Teaching young people about credit unions

One of the most innovative projects in the credit union movement is aiming to reach out to the majority of young people who do not know about financial...

Young & Free is based in the US and Canada, with the sole aim of teaching those aged between 18-25 about the pros of banking with credit unions.

Many banks in the US charge an additional fee for chequing accounts, a problem for many young people, however many credit unions offer free accounts with no fees or charges.

Despite this a 2012 survey from the Credit Union National Association revealed that 69 per cent of people aged between 18-24 are “not at all familiar” with credit unions.
Young & Free is trying to change this. 

Back in 2006, Tim McAlpine, the creator of Young & Free, was working with Common Wealth Credit Union in Alberta, Canada. They were trying to think of a way to involve the youth market, when they came up with the idea of giving young people a voice through the Spokester role. 

Spokesters are young adults who blog, create video content and use social media to inform people about the benefits of credit unions. Their peers vote them in and the winner takes on the job for a year. 

It was in 2008, when they realised this project could go beyond just Alberta.

Tim said: “We began to realise the magnitude of the age problem with credit unions. According to Credit Union National Association (CUNA), the average age of a U.S. credit union member is 47 and according to Credit Union Central of Canada, the average age of a Canadian credit union member is 54, while census data reveals that the average age of a North American is 35.”

Now there are currently 10 Spokesters, and over 90 credit unions have their products associated with Young & Free. 

He said: “Young & Free helps lower average age. All of the credit unions in Maine, US, are participating in Young & Free Maine through the Maine Credit Union League. 

“After one year, the credit unions of Maine have seen a four per cent membership growth in the 18-25 age group from April 2011 to April 2012 versus general member growth of 0.2% in same time period. The average age of a credit union member has moved down to 45 from 47 in just one year.”

The Spokesters are key to the success of the project. Coming from many different backgrounds, some with very little knowledge and others who have been members of CUs all their lives.
Tim said it is this that makes the program work: “People related to people, not companies — Young & Free is not artificial advertising, it's actual young people discovering that credit unions are good and then relaying that back to their peers in their own voices.”

Kylie Keene from Young & Free Maine, was already a member of a credit union, but she has learned a lot more since becoming a Spokester. 

She said: “Like many people my age, I'm fresh out of college and I don't have a lot of money. The financial world can be intimidating. It's tough to figure out what's best for our money and our future. Credit unions just simplify things.”

Darryl LaPlante the South Carolina Spokester, has had his contract renewed twice, making it three terms longer than the average Spokester. His CU does not just work in South Carolina, but also raises money for Water Missions International and helped give a village in Musubi, Uganda access to safe and clean water. 

He explained why young people should use CUs: “One of the biggest reasons a young person should want to join a CU is for their free accounts. At a bank, the board of directors are all paid employees, so typically they're making decisions that will most benefit them and that's lame.”
What is the future for Young & Free? Tim adds: “Our bigger goals is to expand beyond North America and help credit unions attract 1,000,000 new young members. There is a worldwide need to attract younger members and we see Young & Free as one very effective way to do this. Europe, Australia, Asia? 

“Who knows what's next!” 

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