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A benefit first, a credit union second: how BCU is embracing its mission, not its structure

There’s a phrase repeated across the credit union movement: “Financial Well-Being for All isn’t a thing we do, it’s the thing.” For most credit unions, that represents a recalibration of how they think about their products and services. Illinois-based BCU is taking it one step further.

A link through to a video about BCU's Life. Money. You financial well-being program.“At BCU, we’re actually working to position ourselves more as a financial wellbeing organization that has credit union services than vice versa,” says Bjorn Larson, Director of Financial Well-Being at the $5 billion organization.

“We’re a seg-based credit union, working with some of America’s largest companies. UnitedHealth Group has over 300,000 employees, Target over 400,000. On paper they represent incredible growth opportunity for the credit union, right? But for those organizations, we’re considered one of their company benefits.”

A link through to a video about upskilling staff to provide financial well-being servicesBjorn can say this, too, with a little insider knowledge: he was a part of Target Corporation’s internal financial well-being program over a decade ago.

In fact, at a time when corporate ‘employee wellness’ initiatives focused almost exclusively on physical health, Target were innovators. However, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, credit unions began focusing on the intersection of financial, physical and mental wellness – with BCU at the forefront.

A link through to a video about delivering a successful financial well-being program with limited resources“Ten years ago, BCU’s financial well-being program, Life. Money. You.®, was still in its early stages,” added Bjorn. “But there was a clear commitment, from the top down, to understand and improve true financial wellness.”

Life. Money. You.® is now a fully integrated program at BCU, central to the organization’s strategy and ingrained in all employees. In-branch Goal Consultants provide individualized financial counseling, call center staff are trained in empathy to root out core financial issues (during what could otherwise be a purely transactional experience) and the financial health metrics of BCU members directly influence product development.

Central to the program’s success is its focus on behavioral change. “We help people set financial goals,” said Bjorn, “but more importantly, we help them accomplish them. Every interaction is focused on instilling healthy financial behaviors that will help that member achieve their financial goals.”

With a report published in June 2021 showing that over half of American workers earning six-figure salaries live paycheck to paycheck, it’s clear that while financial goals may be individual, the need for support is universal.

“Our business partners see that and understand it. Many of them are living it,” added Bjorn. “For BCU, the most value we can add to a large employer is securing the financial health and well-being of their employees – it’s not just providing banking services. It’s invigorating, really, to be able to really focus on our mission, and not just on specific products or services.”

No time to watch the videos? Read the transcripts:

An image of Bjorn Larson
Bjorn Larson

Bjorn focuses on the development and execution of BCU’s financial well-being strategy to serve its own employees, Company Partners, members, and future members. He’s an Accredited Financial Counselor® and holds an MBA from the University of St. Thomas as well as a B.A. in Accounting and Finance from Bethel University, located in Minneapolis, MN.