How Pop-Up Credit Unions Are Teaching Children about Savings
Wisconsin-based Royal Credit Union is taking a unique approach to early childhood financial education. For the past 25 years, the credit union has set up pop-up branches in elementary, middle and high schools through their School $ense program to turn students into life-long savers.
School $ense currently has 28 school-site branches, and each branch has student employees. The students go through a full job interview, just like they would as adults, and are trained to use the credit union’s computer system. They also learn about confidentiality and customer service. Elementary school students are taught about marketing, but middle and high school students are able to create full marketing campaigns on behalf of the credit union. “The high school sites offer most of the same services as any other Royal location.”
To encourage students to save money, RCU provides each student member with a punch card. For every deposit made, the student gets a stamp, regardless of the deposit’s value.
“It can be a penny. The whole goal of the program is just to get them in the habit of saving,” saidJennifer McHugh, RCU’s director of public affairs and financial education.
Students can redeem a small prize after four stamps, or a large prize after 16 stamps. For every 500 deposits students make, RCU donates $250 to the school. In 2017, the School $ense program led to $530,000 in savings from more than 17,000 deposits.
A recent study from Champlain College showed 27 states in the U.S. have limited or no financial literacy education available for high school students. In fact, Wisconsin was one of the states that received an “F” rating. Programs like School $ense could improve those statistics and supplement money management training in schools that lack such courses.
RCU does not have enough data to determine if students will be lifetime members of the credit union, but there are some positive indicators. In 2017, RCU found that 2,500 of its 190,000 members had worked with the school-site program in the last 10 years, and 895 members had taken out loans. This shows they stayed with the credit union past the age of 18.
Despite the extensive benefits of pop-up credit union branches in schools, McHugh says it is expensive to open each location. A simple branch at a cafeteria table requires a minimum of $5,000 for equipment and staffing. A permanent in-school branch requires space allotment and extensive construction. School $ense does not provide much value from a profit standpoint, but it does help students see the benefits of saving money and reaching financial goals.