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How credit unions should start at home to improve financial well-being for all

In December 2021, the National Credit Union Foundation gave grant money to seven small credit unions, helping them better identify, understand and serve their diverse membership. After just three months, there is already one clear takeaway: to improve financial well-being for all, start at home.

The first step toward improving financial lives is understanding who you’re serving; a $100,000 grant from the Foundation aims to do just that.

Read more about the original grantIt provides seven small credit unions with 12 months of access to industry-leading programs, data analysis and consultation from two organizations at the forefront of understanding how race, ethnicity and culture shape a consumer’s financial well-being: Attune, part of the Financial Health Network, and Coopera.

In partnership with Attune, each participating credit union conducted an employee survey in Q1 – the results were eye-opening.

Look to your left, now look to your right – those people need help

The survey was intended as a dry run before engaging members. It gathered baseline information: demographics – including race, gender, sexual orientation – and financial behaviors and understanding.

Read more about financial well-being for all“Honestly, we were surprised by some of the feedback,” said Melissa Burleson, training and engagement manager at Tarrant County’s Credit Union, Texas. “As soon as the data started coming back, we could see an opportunity to support our employees with some fundamentals; budgeting, paying bills. There’s a lot of opportunity just within our own walls.”

Almost 2,000 miles away in Portland, Oregon, the story was the same. “My team told me how uncomfortable it is to share with your employer that you’re in financial difficulties,” added Larry Ellifritz, CEO of Consolidated Community Credit Union.

“I’m incredibly grateful my employees trusted the process because their response changed our strategy dramatically. Now we’re expanding the survey to encourage direct feedback. We can’t just ask about an individual’s financial situation, we need to ask, ‘And how can we help?’”

The cooperative movement in action

“One of the most exciting aspects of this project is the potential impact, system-wide,” said Michelle Christie, who leads the Foundation’s grants strategy.

“Each participating credit union has its own unique circumstances, challenges, opportunities et cetera, but we’re still seeing clear trends emerge – like how easy it can be to overlook our own team members’ financial well-being.

“The opportunity to plot how we address those issues, cooperatively, and bring that learning back to the broader credit union movement is incredible.”

The Foundation can help your credit union improve financial well-being for your employees, your members and your broader community. Learn more.