Don’t shy away from hairy, scary topics

Get face-to-face with the Financial Education Monster

This pesky pain-in-the-neck likes to sit in the periphery. The Financial Education monster lurks just out of view, a persistent reminder of a mostly unfulfilled promise you made to your members. And even worse, your members can see the scruffy, generic, little rascal, too. 

Here’s how to brush up the Financial Education Monster, give him an important job to do, and turn him loose on your town to stomp out financial ignorance.

Don’t call it “financial education”

The first thing to do with this beastie is dress him up. Unless they’re in a class, or getting college credit or some kind of reward, your members don’t come to you for “education”, and they’ll steer far clear of the anything bearing the “e-word”.

They’re looking for answers, how-tos, straight talk, life hacks, help, FAQs, strategies, plans, definitions, solutions, step-by-step directions, roadmaps, case studies, top 10 lists, top tips, recipes, seminars, webinars, symposiums, fairs… well, you get the idea.

Make financial education a priority, not an aspiration

Pretty much every CU we’ve ever worked with has stated that providing financial education to their members was one of their primary goals. But what we’ve seen too often is some kind of set-it-and-forget-it approach. For example, a few canned articles on retirement planning that could have come from any old Google search, or an outsourced kiddie saver’s club.

One of the first steps toward taming the Financial Education critter is moving it off of the sidelines into the forefront of your strategic plan. Make a real commitment of time, attention, and budget devoted to helping your members learn how to help themselves. The more your members know, the better their lives are, and the stronger the credit union gets.

Get specific, get local, get real

What do YOUR members in YOUR city REALLY need and want to know? What are their challenges and dreams? How can the CU help?

The world doesn’t need yet another generic article selling Roth IRAs to stock photo seniors. But credit unions are local and personal – that’s your superpower. So you need to find ways to add local flavor and bring some personality to financial education.

Got a lot of teachers or college students? Teachers might appreciate articles on summer budgeting in your city, or showing how to make the most of your state’s teacher retirement plan. Students might need to know where they can go for help figuring out student loans, or how to maximize pizza per dollar.

And don’t shy away from hairy scary topics like layoffs, divorce, or medical bills. These are just a few of the real financial problems real people have, and you need to be there to help them through.

Get the message to your members in multiple ways

Any teacher will tell you that there are a variety of ways to present content to students, and that it’s important to use more than one way. People learn differently, so you can’t teach everything the same way. Content can be presented in written form, with audio, on video, or a mixture of these. You can provide online content and carry out in-person sessions as well. With tools like YouTube, Zoom, and Podcasts, there’s really no end to how creative you can be. 

Online modules, for example, can be a great approach to financial education and engagement. Self-paced learning can be a very useful tool and resource, but you have to understand that it relies heavily on member motivation. If your members have no motivation to learn or even look at your modules, well, that’s when things start to get hairy.

While you’re considering your options, don’t forget about the importance of feedback. A lot of the problem with self-paced online learning is that the learner doesn’t receive sufficient feedback to know if there’s a better way to do something, or even to ask questions.

Remember what you’re competing with

We’re living in the most technologically advanced and digitally-accessible world that anyone has ever seen. It’s worth considering that when you set out to become your members’ preferred resource for financial education content, you’re competing with some heavyweight contenders out there.

In short, why would your members come to you when they could just Google the problem?

A good response would be that your CU offers something more. This could be more details, more specific local information or solutions, better quality assistance, or any of the things a real live human can do better than a search engine. If members can get more out of coming to you, they probably will. But that means your CU’s financial education has to provide that extra oomph.

You don’t have to go it alone

Taming the Financial Education Monster doesn’t have to be a solo activity, and it probably shouldn’t be. Chances are that you don’t have the time or budget to create your own series of interactive online lessons, blog posts, FAQs, videos, podcasts, or whatever creative idea you may come up with.

Once you dream up what you want to do, the next step is to figure out what you can do. For example, it might be difficult to start holding meetings in-person, but tools like Zoom can help cover that gap. You could start holding weekly town-hall meetings as soon as tomorrow, if you wanted to.

And for the rest, why not partner with someone who can help? For example, here at iDiz, we develop all kinds of educational and custom website and social media content and strategies for our credit union clients.

The key thing to remember is that your Financial Education Monster needs regular feeding and attention to stay helpful and friendly.

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Sam Dicken

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