In a Nutshell: When you consider that the principles of debt, credit, consumer finance, and money management touch the lives of us all, it’s surprising how our education system often falls short in teaching these important topics. As a result, many financial institutions have stepped in to help bridge this gap in education. One example of an institution working to change this for its members is Denver’s Bellco Credit Union. Through a range of financial education tools and partnerships that help with financial coaching, Bellco offers its members the opportunity to advance their knowledge of personal finance issues.
As a youngster, I was a voracious reader. I read just about anything I could get my hands on, from JRR Tolkien to Stephen King to Robert Louis Stevenson and countless other authors. In fact, reading was such a big part of my life that it came as a shock to me to discover there were people who had reached adulthood without learning to read.
One example was Dexter Manley, an All-Pro defensive end for the Washington Redskins who was drafted in 1981 after graduating from Oklahoma State University. When he revealed to a U.S. Subcommittee on Education, Arts and the Humanities that he was functionally illiterate, it came as a shock to his teammates and to the public at large. He talked of his shame at not being able to read and the stigma associated with it.
Instances of people who have made it to adulthood without learning to read beyond a basic level are relatively rare. However, another failure of our education system is far more common and affects a much larger percentage of our society. It’s called financial illiteracy.
A focus on basic financial skills is woefully lacking in our education system, and, as a result, many adult Americans don’t know about the basics of money management, credit card interest, or simple budgeting. Experts say this lack of understanding is a primary factor in generational poverty and financial underachievement.
Bellco Credit Union in Denver is among the financial institutions working to change this trend by offering a range of services designed to help educate its members on topics of consumer finance and money management.
We recently spoke with Ashley Gross, Community Marketing Manager at Bellco, who told us about some of the tools available to credit union members.
“We’ve recently launched MoneySmarts through our partnership with EverFi,” she said. “The financial education activities this platform brings to our members include subjects like Banking Basics, Major Purchases, Financial Planning, and Budgeting and Financial Tools.”
In addition to MoneySmarts, Bellco also offers an online financial education game for kids, financial tips, and guidelines for teens and young adults, as well as personalized financial coaching for members who need a little extra help.
Education Tools and Resources Improve Financial Literacy
Credit unions, as community-based, member-owned financial institutions, are known for their dedication to the needs of their members, and Bellco Credit Union is a prime example. Its MoneySmarts program gives people a fun and easy way to learn the personal finance lessons they may not have picked up along the way.
Topics covered in MoneySmarts’ Banking Basics include checking and savings accounts, overdrafts, and credit cards. The section on Budgeting and Financial Tools addresses credit scores and reports, identity protection, and the basics of budgeting. Bigger Purchases topics include auto loans, homeownership, and more in-depth financial education. The Financial Planning section goes into investments, retirement, estate planning, and taxes.
“In the past, community engagement meant doing a lot of seminars, but that’s not where most people find value anymore,” Gross said. “They want to be able to engage with information at the time and place that’s best for them. That can be on their mobile device during downtime, or their computer at home. That’s what’s great about MoneySmarts, it’s available on multiple platforms at any time of day.”
To incentivize members to try MoneySmarts, the credit union is offering a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card for any member who completes at least one activity on the platform.
Another financial education tool Bellco offers is aimed at getting kids interested in developing good financial habits from young ages. Coindexter Club is an online game designed for kids from 5 to around 12. In this game, kids create an avatar and learn to earn, save, manage, and invest their money in a quest to save Econopolis. If they do well, they can earn a real $25 deposit into their Bellco Youth Savings account.
For slightly older kids, Bellco has partnered with FoolProof, a money management and financial tips platform that helps high school and college students learn about money. FoolProof lets parents and kids work together on financial education initially, and then on their own as young adults. They learn what it takes to establish good credit, manage their finances, pay bills, avoid scams, and other key lessons.
Partnerships that Help Members Thrive
In the same spirit of community credit unions are known for, Bellco chose to partner with creative and successful platform developers for its financial education program. Another of its recent partnership is with Mpowered, a Colorado-based nonprofit that helps consumers learn about money management and participate in financial coaching.
“It’s about helping our members to achieve their personal definition of financial success,” Gross said. “Mpowered supports us by offering financial coaching, debt management plans, and bankruptcy counseling, if needed,”
Bellco’s partnership with The Denver Post led to the creation of AskBellco, a monthly financial web series delivered via social media. Each episode features an interview with one of Bellco’s experts who address topics like credit scores and why they’re important, retirement issues, the difference between leasing and buying a car, and smart credit card use.
Meanwhile, The Denver Business Journal partners with Bellco to host discussion panels in front of live audiences.
“A panel discussion might include a Bellco branch employee, a mortgage team member, a representative or coach from Mpowered, or others who can answer financial questions from the audience,” Gross said.
She also mentioned a future partnership arrangement with the Latino Leadership Institute that will benefit Bellco members from Denver’s large Hispanic community.
Access to Resources When and Where You Need Them
Bellco has also done a great job of recognizing its members lead busy lives, which is why all of the online resources are accessible 24/7 on any device or platform.
The credit union has also developed a Bellco YouTube channel in conjunction with the AskBellco hashtag and production assistance from The Denver Post. The platform allows members and non-members alike to watch informative features on good money habits whenever they want.
“With all of our offerings, it gives members an opportunity to choose what’s best suited to their needs and style,” Gross said.
The various online financial education activities, like those found in the MoneySmarts program, are flexible enough so people with gaps in financial knowledge can get as much out of them as someone who has little to no experience.
Credit unions continue to be a valuable resource for members and the communities served by these institutions. Through personalized service, caring employees, and financial education tools, Bellco is doing its part to lift up the Denver community.