Financial Education as a Credit Union Differentiator: Interview with A+ FCU

Each credit union's education program is exclusive and should be tailored to fit the unique needs of the membership, community, values and goals. Here is A+ FCU's story.


The need for more financial education in America is readily apparent (If you need convincing, check this out). Many credit unions have heard this call and are currently on the forefront of this initiative:

- 24% offer Financial Counseling
- 23% offer Financial Education
- 13% offer Financial Seminars
- 9% offer First Time Home Buyer Programs
- 4% have In-School Branches
- 33% offer one or more of these initiatives

Reflecting the diversity of the organizations that offer them, each credit union's program is exclusive and should be tailored to fit the unique needs of their membership, community, values and goals.

Take A+ Federal Credit Union, for example. Two weeks ago I had a conversation with Dawn Ambuehl-Sadek, Community Education Director, and Kelsey Balcaitis, Community Education Specialist. While their offerings and initiatives are too many to list here, A+ serves as a prime example of how one credit union was able to institutionalize the education process and use it to their advantage. What follows is an excerpt from our conversation. I have highlighted points I believe to be most relevant.

Chris Tissue: What sparked your decision to offer financial education to members?

A+: Our credit union was originally founded by teachers in 1949, so we are very much education-based. Education has been, for some years, one of our core purposes.  We have determined that this is our differentiator: education and, specifically, financial education. What we came up with for the mission statement for financial education is "to provide the skills and the resources that every member needs to achieve financial success throughout their whole life".

Whether they are 6 years old and losing a tooth, sending it to the tooth fairy and getting $1 or they are 65 years old, retiring, and need to plan their estate; we try to provide the education they need for all of that and couple that with the education they need about the products and services that we offer. Financially literate members will be more successful with their accounts which will have an affect on other aspects of the credit union as well, such as collections and delinquencies.

CT: How has the recession affected your initiatives? Have you seen any noticeable changes?

A +: I haven't seen much of a change in the topics because we were offering 'Get Out of Debt' seminars for several years. As far as on-site seminars, my experience has been that you need to figure out the demographic group that will benefit most from a given topic and market it to those specifically. If you just market it to the membership generally, people won't attend. That is what we have been trying to do more recently - to really target the seminar to those people that need the information. When we do our next debt seminar we are going to pull the list of members that have been denied for a loan, and structure the class to that audience.

CT: What advice would you give to maybe a smaller credit union looking to start up a program or any credit union looking to refine their existing program?

A+: I would say that what you really need to do is look at 1. Who are my existing members? 2. Who are the members that I want? Then, what is it specifically in financial education or personal finance that they need or want? And start, one at a time. I started with seminars, built that program. Then I moved to get into the schools, built that program. Then I moved into the online, social media delivery channel. It's not like this happened over night. It's been a long process. There is more we can do but you have to start with one thing, perfect it, then move on to the next.

I think it is also important to "not reinvent the wheel" there is so much out there that even small credit unions can get involved in. It doesn’t have to cost money. There is so much out there that you can already utilize.




Oct. 19, 2009


  • Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. The specific promotion that sparked that advice was a retirement planning seminar, obviously targeted more towards the Boomer generation.

    To target that demographic, Dawn and Kelsey identified direct mailing as the most effective form of communication. More important perhaps, was the messaging that accompanied it. The marketing was styled like an invitation. For example: “You’re invited to attend A+ FCU’s retirement seminar”. The campaign was extremely effective. They had people calling to reserve a spot up until the day of the event and the seminar was packed. They also noted that many members would call in referencing the “invitation”, adding an element of exclusivity to the seminars.

    This brings up a valid point that we will cover in the webinar: How do you as the marketer, promote financial literacy programs to make sure they have the broadest reach, and thus, maximize the return on your credit union/member’s investment?
    Chris Tissue
  • Great points about segmenting members to boost the effectiveness of education programs.

    I would be interested to hear which channels (direct mail, in-branch signage, etc.) worked best for each group.

    Thank you!
    Peter Hodges (@bellco_cu)