In a Nutshell: Educators Credit Union was founded as a teachers cooperative in 1937, and although its membership today consists of people from all walks of life, the institution is still educating. The credit union’s strong commitment to supporting the communities it serves includes robust financial literacy programs geared toward every stage of life, from middle school to retirement. Educators Credit Union also sponsors numerous local events and raises money to support local nonprofits. It helps strengthen the community by helping its members live a healthy financial life, with perks like its free credit score tool available in online banking.
Wisconsin’s Educators Credit Union, originally known as the Racine Teachers Credit Union, was founded as a teachers cooperative way back in 1937. And, all these years later education is still a centerpiece for the institution, albeit in a different way.
Since its early days, the credit union has grown and expanded its membership to anyone who lives or works in the 11 Southern Wisconsin counties it serves. But, Educators Credit Union’s extensive financial literacy efforts carry on the tradition its founders started off educating communities.
“The credit union was started by a group of Racine teachers who came together and just wanted a place that would practice their lending to people who were part of an underserved community,” said Bradly Ford, Content Marketer for the Educators Credit Union.
And that brings us to one of the other main passions that keep the institution going — serving the community.
We recently spoke with Ford about Educators Credit Union, its values, its extensive financial literacy initiatives, and impactful community support.
“As a cooperative, the credit union is only as healthy as the communities we serve,” according to the institution website. “Whether through fundraising or volunteering, we believe in helping the communities in which we live and work.”
That also means continuing to honor the $5 buy-in to become a member and owner of the credit union, just as it was when the organization was founded in 1937.
Financial Literacy for Every Stage
“Financial literacy is a huge focus of ours,” Ford said. “We work with tens of thousands of students in the Southern Wisconsin area every year and help them learn about financial literacy.”
He said the credit union believes in educating students on financial literacy at an early age so they can carry that knowledge and expand upon it at every stage of their careers.
“We have touchpoints in elementary school, middle school, and high school, then it goes on to college,” Ford said. “But it doesn’t stop at school. We want to help everyone, so when we work with employers we want to provide financial education to the employers and help them with employees as well.”
This includes a one-on-one financial counseling service for the credit union’s select employee groups.
“Each year, 8% of the credit union’s net income is dedicated to providing financial literacy efforts, including Reality Check Days at local schools, partnerships with Junior Achievement, support of Banzai and FoolProof educational programs in schools and more,” according to the Educators Credit Union website.
Reality Check Days are a variation on the reality fairs hosted by credit unions at high schools and colleges around the country. But Ford explained how the Educators Credit Union Reality Check Days stand apart.
“It’s a program a lot of people have, but I believe we do it in a fairly unique way, he said. “We recently added an app to it. Students download it ahead of time and get it all set up in the classroom when they come in, and they can just start using the mobile app to go through the entire simulation.”
Participants still have access to the traditional paper-based reality fair tools as well. Adding a mobile app component not only helps to streamline the program, it also makes the simulation even more realistic because so many people use online banking and other finance apps in the real world.
The institution also provides members services like daily credit score updates via its online and mobile banking options. It also offers an array of workshops, events, and webinars for children and adults to help them learn finance basics like budgeting, saving, and investing.
Sponsoring Community Events and Encouraging Volunteerism Among the Staff
“Talking about the good we do outside of financial education, we do a lot of community sponsorship,” Ford said. “We love to support events that are local and help keep these events running because it can be hard for those to gain support year in and year out.”
He said it’s important to the credit union to help make local events happen because they benefit the community.
“We also do a lot of support of local nonprofits that don’t necessarily align with financial education,” Ford said. “We just want to make sure that important systems that help keep our community afloat are supported and have the opportunity to do great.”
Educators Credit Union staff and members also raise and donate money through a variety of in-branch initiatives such as basket raffles and casual attire days where staff members pay to wear blue jeans to work.
Some of the credit union’s main community partners include the United Way, the Ronald McDonald House of Eastern Wisconsin, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, and Boys and Girls Clubs.
“Additionally, branches and departments have long-standing relationships with local groups,” according to the website. “For example, our Appleton Avenue branch has worked with After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, and the location in New Berlin is a big supporter of the Elmbrook Humane Society.”
Ford said the credit union also runs an employee philanthropic program in which employees meet a certain number of hours of volunteerism, and the credit union donates to a select nonprofit of the employee’s choice.
Helping Members Improve Their Credit Scores
Educators Credit Union serves to strengthen its community by offering valuable products and services to its members to help them maintain healthy financial lives.
One way it does this is through the credit report widget available through the credit union’s online banking services.
“We’ve seen a lot of great improvements where I believe around 40% of members in the last six months have improved their credit scores,” Ford said. “It’s a free tool — they log on to their online banking, click enroll, then they can get daily credit score updates.”
Ford said he has used the tool to help boost his own credit score by 70 points.
“It’s a very intuitive platform. When you click on it, it tells you the four best things you have going for your credit score and the four things that you can work on to improve your credit score. It gives you grades for the components that really make up what your credit score is based on.”
And users’ credit reports are always accessible through the app widget.
“Rather than having to come in and get a free credit report or go to a website — some of those credit report websites aren’t always the most trustworthy — and end up paying a fee for something that should be free, we just make it available in online banking,” Ford said.
Of course, not everyone can easily interpret what exactly their credit score means and how to use the data in their credit report, he said.
“They can come in to any branch and meet with us, and we will walk them through it and tell them what they’re looking at — credit card debt or a car loan debt that’s very high,” Ford said. “We want to help them save. We help save millions of dollars in refinancing. We use that tool to really help people in multiple ways.”
Whether it’s facilitating Reality Check Days, offering online financial literacy courses, promoting staff members to volunteer, or providing financial counseling to members, Educators Credit Union demonstrates its commitment to the community on a daily basis.