September 13, 2011
Credit Union Management’s online-only “Teaching Smart Money Management” column runs the second Tuesday of the month.
Have you ever taken a Zumba class?
Whether you’ve tried it or not, you’ve probably heard the motto, ‘Ditch the workout; join the party.’ Rather than repetitive motions on the floor or never-ending running on a treadmill, Zumba is actually fun—it’s like going to a party and dancing for an hour. If doing something healthy can be that exciting, can financial literacy be enjoyable too?
For Maureen Wilkinson, vice president and director of HarborOne U, the answer is a very loud “Yes!”
“Trying to get adults to come to financial education programs is like pulling teeth!” she says. But her credit union has found a way around that. And yes, it includes Zumba.
Four years ago, $1.8 billion/154,000-member HarborOne Credit Union, Brockton, Mass., launched a multicultural banking center with a focus on financial education and other classes for immigrants. The center offered English as a Second Language, citizenship preparation and more. After winning awards for the center, the credit union’s CEO had an idea. Why not offer pertinent classes to everyone else?
And so, HarborOne U was born. More than a location for financial literacy, HarborOne U has truly become a community center. Classes include Organizing 101, Basic Bookkeeping, and Franchising as well as personal enrichment classes. Many classes are geared toward business owners, such as setting up an LLC, Negotiating Skills, QuickBooks and Social Media for Business.
All classes are free and the entire project is funded by the credit union. What’s impressive about all this is not that a credit union is giving back to the community—many credit unions do that daily. It’s that HarborOne CU products are never promoted during any HarborOne U program. Even when a class is about business lending, for example, the credit union makes sure to have objective presenters so no one is selling or promoting during class. “There’s no uncomfortable sales presentation,” Wilkinson says.
Once members attend classes, a high trust level has been established. They’ve enjoyed the class, are impressed with the facility, and then they’ll ask for one-on-one financial education. They’ll ask for help with budgeting, financial planning or opening an account at the credit union.
When someone does want to work with the credit union, Wilkinson introduces the member to someone at the CU and makes sure there’s a seamless handoff.
Interestingly, 75 percent of participants have not been members of HarborOne CU prior to their participation. The other 25 percent increased their business with the credit union and, of course, the 75 percent who are non-members may eventually become members.
HarborOne U is located in a building owned by the credit union (there’s a HarborOne CU branch in the building too) and consists of 3,100 square feet, divided into 3 sections: a wireless classroom, an executive conference room, and a business information center, in partnership with the Small Business Administration, that includes a workspace people can use at no cost. For a small business owner, it’s a chance to work outside the home and away from distractions. For those who are unemployed, it has become a place to seek available jobs and polish a resume. The room is available for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts too. Truly, it’s a community center.
Another project at HarborOne U is displaying the work of local artists. People may come in just to see the art, and that starts a conversation while introducing people to HarborOne CU.
Classes are based on what members need, such as a recent class titled “Finding Work in Hard Times.” Other subjects that were successful include one for parents on understanding and treating concussions, social media and identity theft. A demo class for people new to Zumba brought in many women who otherwise may have never heard of the credit union.
Finding the right topic is key, but once people see what’s offered, they make requests of their own. For example, within three days, two people approached Wilkinson with exactly the same question: I’m 30-something, I own a house, and I have some money saved, what should I be doing now? Thus a new class was born, called Thirty-Something: Now What?
For this fall, HarborOne U has scheduled not more financial education, but less. Through HarborOne U, the credit union has bypassed the stigma of financial education, and made it comfortable for members … and everyone else in the community.
As Wilkinson puts it, “We haven’t changed what we’ve offered, but we’ve changed the way we reveal it to people.”
Laura Enock is CEO of CUVA and publisher of www.CUcontent.com, a social media, website and newsletter content service for credit unions. Sign up to receive free marketing content every week at www.CUcontent.com.