In a Nutshell: Commitment to the well-being of members is one quality that sets credit unions apart from banks. But even within the credit union community, some not-for-profit cooperatives stand out more than others when it comes to displaying a dedication to fostering financial health. Through specialized events, one-on-one counseling, and third-party partnerships, Ohio-based Wright-Patt Credit Union provides members with the educational resources they need to make better money decisions. The credit union also offers beneficial products and services specifically designed as stepping stones for those ready to take charge of their financial lives.
“We will be the best organization our member-owners have ever experienced,” is a bold claim for a credit union to make. Nonetheless, it’s one of the fundamental points of the Wright-Patt Credit Union (WPCU) mission statement. It’s also one of the pillars behind the Ohio-based institution’s success in the field.
WPCU takes an active role in improving members’ financial literacy through public education events, online partnerships, and one-on-one financial coaching. And since a credit union is only as good as its banking product suite, members also enjoy specialized checking and savings accounts, credit and loans, and payment options. All of these share the goal of improving the financial situations of WPCU members.
We recently spoke with Tracy Szarzi-Fors, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development at Wright-Patt Credit Union, who told us about how the institution’s commitment to the concept of members helping members.
“We firmly believe we can help members live the life they want to live,” she said.
WPCU’s tireless pursuit of this mission sets it apart from other financial institutions, which is why we’ve chosen to recognize WPCU with our Editor’s Choice™ Award for its commitment to spreading financial education resources and products that promote financial stability and growth.
Promoting Personal Prosperity Through Financial Literacy
WPCU’s philosophy is to promote financial wellness as a path to achieving life goals and ambitions. A solid financial situation also contributes to mental and physical health, family stability, educational achievement, and upward economic mobility. WPCU encourages members to achieve all of these through educational events and personalized financial counseling.
“Financial literacy is one component to financial health and wellness, which is one of our cornerstones at Wright-Patt Credit Union,” Szarzi-Fors said.
WPCU’s educational events include workshops, seminars, and other activities. These cover topics like retirement and estate planning, investing, understanding Social Security, avoiding fraud, saving for a home, and other subjects relevant to financial health. But communicating information on these matters is only half the challenge; the other half is ensuring members use newfound knowledge in a productive manner.
“Research has shown that traditional financial education doesn’t work unless someone puts it to work right away,” Szarzi-Fors said. “If that’s the case, the best way to teach someone is when there is opportunity, and it can become a priority. That means when they are sitting across from a coach with an opportunity or a problem to solve and need a plan.”
The MoneyMagnifier program, still in its pilot phase, provides one-on-one guidance from financial coaches at WPCU’s member centers. In these sessions, members learn about their own financial position, how to modify their current financial course for the better, and plan for future opportunities and challenges.
The process starts with an eight-point financial questionnaire, which was developed in partnership with the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI). Member responses generate an overall MoneyMagnifier score, as well as subscores in four categories: save, spend, borrow, and plan.
WPCU coaches use these scores as a guide when advising members. Together, they’ll review debt-to-income and revolving debt ratios, credit history, and saving habits. This information helps coaches to better outline financial plans that meet members’ unique needs, goals, and life stages, and it can include recommendations for refinancing options, savings plans, budgeting, and other related issues.
At the end of the session, members receive a physical copy of their financial outline and make an appointment to reconnect with their coach by phone or in person. Coaches can also give members one-page informational guides that will help them address specific needs.
“It ultimately leads to improving members’ financial lives, and over time, creates responsible and sustainable choices,” Szarzi-Fors said.
Partnerships with SavvyMoney and EverFi Provide Online Education and Resources
Since the world has gone digital, WPCU doesn’t limit itself to in-person education at events and member centers. Through partner programs, it supplements these efforts with online educational resources: the SavvyMoney Checkup and EverFi educational modules.
The SavvyMoney Checkup is a free, online financial assessment. It asks members for their basic personal and financial information, like age, credit score, budget, outstanding loans, bill payment situation, and employment status. It takes only a few minutes to complete, and it offers members an analysis of their personal financial situations, as well as expert tips that will help them address debt and budgeting.
WPCU’s online Money Wellness Center hosts a robust set of EverFi educational modules. These 24 courses cover topics like checking and savings accounts, credit, retirement planning, investing, home ownership and finance, budgeting, and auto and personal loans. Members can complete these modules at their convenience, earning valuable insight into these important topics.
“Partner programs allow the credit union to help members gain additional insights at a pace that is good for them and in a comfortable setting, such as in their homes,” Szarzi-Fors said. “These programs can be accessed at any point in time, which usually means in real time — when help or insight is needed immediately. It helps shed insight on a member’s financial situation by providing a better understanding of their finances, rather than piecemealing measures like credit scores or account balances.”
Specialized Products and Services Foster Financial Wellness
“Sixty-two percent of WPCU members are struggling financially, and more than half are not highly satisfied with their current financial condition,” Szarzi-Fors said. “Knowing that just under half have run out of money before the end of the month at least once in the last year, we know we have to provide financial products and services that help members manage their money smarter. Developing and deploying accessible, affordable solutions that increase the likelihood that households will make smarter financial decisions is one of our objectives.”
WPCU’s solutions consist of an array of financial products and services like specialized accounts, payment options, and loans and credit products. All of these are designed to help members develop strong financial behaviors that will allow them to transition to prime financial products in the future.
To help members establish saving habits, WPCU offers various accounts that make saving easy and rewarding. CentsibleSpend is a no-overdraft spending account without hidden fees that protects account holders from non-sufficient funds charges. The TrueSaver account offers high introductory dividends — 3% APY on the first $500 deposited — to encourage saving by demonstrating how quickly savings can grow.
EasySaver is an automated small savings account. Purchases made with a WPCU debit card are rounded up to the nearest dollar, and the difference is deposited into the account. For members who sign up for eStatements, WPCU will match 50% of the transaction deposits made within the first 30 days. After that, WPCU will match 5% of the difference. These incentives encourage members to start strong and then reward ongoing saving.
To help ease the monetary and mental stress of paying bills and fees, WPCU provides additional payment options for members. StretchPay is a payday loan alternative that covers small shortfalls through reasonably priced short-term loans. The Skip-a-Pay option, offered to members in good standing, lets members skip one payment per year. This helps them accommodate short-term financial challenges by preventing delinquency and the need to pay late fees.
When members need other loan and credit options, WPCU has them covered, as well. The Payday Exit loan, which is still in pilot testing, is an alternative to payday products and services. The loan includes financial coaching tips that will help members improve their finances and avoid situations that require recourse to more expensive small loans.
WPCU also offers access to credit products designed to help members through times of financial volatility. The Platinum Low Rate Credit Card offers APR as low as 8.00% and includes no hidden fees. The First Time Credit Card offers borrowers a late payment grace period and no annual fees or cash advance fees.
All of these products were created in response to the needs of underserved residents of Central and Southwest Ohio, and through them, WPCU provides the stepping stones to help its members achieve financial success and reach their individual goals and aspirations