Q & A: Student-Run Credit Union Branches

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by on September 9, 2013

The student-run credit union branch, or in-school branch, has been a fixture of the credit union landscape for more than 40 years. Student-run branches have proved to be a popular and successful system for providing elementary, middle and high school students with training in subjects like bookkeeping, handling and storing deposits, and marketing. Not only do students gain valuable financial literacy, but they also learn early job skills that will shape their future working lives.

These programs provide a valuable resource for schools that do not or cannot offer financial education within their curricula, due to budget constraints or other issues. Considering the current state of financial literacy (in 2013, only 2 out of 5 adults say they have a budget and monitor their spending), every concerted effort to promote educating children about money should be supported. There are a number of states that have instituted mandatory financial education for students to graduate and there are credit unions operating one or more student branches in nearly every state in the country, but, as Gina Duckett of Woodstone Credit Union notes, the “ultimate goal would be to make financial education a requirement for graduation on the national level.” Until that becomes a reality, state committees continue to “take baby steps in that direction.”

We wanted to dig deeper into the student-run credit union branch initiative, so we reached out to several credit union representatives to get their perspectives.

What goes into operating a student-run credit union branch?

Cindy Lardie, Marketing and Education Coordinator, TBA Credit Union: “I educate area administrators about the program and implement it each year in up to as many as eight schools. This includes presenting the program to staff and students, selecting, interviewing and training 5th grade student volunteers to be branch managers, tellers, bookkeepers, computer operators and marketing representatives, setting up school deposit sites, monitoring students on school deposit days, creating and distributing reminders for deposit days, visiting campuses for school events (open houses, carnivals, talent shows) and planning end-of-the-year celebrations for students. There are a lot of elements to making it all work.”

Peggy Shipley, Marketing Coordinator/Student Branch Coordinator, Rogue Credit Union“As Rogue Credit Union’s Student Branch Coordinator, I oversee the program, which includes 4 branches, 4 supervisors and 16 students.  I work with the supervisors to ensure the students are meeting their learning objectives and overall expectations of the program.  I also work closely with our partnered schools to maintain those key relationships vital to the support of the program.  I help facilitate 3 – 4 promotions a year, including a grand opening and community event, and several planning sessions for all of the branches to come together to plan for promotions & events.”

What led your credit union to initiate this program?

Christy A. Smith, Vice President of Member Services, First New York Federal Credit Union: “We began our program in 2005 at Schenectady High School. Initially, we were approached by the house principal to develop a program to educate the students in the area of financial marketing and service. Our decision to open an in-school branch was based on providing hands on experience which would translate into life skills for the students.”

Bonnie Proszenyak, School Coordinator, UnitedOne Credit Union: “The idea for a school branch came from our involvement with our local school district’s “Business Education Partnership Council” back in 1995, and the fact that Wisconsin had a few successful school branches around the state. Our first school branch opened in the fall of 1996.”

Kenneth Shaw, Creative and Youth Services Specialist, Hawaii Community Federal Credit Union: “Konawaena Student Credit Union (SCU) was our first SCU, started in 1972.  It not only was our first SCU, but the first SCU in the state of Hawaii. The SCU was started as a way to provide financial literacy to our youth and to educate them on credit unions being not-for-profit financial cooperatives where members are owners of their financial institution. The SCUs provide the ability for youth to gain job skills as teller employees of the CU and volunteer Board of Directors, guiding the direction of their credit union. These youth members serve as the future generations of our 76-year-old credit union, allowing our legacy to live on.”

Jessica Kehrer, Regional Manager, Honor Credit Union: Student Credit Unions have been a part of Honor Credit Union for over 20 years. We currently have 13 Student Credit Unions open in area schools with 4 more opening this fall.  Student Credit Unions build a foundation for the future generations to learn the importance of work and financing while enhancing Honor Credit Union’s relationships with the schools.

Lardie:At a time when the economy was struggling, we recognized the importance of educating students about both financial responsibility and career preparation. With the Student-Run Credit Union Program, we are able to educate students on financial topics like the importance of saving and simulate the process of securing a job and all that entails. As a free program to area schools, it also offers districts the opportunity to provide a real-world curriculum experience at no cost to students when many schools are struggling with reduced budgets.”

Shipley:In 1992, Rogue Credit Union was approached by a local student, Jason Lukaszewicz, who wanted to pursue a student branch as his senior project.  We saw this as an opportunity to provide a venue to assist our youth in the development of employable skills and knowledge in the personal finance area.  Rogue truly believed this program would be an extension of the credit union philosophy of ‘People Helping People.’ The Rogue Federal Credit Union Panther Branch officially opened on April 8, 1993, at South Medford High School, and was also the first student ran credit union branch to open in the state of Oregon.”

How much of the day-to-day operation is left to the students?

Proszenyak:I manage our student-run branches, which include Monroe Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Washington Jr. High, and Lincoln High School. While I do guide and mentor our student workers, these branches are truly run by students for students. Setting and evaluating goals, planning and implementing marketing promotions, and the daily operation of the branches are all done by the students, who work together on teams to make their branches successful.”

What kinds of responses have you received from school participants and parents?

Lardie:The response to this program has been amazing. As we enter our 4th year, we will be in seventeen elementary schools. Last year students involved in the program collectively saved $11,000 and processed 1,418 school deposits. We hear consistently from parents and educators about the value of this hands-on experience. They often say, ‘Why didn’t this exist when I was in school?’”

Proszenyak:Our participating schools are very supportive of the school credit union branches and the student workers, which is so important to this program being successful. Our student workers are very proud to be running their own credit union, so it means a lot when principals, teachers and other students get excited about the program.”

Has your program influenced the curriculum at participating schools?

Kehrer: “The local schools we partner with have implemented financial education into their curriculum. We partner with our schools to provide educational presentations focusing on practical uses of math skills and emphasizing monetary applications. We focus on enhancing student excellence by increasing their confidence through participation in activities of responsibility and leadership.”

Shipley:As financial literacy in the schools is becoming increasingly limited with budget constraints, I think the perception of the student branch is changing to that of being a place to not only conduct general transactions, but also a place to help educate in the area of personal finance.  The partnership between student branches and the schools help fill the underfunding of those resources.”

Smith: “In the schools where we have branches established, there is a strong commitment to financial literacy.  We are often invited into classrooms for educational sessions from why it’s important to pay yourself first, to obtaining and maintaining a good credit history. We also work with the schools marketing classes to develop local account ideas and marketing strategies.  While we underwrite and create the marketing pieces, it is based on what the marketing classes have developed and requested.”

Has the program had an impact on you or your credit union’s management?

Shipley: “When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to work at a local bank, but there wasn’t a mentorship program like this to benefit from. Our student tellers have the opportunity to interact with our internal and external departments, which exposes them to future career opportunities.

“There’s definitely a sense of gratification to see the program progress and see the impact it has had on students, staff and the schools. We currently have over 20 employees who have gone through this program and have chosen to stay with Rogue Credit Union, some in management positions, which is confirmation that the program is thriving and making a difference.”

Lardie: “Prior to working for TBACU, I worked as a teacher for over ten years. I continue to love the enthusiasm of students and am inspired by what they will choose to do in the future. They need encouragement from adult role models, and I hope I am that for them.

“For the credit union, the experience has been completely positive. We are able to interact with members (both adults and students) in a new and powerful way. We understand that young people are the future of credit unions and we want to help them make the best financial decisions possible.”

Smith: “As the program has expanded and our experience has grown, we have developed and changed some of our policies and procedures.  In addition, we have developed new product offerings designed especially for the targeted high school market.”

Shaw:  “Youth membership has always been on our Board and Executive Team strategic plans with an emphasis on continuing to support these programs.  While our oldest of three SCUs is 41 years old, I am proud to say that my inception of the Children’s Deposit Day program from the beginning with the elementary schools is helping to prepare them for the greater awareness of SCU’s in their high school years.”

How do you see the student-run branch program changing in the future?

Lardie: “Within the state, I envision the number of student-run credit unions will continue to grow. As I meet with other credit union financial educators, they recognize the importance of this type of curriculum for future generations of consumers.

“For TBACU, I see the program expanding into our middle and high schools. This year, we have expanded the tasks of our marketing representatives to reflect more of the work we do back in the office. They will be writing advertisements for their school newsletters, developing announcements for the school PA, and creating marketing stations with applications and savings program information.

“I would love to see our volunteers begin to take on the role of trainers/educators for their fellow students. Currently, they model the importance of saving through their role responsibilities, but they could hold mini workshops on saving. I also would love to have students create radio ads for student-run credit unions, encouraging their peers to manage money wisely.”

Smith: “Since our program’s inception, we have expanded to a total of five area high school branches, with plans to open a sixth this fall.  I believe the program will continue to expand as more schools adapt programs geared toward financial literacy. We have expanded the experience for the students by hiring graduating high school students to work summer hours and college break hours to supplement our staff.  Additionally, we will launch the use of the latest in technology with tablets and mobile use to open memberships, provide information to members and perform transactions.”

Kehrer:I think it’s very important to stay up to date and keep it interesting for the students participating in the student credit union. Over time our program has evolved with our primary focus being financial literacy. Financial education is very important and we encourage the development of personal financial responsibility and money management skills through the Student CU. The student credit unions also “employ” students to work as tellers, managers, marketing, and public relations under the guidance of an Honor Credit Union employee. This promotes responsibility and a good work ethic, along with the math skills involved in each position.”

Shipley: “Rogue’s student branch may have started off more like a small satellite branch if you will, but we have progressed by implementing learning objectives and goals for both students and staff.

“Rogue Credit Union has a 2 year student branch program in place. In the first year, students learn about the credit union difference, professionalism in the workplace, product information, and marketing. During the 2nd year, students will learn management skills by leading their branch in planning sessions, facilitating marketing promotions and overall branch management.

“The students are considered employees of Rogue Credit Union, so they will work at the student branch during school hours for school credit, but then will also have the opportunity to work at the main branches to acquire ‘real-life’ work experience.

“We take this opportunity to mentor the students with one-on-one coaching, consistent planning sessions, meetings, and evaluations. “

Final Comments

Lardie: “Discussing finances at the dinner table thirty years ago was taboo. Now families discuss the importance of spending thoughtfully, donating to charities, saving for family vacations and future college expenses…together.”

Shaw:Recent reports of our credit union performance by an independent consultant group known in the credit union industry has shown that we have higher percentage than the industry average of Gen Y membership.  It makes me happy to know that I play a very big part in this.”

Proszenyak: “I would like to add how much I enjoy seeing the students grow while in the program. It’s amazing how their public speaking, professionalism, and teamwork skills really develop.”

Students and teacher saving money image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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