In a Nutshell: Many residents of the Northeast US already recognize Berkshire Bank as a business dedicated to financial education and civic responsibility. Through scholarships, grants, and employee volunteerism, Berkshire Bank brings its financial expertise to bear for the good of its customers and their communities. And it has increased educational resources via a partnership with GreenPath, a national nonprofit working to advance financial literacy and wellness. Berkshire Bank customers and employees now have access to GreenPath’s tools as well as a dedicated hotline for personalized financial counseling. With these expanded resources, Berkshire Bank aims to provide comprehensive, customized information to people in the Northeast who need it to achieve both personal and financial success.
One Thursday afternoon, a Berkshire Bank branch received a request to deliver an educational presentation for a youth organization in Albany, New York. The request wasn’t out of the ordinary for an institution that specializes in financial literacy and outreach, but the timeline was. The group needed the presentation delivered on Friday — which was the very next day.
That may seem like a daunting task for many organizations, but the Berkshire Bank team was prepared for the challenge thanks to its wealth of materials and pre-made educational modules that were ready to go.
Berkshire Bank prides itself on being prepared and helping communities in New York, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania prepare for the future. It provides customers with banking, lending, wealth management, investment, and insurance services along with comprehensive financial education resources.
“Our bank has $11.9 billion in assets and 115 full-service branch offices that are spread out through the Northeast,” said Heidi Higgins, Assistant Vice President and Marketing Officer at Berkshire Bank.
As part of its educational mission, Berkshire Bank announced a partnership with GreenPath, a national nonprofit that promotes financial wellness through counseling, education, and helpful products. Through the partnership, Berkshire Bank customers enjoy a dedicated GreenPath website, phone line, and materials accessed through a portal on the bank’s website. All of these tools help the bank address members’ financial questions and concerns and realize their financial goals through practical, targeted, and proven strategies.
“GreenPath is the standout organization for that. They’re a national nonprofit, and they’ve been in business for about 60 years, delivering financial literacy in the community,” said Sharon Ellis, Vice President and Community Reinvestment Officer at Berkshire Bank. “One of the things that we love about the partnership is that it focuses on empowering people to lead financially healthy lives.”
Through the partnership, Berkshire Bank and GreenPath provide personalized financial counseling to participating members. Those customers also enjoy access to GreenPath’s extensive collection of resources and tools, which can help improve money management skills.
This initiative is all part of Berkshire Bank’s ongoing effort — alongside a vibrant employee volunteer program — to invigorate the Northeastern communities it serves.
GreenPath Offers Financial Literacy Resources and Individualized Counseling
Berkshire Bank understands that financial literacy can lead to success in many aspects of life. Its partnership with GreenPath emerged from the bank’s desire to provide the best possible financial education to customers and communities.
“We were in heavy pursuit of a good financial partner,” said Erin Boggan, Berkshire Bank’s Senior Vice President of Community Reinvestment and Fair Lending. “We wanted to make sure we had good financial literacy tools.”
Thanks to GreenPath, Berkshire Bank customers have access to a wide variety of educational resources. These include online articles, classes, and webinars that address various financial literacy and wellness topics. Customers can call a financial counseling hotline, through which GreenPath advisors provide guidance on debt, bankruptcy, credit, home buying, mortgages, foreclosures, and many other financial topics.
“It’s very customized,” Ellis said. “When they call the number, the conversation is about where they are today and what goals they would like to accomplish.”
This support aligns with Berkshire Bank’s objective of providing knowledge that improves lives. By offering GreenPath’s educational resources and counseling to its members, the bank is better equipped to assist on personal financial journeys.
“We view it as a true partnership where we’re each bringing some different areas of expertise,” said Gary Levante, Berkshire Bank’s Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility. “At GreenPath, they have the HUD-certified counseling and credit report help, and they have specific skill sets they are trained and certified to provide. Some of our customers feel more comfortable getting on the phone and talking with someone who has that training and is an expert.”
Berkshire Bank’s direct education efforts also benefit from the partnership, as GreenPath provides standardized materials and curriculum for the bank’s outreach team. These resources, ready at a moment’s notice, allow bank employees to provide consistent, relevant information to communities across the Northeast.
“We have all of these PowerPoint presentations ready to go, so that’s something we’re looking forward to,” Ellis said. “We’re hoping we can deliver at least three financial literacy sessions in each of our regions by year’s end. Our goal for next year is for each branch to complete at least one.”
Ellis told us the bank’s employees have embraced this opportunity to enhance the level of financial education they provide. “It’s so great to see the number of employees who stepped up for this program,” she said. “They love to deliver financial literacy, and it was amazing to see that. They’re very enthusiastic about having these resources available.”
Berkshire Bank Foundation Supports Community Development and Education
The bank’s partnership with GreenPath is funded by the Berkshire Bank Foundation. Through its charitable work, the foundation strives to cultivate successful communities in the region Berkshire Bank serves.
“To build those vibrant, sustainable communities, individuals need to have an understanding of their finances,” Levante said. “It’s a core focus of our philanthropic foundation.”
Through the foundation, Berkshire Bank funds programs that empower individuals with better money management skills and habits. These include smarter credit usage and banking as well as education and assistance for first-time homebuyers.
“Those are the core programs that our foundation funds. The GreenPath partnership is a natural extension of the work our foundation is already doing in the space,” Levante said. “Our purpose is to help individuals realize life’s most exciting moments. That’s all individuals, whether they’re Berkshire Bank customers or not.”
That success begins with financial literacy but extends beyond the realm of money into every other aspect of life. To support young people just starting on their journey, the Berkshire Bank Foundation awards scholarships in recognition of academic excellence and commitment to community service and values. The foundation also distributes grants to improve financial literacy and competence, job readiness, workforce development, and student achievement. Other grants support economic growth by establishing affordable housing, providing homebuyer education, supporting small businesses, and revitalizing neighborhoods.
The Berkshire Bank Foundation directs funds to community-building organizations focused on improving the lives of low-to-moderate income individuals. The foundation places great weight on distributing funds to groups and initiatives that demonstrate an impact in their communities. But, just as importantly, the Berkshire Bank Foundation funds programs and projects that enable bank employees and customers to get personally involved in volunteer efforts.
Volunteer Initiatives Help Build Healthier Communities
Berkshire Bank started its corporate volunteer program, which it calls the XTEAM, in 2008. From 2013 to 2018, it conducted over 1,000 projects to benefit nonprofit organizations and government entities. Each year, the bank boasts 100% employee participation, over 40,000 hours of community service, and $1 million worth of donated volunteer time.
“We provide employees with paid time off to volunteer during regular business hours and empower them to identify, select, plan, and execute the projects we take on,” Levante said. “Our employees wanted to use their expertise to help individuals in the community who are struggling with their finances, or, conversely, help individuals who may be in a good financial position and want to get to the next level.”
Inspired by World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Berkshire Bank’s employees wanted to address the growing problem of elder fraud in their communities — and across the nation. So the XTEAM began visiting senior and community centers, where they educate people on elder fraud detection and prevention.
“This year, we completed 16 Elder Fraud Prevention Seminars during the first three quarters of 2018 because we believe that commitment goes well beyond one day,” Levante said. “If one of those events can prevent one case of elder fraud from happening, that is a major success.”
Fostering Financial and Personal Success Through Education
Berkshire Bank and its employees take pride in the educational work they do, both online and in their communities. But its mission certainly doesn’t end there. Education is only the first step in helping people get on the right financial path.
“Our commitment to improving the financial capacities of our customers and our communities runs deeper,” Levante said.
The next step is helping people put their knowledge into action. For example, if Berkshire Bank can’t approve borrowers for a home loan, the applicants get more than just a rejection notice. They receive the reason the application was denied and directed toward resources that will help them improve their situation and increase their chances of success.
If the application was denied due to poor credit, Berkshire Bank introduces the borrower to online resources on how to improve their score. Customers may also take advantage of GreenPath’s counseling services for personalized advice.
“Banks can do financial education as much as they want, but, at the end of the day, it’s about taking responsibility for our own operations and helping our customers grow,” Levante said. “When those individuals come in to visit us, we set them on a path to secure a positive financial future.”