In a Nutshell: Finding the right financial path in whatever stage in life you’re in can be a struggle, but it doesn’t have to be. Community First Credit Union offers both members and non members the opportunity to learn how to set monetary goals and the steps they need to follow to achieve them. The credit union’s moveUP Financial Wellness Program helps improve people’s money management skills and provides them with resources for fiscal improvement. The program also extends to employers who wish to help workers improve their financial standing. Community First also provides workshops to help with engagement and participation in the program.
Getting on the right financial path isn’t easy. Even with an understanding of fiscal concepts, it can still be a struggle to get ahead when you lack the funds to make important monetary decisions, like buying a house or getting an auto loan.
But with persistence and the right lending resources, it’s possible to achieve realistic goals. That makes financial literacy and planning all the more important.
Community First Credit Union is in the business of helping people make the right decisions for their fiscal futures. The credit union’s financial wellness program is second to none and gives people the tools they need to reach their goals.
Based in Jacksonville, Florida, Community First CU began in 1935 as a small educators credit union in Duval County and launched out of a high school basement.
The credit union has grown and changed over the 88 years since then. Community First currently has over 167,000 members and will expand from 19 to 21 branches by the end of 2023. Membership is open to 17 counties mostly running along the east coast of Florida.
Kenyon Sutton, Community First Credit Union’s Financial Wellness Manager, said that the majority of people who join the credit union say they consider service as among its top features, as well as its competitive rates and low to no fees on different banking products.
“Financial wellness is starting to become a bigger part of our strategy in working with people and helping people improve their situation and be able to reach the goals that they’re wanting to achieve,” said Sutton.
A Wellness Program For Members and Non-Members
It can be a challenge to meet budgeting goals, which is why Community First Credit Union helps people find the personal finance path suited to their stage in life. The mission of the credit union’s moveUP Financial Wellness Program is to help empower people by giving them the right tools and resources to make better monetary decisions. In that way, people can set and achieve realistic life goals that may have seemed out of reach before.
For example, many people are trying to buy a home now but feel it is out of reach because interest rates are so high and home prices have increased so rapidly over the last few years.
Community First can lend a hand by providing consumers the knowledge they need to enhance their money skills and help them understand the basics of borrowing, saving, planning and budgeting. And on the banking side, the credit union offers access and opportunities through its various financial products.
“It’s really just up to their motivation to make the changes that they want to make with their situation,” said Sutton.
By making its financial wellness program available to both members and non members, Community First removed as much friction as possible in terms of access to the content.
Community First partnered with EVERFI to help create the digital resource content, and people can either create an account to gain full access or view the main tools that are available to everyone.
“Anybody can access it and we’ve got a lot of different channels that people can access,” said Sutton. “There are blogs that we’ve written, and we link to it on social media. Our employees are trained and also access it themselves both personally and when they’re working with members.”
Sutton said that to help train its frontline staff, Community First held a contest last December to get them engaged by adding 20 new modules across a variety of different topics. By getting the staff familiar with the new content, it can help them better serve the credit union’s members.
Coaching to Improve Economic Standing
Community First also creates corporate partnerships through moveUP for Employers. It gives businesses the opportunity to offer financial wellness as an employee benefit at no charge to the employer and no contracts to sign.
“We’re teaching on topics that are important and relevant to the employee base, and the one thing that sets us apart is that we offer one-on-one financial coaching,” said Sutton. “A lot of programs are just digital self-guided content, and then you are kind of left up on your own. But we understand that the biggest opportunity for behavior changes is that one-on-one interaction.”
Even if employees don’t end up banking with Community First, they have the chance to sit down with an advisor from Sutton’s team for a 30-to-45-minute session and discuss what the employee is trying to achieve in life and what their fiscal goals are. From there, the credit union can help them put a plan together.
Sutton said financial institutions must be sensitive to people with low incomes and create content so they can still take action no matter their situation.
When people are down on their luck and trying to make improvements by doing everything that a financial coach tells them to do, it can be a real kick to the gut if they are declined for a loan or can’t open an account.
“When we coach people, we are trying to get them in the very best place to whatever their goal is, so they’re as prepared as they can be to get approved,” said Sutton.
He said that even if a borrower is denied a loan there are ways of working through that process. Instead of being a “no,” it can be a “not right now.” And then, depending on the complexities of their situation, it’s just a matter of giving people the right action steps to receive approvals on their next request.
Having the right resources and financial tools can often be the first big step to getting a checking account or a credit card. The most important thing is to stay motivated and follow coaching advice.
Helping Communities by Offering Financial Workshops
Community First Credit Union has helped enhance communities in a number of ways by partnering with businesses.
Sutton said that one of the most rewarding aspects of the financial wellness program is that Community First conducted a workshop series with local municipalities. It was running very successfully in 2019, but that came to a halt during the pandemic. COVID-19 forced the credit union to pause many of its in-person resources.
But Sutton said he was able to reconnect with some employees who participated in the workshops and got to hear about their financial progress.
“One of the employees of this municipality came up to me and he said, ‘I went to every workshop that you did and just turned my life around. I was headed down this path and I wasn’t in the right place with a lot of things with my finances, but I listened to what you said. I started doing some of the things that you talked about in your workshops, and I was able to buy my first home,’” said Sutton.
Those are the kinds of stories that Sutton said makes these workshops worthwhile for the credit union because it’s not just about getting the next checking account or auto loan. It’s about helping people create a better future for themselves.
“Just providing the know-how isn’t enough,” said Sutton. “We understand that we also have to provide the access so all that’s left up to the individual is their motivation.”
“If they have the motivation and they work with us, we’re going to provide them the opportunities so that they can start seeing results and the positive changes that they’re wanting to see in their life,” he said.