In a Nutshell: Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union is dedicated to providing products, services, education, and support to help its members and communities thrive. One of its most popular initiatives is the Financial Makeover Bootcamp, which approaches education informally and eases the pressure of money management and planning. The credit union also provides financial education in other areas, including retirement planning for adults and basic financial literacy for students. Beyond education, the credit union engages in philanthropic efforts that support community health and well-being, including volunteer initiatives and scholarships to promising students.
In 1954, International Business Machines — better known as IBM — began constructing a site in Kingston, New York. In the early 1960s, a financial cooperative emerged from the business to meet the needs of employees working at the facility.
In 1995, the Kingston IBM site closed its doors for good, and many employees were transferred to other facilities. But the financial cooperative, now known as the Mid-Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union (MHV), is still going strong and working hard to ensure its members can thrive.
“We have $1.2 billion in assets and 81,000 members,” said Melissa Walsh, Vice President of Marketing at MHV. “And we are now open to seven counties, including Dutchess, Ulster, Orange, Sullivan, Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam.”
MHV added the latter four counties in 2019, and the institution has been hard at work to understand its new markets and how to serve them better.
“When you look at that market, there are some credit unions, but in a lot of the populated areas, credit unions are underrepresented in terms of deposits,” Walsh said. “So, we’re excited to offer a different approach than some of the larger banks that are already in the market.”
That unique approach is characteristic of the MHV brand. It offers community support through volunteerism, charitable donations, and educational initiatives in the form of webinars and workshops.
The credit union aims to provide everyone in its service areas with the tools they need to take control of their financial futures — whether or not they are members.
“Our brand is all about providing that financial guidance wherever you are in your financial journey,” Walsh said. “For us, it’s coming in with an educational perspective and trying to empower people to understand where they are and help them accomplish their goals.”
Informal Educational Sessions Reduce Stress and Improve Financial Literacy
One of MHV’s most innovative approaches to education is its Financial Makeover Bootcamp. The instructional series was designed for small groups in informal settings, which reduces the pressure of discussing finances.
“The intent was to have an intimate group, with 12 to 15 members, and go through the whole learning process of how to makeover your finances, from budgeting to spending to planning and goal setting,” Walsh said. “We wanted to keep it an intimate group and take it off-location, go to neutral territory, something that doesn’t feel so intimidating.”
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the original intentions for the program, but the team adapted.
“We thought, ‘This is such great material that we need to figure out how to offer the same thing virtually,’” Walsh said. “So, we launched the bootcamp online, and we reached more folks doing it that way than having it in person. There are pros and cons to each, but it was nice to see that vision come to life.”
The bootcamp consists of four sessions, and participants can attend one or all of them. The program aims to teach participants how to eliminate and avoid debt, stick to a budget, and achieve greater financial stability. The education is supported and reinforced by follow-up contact from the credit union staff.
“We check in on them and say, ‘How’s it going? Do you have any questions? Feel free to email me back,’” Walsh said. “And we have many people respond that way.”
Webinars Cater to the Needs of Diverse Demographics
As important as it is to help people in difficult financial situations, it’s also crucial to prevent those problematic situations from arising in the first place. That’s why MHV actively engages young people and helps them start their adult lives and careers on stable financial footing. That can help ensure they won’t need a financial makeover later in life.
To advance its goal, MHV has partnered with a local college to offer concise, 30-minute-or-less workshops. This preemptive effort aims to help young people avoid debt by equipping them with adequate money management skills.
“People like to receive content in an abbreviated way,” Walsh said. “We’re offering it to high school seniors, and it’s really to help them get a solid financial foundation as they approach graduation and start looking for employment. We’re trying to think of different ways to offer educational opportunities that make the most sense in formats that are most conducive to the audience.”
But young people aren’t the only ones in need of targeted financial education. MHV webinars offer accessible education options for a variety of members in need of information about specific topics.
“We try to offer topics that appeal to all different types of age groups,” Walsh said. “Not just age, but also depending on where you are in your particular journey.”
One example is the Will You or Won’t You? webinar dedicated to understanding wills, trusts, and other life planning.
“We weren’t sure how interesting the topic would be, but it seems with COVID-19 and everything else, people are thinking about these types of topics,” Walsh said.
MHV also offers a webinar on retirement planning for those approaching the milestone. And all of its webinars strive to supply targeted information that meets member needs.
“You could be middle-aged and starting over because of a divorce or a medical issue, and that’s where something like the Makeover Bootcamp comes into play — to help those types of members navigate that,” Walsh said.
Philanthropic Work Helps Members and Communities
MHV engages in a range of philanthropic work to support its communities at large. It maintains partnerships with multiple organizations, including United Way, March of Dimes, The Boys and Girls Club, and other community-specific groups. In 2019, the credit union supported more than 200 community events and donated $188,000 to local charities.
For graduating high school seniors, MHV also offers several scholarships. In 2019, it disbursed $8,000 to help young people attend college, earn a degree, and position themselves for higher earnings when they enter their careers. And just as significantly, the financial assistance will help them avoid student debt during college, which can lead to consumer debt after graduation.
Within its communities, MHV provides home buying assistance to help its members achieve stable housing and build equity through property ownership. Its staff guides members through a stressful and confusing process, directing them to useful products that will help them realize their goals.
“The State of New York offers some assistance by extending mortgages to low- to moderate-income individuals. They also have a homebuyer program that they offer,” Walsh said. “We also launched a zero-down mortgage, which is great, so that there’s nothing the homeowner has to put down. There’s also the Home Ready Program, which is a Fannie Mae product that allows for a 3% down payment.”
Finally, MHV engages in direct community support. Its staff volunteered more than 39,000 service hours in 2019 with local organizations.
“We did a lot with food insecurity when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit,” Walsh said. “We partnered with a lot of food banks and offered financial support, and we also had volunteers go on-site with their masks and gloves on to collect and organize food donations.”
Looking Out for the Mid-Hudson Valley in Times of Crisis
The end of the IBM era was a blow to communities that depended on the Kingston facility for employment, but they have survived and thrived. And MHV aims to ensure that they will continue to do so despite adversity and crisis, especially in the era of COVID-19.
“We’ve got to switch gears and figure out what’s going to be most helpful to people right now,” Walsh said.
One of the biggest issues facing MHV’s member base is unemployment. Due to layoffs and furloughs when the pandemic began, people found themselves living paycheck to paycheck or accruing credit card or personal loan debt to meet their daily expenses.
“Some of these folks have not had to look for employment in years, and haven’t had to put a résumé together or go to interviews, so that was one of the first topics that we developed,” Walsh said.
The credit union partnered with a local résumé writer to devise two workshops covering how to craft a stand-out résumé and how to prepare for an interview. These are the fundamental components of obtaining gainful employment and financial security.
“If our members are lacking employment, they may be having financial difficulties,” Walsh said. “If we can somehow help them bridge that gap, we know employment leads to financial stability.”
MHV also restructured its How to Manage Your Money in Times of Crisis webinar. It was revised and re-recorded to speak directly to the current economic and financial conditions.
And soon, MHV plans to offer more targeted advice to its members. The credit union’s financial education specialist is in the process of obtaining financial counseling certification. In the future, she will provide direct advice and counseling to members.
“We’re very excited for the next phase, in which she will offer one-on-one coaching sessions with those who go through the Financial Makeover Bootcamp,” Walsh said.