Money: Teaching the bear necessities

To celebrate Financial Fitness Day on April 6th, the Foundation asked credit union organizations to tweet pictures of their activities using the #FinancialFitnessDay hashtag. Thank you to all...

With April declared National Financial Literacy Month in the USA, credit unions are showing how they contribute to financial education.

In Pennsylvania, Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union (FMFCU) has set up a credit union service organisation to share original financial education programmes with other credit unions. The Credit Union Network for Financial Literacy (CUNFL) engages children and adults while promoting the benefits of credit union membership.

The Berenstain Bears do their bit for financial literacy
The Berenstain Bears do their bit for financial literacy

Its flagship project is the Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Program, developed through an exclusive partnership with Berenstain Enterprises. The programme features a youth education and marketing suite of products geared toward young learners and featuring its signature publication: The Berenstain Bears Visit The Credit Union.

“This storybook is in the same vein as all books in The Berenstain Bears’ series, except that it was commissioned by Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union and is the only book of its kind written exclusively for credit unions and featuring major children’s characters,” said programme manager Lorraine Ranalli.

The programme was born of a simple idea to engage and educate children, says Ms Ranalli.

FMFCU had already been using The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money when its CEO decided to ask if the characters could be used in a financial centre.

“Within a year, FMFCU secured the rights to use the Berenstain Bears in conjunction with financial literacy, and was granted permission to print a credit union version of the Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money – where all bank references and graphics were replaced with ‘credit union’,” she said.

“We built Bear Country Credit Union – an 1,100 square foot financial literacy centre – commissioned Mike Berenstain to write The Berenstain Bears Visit The Credit Union, and formed the credit union service organisation CUNFL to make the programme available to credit unions across the United States.”

Credit unions: The mystery of the disappearing members

CUNFL hopes to one day make the programme available globally. As well as promoting financial literacy among children, the programme aims to attract new credit union members.

“Promoting financial literacy increases membership,” added Ms Ranalli. “The effort to serve and educate members creates a positive ripple effect, so it’s only natural that membership would increase, as evidenced by the growth of credit unions during the years of global financial turmoil involving big banks.”

A group of teachers developed lesson plans to accompany each of the books in the Credit Union Financial Literacy Series, which emphasise saving, sharing, spending and earning. Anyone can deliver the lessons, which are ready to use and comply with US Department of Education’s standards for financial education.

The programme became available nationwide in 2015 and has already reached tens of thousands of children through the five credit unions from different states that received the license to run it. FMFCU has been using the programme since it was developed in 2013. On average, FMFCU educates 5,000 children under the age of ten each year.

After obtaining the licence, credit unions have the option to brand their youth accounts around the Berenstain Bears. CUNFL recommends they target children aged ten and under for Club Account membership. When they open a Club Account, children receive a book, an official Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy piggy bank, a membership card and coupons with matching gift incentives to encourage participation in the management of their finances.

“In addition to the credibility and visibility afforded though branding with the Berenstain Bears is the advantage of co-operative marketing,” said Ms Ranalli. “Participating credit unions by default reap the benefits of the promotional efforts of all licensees.”

During the Financial Literacy Month CUNFL and the Berenstain Bears Financial Literacy Programme are promoting financial fitness.

They have released a short guidance note on how to ‘create financially fit children’. The five tips suggest teaching children to identify coins, playing ‘store’ with children aged eight and younger, discussing spending plans, taking them to a credit union branch and enabling them to carry a charitable act.

The cast of Biz Kid$
The cast of Biz Kid$

Similarly, since 2008 the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) has been running Biz Kid$, a national financial literacy initiative to engage with young people. In 2007, the foundation launched a TV series to support the initiative and also provides a free classroom curriculum, activities and a website for those aged 16 and younger.

Each Biz Kid$ episode shows them how to make and manage money while using parodies of famous films. Episodes look at issues such as credit, budgeting, saving, entrepreneurship and how to be a smart consumer.

The foundation is responsible for the outreach of the show, which is funded through contributions from over 300 credit unions and has aired on over 340 public TV stations, reaching 98% of the country. Since the series launched in 2008, it has reached 77.1 million viewers and won two national Daytime Emmy Awards and 13 Emmy nominations, including one for outstanding children’s series. The US Department of Education has also awarded Biz Kid$ a grant for video transcription for the blind and sight impaired.

NCUF works to stimulate financial freedom through credit unions. Its grants and programmes help provide credit unions in the USA with widespread financial education and create greater access to affordable financial services and encourage more members to save, build assets and own homes.

Staff from Pioneer Valley CU fundraising for Financial Fitness Day
Staff from Pioneer Valley CU fundraising for Financial Fitness Day

To celebrate Financial Literacy Month, NCUF held a Financial Fitness Day on 6 April, designed to help members get their financial health in shape. Participating credit unions held casual day fundraisers at their branches, with the money raised going towards NCUF’s financial education initiatives.

In conjunction with National Credit Union Youth Month, NCUF also hosted a Twitter chat on 20 April where credit unions had the chance to discuss on the importance of getting young people financially fit.

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