For the past five years, $3.5 billion-asset TCF National Bank Illinois has had two full-time employees visit Chicago-area schools to teach students about saving, budgeting, and banking.
"We're encouraging kids to see the value of saving before the credit cards can get to them," said Timothy A. Herwig, vice president of community affairs at the bank, a unit of $10.5 billion-asset TCF Financial Corp. in Minneapolis. "We're doing our part to establish an ethic of saving and investment in a society where a plethora of people have accumulated debt beyond their means."
Unfortunately, a report argues, not enough other banks want to do the same thing.
"Tools for Survival: An Analysis of Financial Literacy Programs for Lower-Income Families" is from the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago nonprofit that promotes economic deveolopment in lower-income and minority communities.
The group surveyed banks and credit unions in the Chicago area about the number and type of community financial education programs they offer.
Its president, Malcolm Bush, said institutions such as TCF Illinois do a better job of teaching financial matters than large national banks.
"There are some very creative programs being done out there to make people financially literate, but there aren't nearly enough to address the need," Mr. Bush said. "The amount of programs being offered isn't commensurate with banks' resources."
According to the report, TCF Illinois, which is based in the Chicago suburb of Burr Ridge, offered 21 in-school educational programs in the third quarter -- while five much larger banks offered 15 in all.
Mary Laraia, senior vice president of community development at Bank One Corp. in Chicago, said she agrees that banks must provide more financial-literacy training.
She said $269 billion-asset Bank One, the fourth-largest U.S. banking company, has added more educational programs in recent years, with a strong focus on managing debt, homebuying, and repairing bad credit ratings. It plans to offer twice as many programs this year as it did in 1999 and double up again in 2001.
"In poor neighborhoods there's a real need for more financial education," Ms. Laraia said. "How much people know about banks and how to use them really corresponds with their income and education."
In the last three years North Side Community Federal Credit Union in Chicago, which has $2.7 million of assets, has been steadily adding seminars on debt reduction and budgeting. The Woodstock report says North Side offered 10 finance seminars in Chicago in the third quarter, besting the city's large national banks.
Dianna Long, North Side's marketing coordinator, said there's a "bottomless pit" of people who need to know more about finance.
"So many people get deep into debt and don't know how to get out of it," she said. "They don't know how to manage their finances. The government, banks, credit unions all need to offer more education."