In a Nutshell: Summit Credit Union stands out in the Madison and Milwaukee regions by offering several in-depth financial wellness and education programs (and healthy competitions). Each year, Summit Credit Union’s Project Money selects four eligible households to compete for a $10,000 prize as they strive toward financial fitness. Project Teen Money grants one high school student a $2,500 scholarship, based on his or her video submissions. And Red SHOES is an exclusive financial wellness coaching program tailored to the participant’s unique needs and goals. Additionally, the credit union offers Financial Wellness for Employees by Summit Credit Union, a workplace program helping employers and employees live a financially successful life. For its demonstrated efforts to bring financial literacy to its communities, we are awarding Summit with our Editor’s Choice™ Award.
Drew and Liz Ehlert decided it was time to gain control of their financial situation — a daunting task for any young married couple trying to build a financial foundation. Between student loans, preparing for the future, and raising a young child, it can be difficult to find that financial base without a little help.
So, the couple entered for a chance to compete in the Summit Credit Union 2016 Project Money competition.
By February of the following year, the Ehlerts had been declared the winners of the Project Money competition and received a check from Summit for $10,000.
Project Money is just one of several financial education initiatives offered by Summit Credit Union that have a direct and measurable impact on the lives of its members. These types of programs align with Summit’s mission to help members turn wishing, waiting and wondering into planning, doing, and experiencing.
Rather than limiting membership to particular employee groups, Summit Credit Union was founded in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1935 by the CUNA Mutual Group, as a credit union open to anyone in need of its services.
Today, Summit is the second-largest credit union in Wisconsin with more than 181,000 members and $3.2 billion in assets and serves the Madison and Milwaukee areas.
In addition to providing diverse services to meet members’ banking, borrowing and saving needs, Summit makes it a priority to offer financial education to its members and the communities it serves.
“We believe everyone can be financially successful and they might just need the tools and a little help to get there, which is why Summit focuses so strongly on providing financial education,” said Summit CEO and President Kim Sponem. “Our employees are dedicated to financial education, and we make sure everyone at Summit understands the ways we can help people improve their financial lives.”
This commitment is evident through programs like Project Money, Project Teen Money, the Red SHOES financial coaching program, Financial Wellness for Employees by Summit, online resources, and podcasts. For its dedication to improving financial literacy, we have decided to recognize Summit Credit Union with our Editor’s Choice™ Award.
Project Money Educates as Teams Compete for $10,000
One of the cornerstones of Summit’s financial education efforts is the Project Money program. Each year since 2007, Summit has selected four household units to compete against one another as they strive toward financial wellness.
For the competition, each household identifies specific goals to focus on. For the Ehlerts, they wanted to build an emergency fund, increase retirement contributions, save for their son’s college tuition, and pay down Liz’s student loans.
By the end of the nine-month competition, the Ehlerts were able to exceed each of their goals and win the $10,000 award.
“We learned that communication is the single most important thing in achieving financial goals,” the couple told Summit. “Each partner needs to be on the same page, which cannot be achieved unless there is active communication on a regular basis.”
The couple also emphasized the importance of being proactive in one’s financial journey and to track spending.
“You simply cannot begin to improve your finances until you know exactly where your money is going on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis,” they told Summit. “Once you know where you’re spending, you can set goals by knowing what is needed, and what can be eliminated.”
Obviously, Project Money has the most direct impact on the winning family. But the other families who participate in the competition make improvements to their financial situation and gain valuable financial literacy tools to help them throughout their lives.
Sponem said Summit’s Project Money is truly a public financial education program. Participants’ real-life financial literacy lessons are shared through various websites, blogs, and media partnerships so thousands of consumers can learn alongside the Project Money contestants throughout their journey. In fact, that kind of impact earned Summit’s Project Money a 2016 Governor’s Financial Wellness Award, said Sponem.
The competition also turns into somewhat of a reality show as the local NBC affiliate — a Summit partner — airs regular segments on TV of the competing households to check in and see how their journeys are playing out.
Summit Awards Scholarships to Video Contest Winners Through Project Teen Money
Sponem said Summit’s financial literacy efforts target teens in a number of ways, including through a scholarship program called Project Teen Money. Like its adult counterpart, the program is a competition — in this case, for a $2,500 scholarship awarded to a high school student.
“We realized the most important way to reach teens in terms of financial literacy is through other teens,” Sponem said.
According to the Summit website, six students are selected to “go head-to-head to create three short videos that inspire their peers to save, spend and give back to the community. Each 30-to-90 second video puts participants one step closer to winning a $2,500 scholarship, while the runners-up each receive a $500 scholarship.”
The competitors are also featured on the Summit website.
Students can apply online, and the competition is open to students who attend either East High School, La Follette High School, or Memorial High School.
Again, not only does the competition have a direct positive impact on the contestants through scholarships, but the program helps educate their peers throughout the competition with the videos students produce and other resources.
The credit union also operates branches in three out of the four Madison high schools. Each branch is staffed by actual students, with the exception of the branch manager, who is a Summit employee.
“Students equipped with the knowledge of budgeting, saving and borrowing will be in a position to reach their dreams and create wealth for themselves, and their future families and communities,” Sponem told CUInsight.
Customized Coaching Available Through Red SHOES Program
Another unique offering Summit makes available to its members is the Red SHOES program.
Created as an in-depth coaching program to help members take charge of their financial situations, Red SHOES gives participants “well-defined steps, encouragement, and support to make smart money decisions, and achieve your financial goals.”
Based around the idea of helping members find their “million,” whether it is dollars or “something that makes you feel like a million,” the program takes an intensive approach by applying a proprietary coaching and financial health and wellness methodology.
Sponem said Red SHOES participants can choose to be assigned a personal finance coach from one of its branches who will work with them to evaluate their current situation, establish financial goals, develop a plan to reach those goals, and help guide them along their new financial path.
“The Red SHOES program is not a one-size-fits-all program,” according to the Summit website. “You can customize and prioritize your action steps and identify the guidance you need most. You’ll learn valuable tips for making smart money choices about increasing savings, controlling spending, lowering debt, managing credit cards and more.”
The program participants — and their plus ones — are also invited to exclusive Red SHOES events and will receive email tips, videos and other tools to enhance their financial education.
Members can enroll in the program for a $35 registration fee that includes a financial workbook, one free credit report, and one year of access to the Red SHOES program. After the first year, the program costs $5 per quarter.
Summit Brings Financial Education to the Workplace
Summit Credit Union also works to bring financial education directly to the workplace through its free Financial Wellness for Employees by Summit program, which teaches employees how to make good financial decisions and feel confident about money.
“We see the workplace as increasingly important to delivering financial education, and we’re excited to help employees reduce financial stress and increase productivity,” Sponem said.
A 2016 study of financial education for today’s workforce found that four out of five employers report their employees’ personal financial issues are impacting their job performance. Seventy six percent of employers reported increased stress among their employees, 60 percent an inability to focus at work and 34% absenteeism and tardiness.
“That’s a huge drain on their productivity,” Sponem said. “Soon, we’ll add to our award-winning at-work program a host of new tools for employers and employees, many delivered digitally.”
She said it’s a win-win-win for the employer, employee and Summit Credit Union.
The program is also tailored to meet the specific needs of employees from the companies that partner with Summit.
“We use an up-front assessment to determine employee needs at each company so the education we provide is tailored to fit their needs,” Sponem said.
Summit will also continue to focus on increasing and leveraging digital tools to bring more financial education content to more people, she said. And while in-person education and coaching will remain a priority, Summit is also broadening its reach through podcasts, on-demand webinars, and video.
A full list of the financial education tools and resources available from Summit can be found by going to the Money Smarts tab on its website.
Not only did Summit Credit Union award the Ehlerts with $10,000, but along the way to announcing the Project Money winners, the credit union gave them and the other competitors the financial literacy tools to manage their finances effectively. With Project Money, Project Teen Money, Red SHOES, and Financial Wellness for Employees by Summit, Summit is finding unique and innovative ways to deliver financial education to both members and non-members.