to attend.

The seminars have proven so popular, Smiley said, the credit union has considered moving them to a larger facility. "Then, the next one is not as large. We decided to keep them in branches, because that helps with branch identification."

Break Time

Wauna FCU took a "small break" from offering seminars in 2000 because it was repeating topics, Smiley said. "We had multiple seminars on Y2K, and those who wanted to attend, had."

In 2003, Wauna resumed offering regular seminars when the board asked it to focus on the education of the membership, Smiley said. The seminars are held in the evenings, and attract people from their 30s to their 60s.

One thing Smiley has learned over the years is there are times when seminars don't pull an audience, primarily in the summer and around holidays. "January through June is the best. Then we come back for fall into November."

Wauna has also put on educational programs in local schools for 15 years. Smiley said the CU gets regular requests from the schools to teach students about such topics as: how to use a checkbook, car buying, credit score analysis and creditworthiness.

"We go into classrooms-high school primarily, but sometimes Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. If we go to grade schools, we talk about savings. The high school programs target the 14 to 17 age bracket. We want to talk to them before they turn 18 and get bombarded with credit card offers. The goal is education, but we get members for life."

"The seminars give people a chance to acquire information no one else in the area is providing," she continued. "The credit union has gotten name recognition and community support. In a smaller community, members really appreciate the extra step our credit union goes."

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