Financial wellness is a linchpin of member service at Teachers Credit Union ($3.9B, South Bend, IN), so it’s appropriate the veteran staffer now in charge of that effort comes directly from the member-facing side of the shop.
Jeff Sobieralski joined TCU as a teller in 2005 and managed branches for 10 years before taking on a new director role in February 2020. Now, he puts his long experience in civic engagement and retail — he worked at Best Buy in sales management and supervisory roles for more than a decade before joining the credit union movement — to leading TCU’s financial wellness and wellbeing work with an emphasis on building engagement through new processes, technology, and workplace culture initiatives.
Here, Sobieralski talks about his role as the director of financial wellness and wellbeing for the Hoosier State’s largest member-owned financial cooperative.
Is the role of director of financial wellness and wellbeing new for TCU? If so, why did the credit union create it?
Jeff Sobieralski: Credit unions exist to serve and engage members. We are about people helping people. Focusing on our members’ financial wellbeing propels TCU’s mission, vision, and core values, which form the crowning point of service for our members.
CU QUICK FACTS
Teachers Credit Union
HQ: South Bend, IN
Data as of 09.30.20
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 22.15%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 13.70%
What makes you a great fit for this job?
JS: Prior to coming to TCU, I worked in retail management. The company I worked for was highly focused on strengths-based leadership and employee engagement. I left to pursue a college degree and worked at TCU part-time as a teller. My original plan was to become a teacher — I enjoyed teaching people about finances and coaching team members to succeed. So, after completing my degree in organizational management, I continued to pursue my career with TCU. I was and continue to be mentored by several leaders at TCU.
“Financial wellness generally deals with properly handling money. Financial wellbeing is about the relationship members have with their money.”
Please clarify the difference between financial wellness and financial wellbeing.
JS: Financial wellness — we abbreviate it as FW — generally deals with properly handling money, budgeting, etc. My primary focus there is on financial literacy. Financial wellbeing — or FWB — is about the emotional feeling or the relationship members have with their money. My primary focus there is on member engagement.
How do those terms translate into your daily routine?
JS: For FW, I work with our marketing team and branches to ensure we’re offering up-to-date financial literacy tools, presentations, tips, etc. For FWB, I review survey responses from our members, research opportunities to align products and services with FWB, and work to reduce friction points for the members.
How does your role fit into the overall approach to member services at Teachers?
JS: TCU has created a culture focused on building relationships through conversations to become trusted advisors. My role is to ensure FWB is the lens we engage members through.
Has COVID-19 changed what you do — now or in the future?
JS: I didn’t transition fully into the role until after the country began shutting down. The shutdown likely reduced my communication methods where I would have been sharing in person more.
Sobieralski doesn’t just oversee his credit union’s financial education and wellness efforts, he writes about the topic, too. He penned the articles below for TCU’s own member communications and the Indiana Association for Adult and Continuing Education.
What are your biggest challenges? How do you address them?
JS: FWB doesn’t exist in a vacuum. To quote Gallup: “Research has shown people with high financial wellbeing are more likely to have a high sense of purpose, social and community wellbeing, and better physical health … When members are in control of their financial wellbeing, they change their destiny.”
FWB can change people’s lives. And engaging members is more than just the conversation when a member is in front of an employee. There are other departments, channels, and teams who all must work together to provide an engaging experience. The challenge is gathering the data, reviewing it with the corresponding channels, and implementing the changes needed, which often takes time. We’ve initiated cross-functional teams and roundtables to reduce the time. My passion overtakes my patience, so I have been learning to be more patient.
What advice do you have for credit unions as they address financial wellness?
JS: I have three pieces of advice. First, use common language. Financial wellness, financial wellbeing, financial health, etc. can sound like jargon and be confusing. Second, communicate often. The larger the organization, the more you need to communicate to ensure everyone understands the common goal. Third, engage champions. People who share the same excitement and passion can propel FWB to everyone.
Click here to download the job description for the director of financial wellness and wellbeing at Teachers Credit Union. This and more job descriptions are among the 600-plus documents — including policy templates, data-driven dashboards, and more — available in the Callahan Policy Exchange.
How do you track success in your job?
JS: My quarterly goals are reviewed monthly. Also, through observed interactions and reviews of survey responses.
Who do you report to? Who reports to you?
JS: I report to our chief member experience officer
How do you stay current with topics that fall under your role?
JS: I read CUInsight and CUES Magazine. I also subscribe to financial literacy newsletters from different organizations.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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