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Industry Engagement

Credit Unions Are Financial Health Providers

By: Merry Pateuk, SVP, Industry Engagement

Recently, I attended a system collaboration event in which a colleague at CUNA Mutual Group beautifully captured the essence of credit unions, saying “Financial well-being for all is not a thing credit unions do, it is the thing credit unions do.” Founded to be intentional in helping members with economically priced financial products and services, our industry’s commitment to financial well-being is well-documented and highlighted in this year’s theme for International Credit Union Day on October 21. “Building Financial Health for a Brighter Tomorrow” encourages credit unions around the world to celebrate how impactful they are as a financial health provider.

At PSCU, a payments technology CUSO, we recognize that payments are central to what members do with their money. We believe that credit unions can leverage payment solutions, embedded with behavioral nudges, to lead both members and employees to financially healthier outcomes.

To get a baseline, PSCU partnered with the Members Development Company and engaged the Financial Health Network to assess the financial health of credit union members and employees against a national benchmark. The study found that, while slightly healthier than the national benchmark, more than 60% of credit union members self-identify as financially coping or vulnerable – meaning they are challenged with some aspect of saving, spending, borrowing or planning. The most disturbing and alarming finding was that credit union employees had the same uncertain outlook about their financial health as members in general. These findings highlight both the need for intervention and a tremendous opportunity for credit unions.

PSCU has made financial well-being our strategic philanthropy and a lens for product innovation. How can credit unions do the same?

  1. Start at home. Just as the safety presentation on an airline flight reminds us that we need to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others put theirs on, start with an assessment of the financial health of your staff. Look at your pay practices. Provide staff with easy-to-digest tools to help them determine their financial health. Identify readily available resources and communicate, communicate, communicate. Remind employees that they do not have to learn everything about money at once and can start with one financial lesson at a time. For instance, if the challenge is saving, focus on emergency funds; for those who want to lower debt, research different debt payoff methods; read a money blog or listen to a money podcast. With confidence in their own situation and understanding the tenets of financial wellness, your staff will be more equipped to champion financial well-being initiatives and opportunities for members.
  2. Normalize conversations about money. While many of us grew up learning that money is a topic to avoid in polite company, there is tremendous value in being open about money. It’s past time to change the narrative and help improve the financial situations of our members and employees. For many of us, what we know about money is what we learned at the dinner table – and that is clearly not enough. The more we openly engage on topics like retirement plans, student loans and budgeting, the more opportunity we have to learn from each other – and develop healthier relationships with money, too. I suggest using your credit union marketing channels to help shift the paradigm.
  3. Examine your current offerings. Take an inventory of your products or services and consider repackaging them so that your members better understand how the offerings will help them achieve financially healthier outcomes. Dive into your data, as analytics can help you identify who may be facing a hardship and would benefit from intervention. Payment solutions with embedded behavioral nudges can complement the credit union’s existing financial education, as well as your one-to-one counseling, which, while highly effective, is difficult to scale.

Credit unions are financial health providers – no other organizations are better positioned to improve the financial lives of their employees and members. So, no matter where your credit union is in its journey of delivering on the value proposition of financial well-being, I encourage you to take time on International Credit Union Day to reflect. What are the new or creative ideas you might implement to support members and employees with their relationship with money?

In her role as SVP, Industry Engagement, Merry Pateuk fulfills PSCU’s strategic objective of leveraging the cooperative’s scale to advocate on behalf of the credit union industry. She cultivates relationships between PSCU and local, state and national organizations that support credit unions and works collaboratively with industry partners to ensure there is alignment on key topics and a cohesive voice to ultimately strengthen credit unions’ position in the market.

Merry is on the Board of Directors of America’s Credit Union Museum and served on the systemwide CUNA COVID-19 Restart and Recovery Task Force and the CUNA Credit Union Awareness Committee. She champions PSCU’s efforts with numerous other system partners, actively engaged in committee participation with Filene Research Institute, Credit Union Miracle Day and Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, African American Credit Union Coalition and CUES. Merry also earned the Credit Union Development Educators (CUDE) and Africa Development Educators distinction from the National Credit Union Foundation.