In a Nutshell: Allegacy Federal Credit Union recognizes that physical and financial health are two sides of the same coin. That’s why the credit union is dedicated to helping members and communities safeguard and improve their health in both of those crucial areas. Allegacy explores the medical effects of financial issues on its members. Its extensive educational initiatives with high school and college students aim to prevent those problems. Combined with its commitment to the well-being of small businesses and the local economy, Allegacy takes a holistic approach to financial and physical health.
People often think of financial strain as something that only affects their bank account, but it can take its toll on their bodies as well. Financial worries can produce stress, induce inflammation in soft tissue, and increase blood pressure in the short-term according to reporting by Bustle. That can lead to heart and lung disease, arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and hypertension.
People suffering from those conditions as a result of financial stress may find health care solutions out of reach. Poor financial situations can also be embarrassing, so people are often reluctant to discuss them with their health care provider.
According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, doctors often mistake a patient’s refusal of treatment as noncompliance with medical recommendations. In reality, expensive treatments may be out of reach for patients. Paying for them would incur additional debt and continue the cycle of financial stress.
Allegacy Federal Credit Union is working to address both sides of that equation to help people in its service areas live healthier lives. Allegacy is one of the largest credit unions in North Carolina. It serves more than 163,000 members worldwide, and holds over $1.9 billion in assets. It has 17 financial center locations, in addition to nine student-run locations in high schools, and it uses this reach and influence to help improve financial and physical well-being.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Allegacy has seen financial stress negatively affect health behaviors and outcomes as physical ailments force people to make difficult choices with their money. So the institution has doubled down on products, programs, and initiatives aimed at helping members avoid debt and increasing savings.
The credit union addresses health concerns with members during financial consultations and integrates the financial dimension of holistic wellness into services provided through the clinic at WellQ. It also conducts philanthropic operations to address those concerns in the community at large.
“It’s more about the members and their needs. Are they trying to plan for retirement, or are they trying to send a child to college?” said Karen Sigmon-Smith, Managing Director of WellQ. “At all stages in life, the intersection of physical and financial wellness is palpable and can create significant impact. WellQ is here to ensure that the impact on wealth and health enhances rather than hinders quality of life.”
WellQ: A Holistic Approach to Physical and Financial Health
Allegacy recognized the importance of employee well-being well before the term became mainstream. It also started a wellness program for its workers centered around their physical health.
“It was very much focused at the time on physical well-being. As it evolved, we recognized the importance of additional pillars, including financial well-being and social well-being,” Sigmon-Smith said. “We focus on the holistic well-being of our employees.”
This program’s success and the recognition it received prompted Allegacy to expand it to members in the form of the AllHealth Wellness savings account — offered in partnership with the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina. The account rewards members with a higher interest rate for visiting the YMCA and using its facilities, which encourages physical and financial wellness. From there, the initiative expanded to the community at large in the form of WellQ.
“Any time someone comes to us, we onboard them from the physical side as well as the financial side,” Sigmon-Smith said. “We want them to understand the synergy between physical wellness and financial wellness from the very beginning.”
When someone comes to WellQ with a physical ailment, they receive immediate care and holistic wellness tools. The staff seeks to understand their problems in terms of environment, resources, and capabilities so they can help patients resolve deeply rooted issues — including low earnings or high credit card debt — that affect physical health.
“Just like they can accomplish goals physically with behavior, they can also do it financially,” Sigmon-Smith said. “It makes for an easy conversation. Even if the person doesn’t engage or embrace that synergy on the spot, it’s not unusual for them to come back and say, ‘Let’s get on that,’ or, ‘This is something that I feel like I want to work on.’”
Youth Education Promotes Financial Responsibility
Although Allegacy helps people address immediate problems, it also recognizes that preventative care is the best approach to financial and physical health. To facilitate that, it provides educational resources to help young people start their adult lives on solid financial footing to avoid the stress and health concerns that come with it.
The credit union works in nine local high schools and two universities (The University of North Carolina-Greensboro and Wake Forest University) to provide financial education workshops, resources, and tools designed for young adults.
Allegacy offers the Bite of Reality simulation, which gives participants the opportunity to manage a household budget and deal with unexpected expenses. It also conducts virtual public workshops for young adults and their parents covering topics related to credit, savings, cybersecurity, and smart spending.
“Parents often attend these sessions alongside their high school or college student and ask questions that the young adult isn’t interested in asking,” said Lori Timm, Financial Education Manager at Allegacy. “Many of them don’t have that awareness of the secured products and how they can help build credit. Simply having a product doesn’t fill the need. It’s the educational piece that helps them make the most of it.”
In the realm of hands-on, practical experience, Allegacy offers a Secured Product Bundle designed to help people ages 18-25 establish a solid financial foundation. The bundle includes a secured card or loan, a digital checking with no overdraft fees, a membership share account, and access to digital banking. Those products and services are accompanied by comprehensive financial education to impart strategies for building and protecting credit. The process helps young consumers understand the importance of good credit and, how credit scores are calculated
Allegacy isn’t solely devoted to personal finance. It partners with the Wake Forest University School of Business to help foster ethical businesses through the Allegacy Center for Character and Leadership. This partnership further aims to establish integrity and positive moral character in future business leaders to ensure they can achieve financial stability while contributing to the health and well-being of their communities.
Philanthropic Work Fights Disease and Debt in Communities
Allegacy contributes to community wellness through its charitable work and volunteerism. The credit union’s priorities include addressing food insecurity, supporting education, and promoting health and well-being by emphasizing early detection and prevention.
The credit union has leaders who serve as Co-Chairs of Winterlark, a benefit for a local Cancer Patient Support Program, which raises funds for counseling, support groups, and holistic therapies for cancer patients and their families. In 2021, the program raised over $380,000, all virtually, marking a second straight year of record-breaking fundraising.
Allegacy also runs the Don’t Wait Golf Tournament, which helps raise money for free services and programs for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. To date, the tournament has raised more than $1 million for financial assistance, medical supplies, and other crucial products and services.
The credit union also sponsors the Second Harvest Food Bank, conducts food drives, provides supplies, and offers volunteers in 18 counties. The organizations team up to fight food insecurity and ensure people receive adequate nutrition. It is just one more way Allegacy helps people bolster their physical health with wholesome, nutritious food.
“Our commitment to being part of our community is rooted in our history of who we are and something that we’ve been proud of for many years. We are honored to give back to our community,” said Ashley Kohlrus, Executive Vice President/Chief Operations and Digital Officer at Allegacy.
Allegacy: Supporting Members and Local Economies
The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult for Allegacy to conduct in-person counseling and volunteer work. But the first wave of vaccinations offers a light at the end of the tunnel — and a way to contribute.
“We love to give back to our community,” Kohlrus said. “So, we’re finding ways now to do that virtually, and we’re also finding ways to do that by volunteering at vaccination clinics.”
At vaccination sites, Allegacy volunteers greet patients, direct traffic in parking lots, and keep high-traffic areas sanitized.
“We are trying to ensure that even in this current environment, we can continue to raise funds and awareness in our communities about the philanthropic efforts that align with our priorities,” Kohlrus said.
The credit union works to bolster community wellness by helping local businesses secure PPP loans and offering workshops for entrepreneurs. It supports local employers and their employees and helps keep money circulating within communities.
“Winston-Salem is a community that has been recognized at a national level as a great place to start a business,” Kohlrus said. “So that’s been one way that we’ve helped small business owners or those thinking about it, get the preparation that they need, and know that they have a partner in Allegacy.”