5 Business Ideas From One Long-Standing Race

The ideas behind Wright-Patt Credit Union’s annual Savings Race have broader applications for every cooperative.

Wright-Patt Credit Union ($2.9B, Beavercreek, OH) introduced its Savings Race in 2007. To date the Savings Race has helped the credit union increase its name recognition in the community from 53% to 70%. The race has also resulted in 9,807 hours of in-person financial education that the credit union has provided for the community. And this doesn’t even take into account the total of $845,000 or $28,000 per family that participants increased their household net worth by collectively.


Each year our Savings Race has had a different theme, but all are directly related to consumers’ wallets, says Tracy Fors, vice president, marketing and business development for Wright-Patt Credit Union. We started the annual race to help residents in the Miami Valley area become more educated about their finances so they could make informed decisions.


Wright-Patt Credit Union
Data as of 06.30.14

HQ: Beavercreek, OH
MEMBERS: 282,219
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 19.4%
ROA: 1.29%

The basic format of the challenge has not changed. Five teams compete, with the help of professional coaches from Wright-Patt Credit Union and other local organizations to see who can increase their household net worth by paying off debt and increasing savings the most during the eight-month challenge. The winning team receives a grand prize of $10,000, but many participants say they feel like winners just by completing the race and improving their finances. A local TV station airs the participants’ stories weekly, and members can use the same strategies as contestants to improve their own finances with self-help checklists and other materials the credit union posts on its website and social media.

Here are five ideas that Wright-Patt Credit Union has incorporated into the Savings Race over the past seven years along with suggestions for how other cooperatives can adapt the concept for their own purposes.

Tie In With Local Or National News

The Idea: The 2013-2014 healthcare-themed Savings Race began just as the Affordable Care Act was taking effect last fall.

Health and money go hand in hand, Fors says. If you’re negatively impacted in one area, it can spill over into the other causing stress or even bankruptcy due to large medical bills.

How WPCU Used It: The race focused on the financial components of healthcare so that current and potential members understood the right questions to ask as they evaluated both their health insurance plans and health savings accounts. This challenge also gave Wright-Patt Credit Union the opportunity to develop relationships with community organizations it typically doesn’t work with. The credit union connected with hospitals, healthcare providers, and a local insurance company to give participants a full picture of their financial and physical health.

Our six-week financial education curriculum was customized and included tips for becoming a good healthcare consumer and discussed what it means to be healthy in general, Fors says.

Every one of the participants received a health screen in addition to a full financial review. As a result, this race challenged participants to improve their financial and physical health simultaneously, with some contestants reporting weight loss and other health benefits in addition to reducing debt and increasing savings.

Make It Your Own: Time the community events your credit union engages in so they coincide with something happening at the local or national level, just as Wright-Patt Credit Union did with the race’s healthcare theme and the healthcare act. That approach not only makes your credit union seem prescient about the issues that matter but also increases the odds that your institution will receive media attention thanks to the timely news angle.

Adopt Life-Changing Events As A Constant Theme

The Idea: Many Americans are behind on retirement savings, and the theme of Wright-Patt Credit Union’s next Savings Race will be retirement planning. Participants will include individuals of all ages, allowing the credit union to discuss different savings strategies for everyone from young adults to those nearing retirement.

We all know the earlier you save, the better off you’ll be in retirement, Fors says. We want to help Miami Valley residents learn how to avoid pitfalls and get back on track even after life’s many surprises.

How WPCU Will Use It: Getting out of debt and starting to save is an important first step, but big events such as marriage, the birth of a child, or a job loss can derail even the best-laid plans. This race will help people understand that big changes affect retirement savings, so they’ll need to learn to adapt strategies to today’s circumstances to meet future goals.

Make It Your Own: You don’t need an excuse like the Savings Race to discuss life-changing events with your members. Make those events a part of the everyday products and financial advice you offer by tailoring them to distinct groups like young growing families, empty nesters, and the under-employed.

Keep Financial Education Brief And Fun

The Idea: The Savings Race is Wright-Patt Credit Union’s brand in action.

We’re telling the story of people’s lives and how the credit union fits in, Fors says.

As a result, the credit union makes sure that members receive the same accessible, easy-to-digest financial advice when they walk into a branch that race participants get on TV.

How WPCU Will Use It: For the upcoming retirement Savings Race, the credit union will invite all members to come in with their own retirement planning questions.

We aren’t going to have people make appointments, Fors says. Instead we’re going to invite them in to talk with qualified financial planners and ask their basic questions briefly, like speed dating, so it’s more fun and less stressful.

Make It Your Own: Invite in-house and outside experts to be on hand at a branch for an informal QA about a complex financial topic, such as retirement or college savings or buying a home or car. Then set up the event like speed dating so members can have a specific question addressed through short conversations with each expert.

We started the annual race to help residents in the Miami Valley area become more educated about their finances so they could make informed decisions.

Evaluate Partnerships Periodically

The Idea: The best medium for Wright-Patt Credit Union’s Savings Race continues to be TV, but the credit union has made some adjustments over time by dropping radio coverage in favor of social media. Now the credit union has a Facebook page and website dedicated to the race where the families can post blogs and the credit union can supply additional information and tips.

How WPCU Uses It: Having a great partner is critical to the race’s success. After the local TV station that Wright-Patt Credit Union had been partnering with made some key staffing changes, the credit union decided to move to another TV station with a broader audience. As a result, the next race has the potential to reach an entirely different audience that might not have seen previous races.

Make It Your Own: Periodically evaluate any partnerships your credit union has with other organizations, particularly those that have made significant staffing changes. Although switching to a new partner can be daunting, it also offers the opportunity to work with new members of your community with the potential for your credit union to expand its reach.

Refresh Old Ideas Using Personal Stories

The Idea: The seventh Savings Race will start in a few months, yet Wright-Patt Credit Union recognizes that the day might come when the annual event will have run its course.

Running out of ideas is not the challenge, but we do want to make sure the race is still resonating with our audience, Fors says. We don’t want to continue it if people aren’t paying attention anymore so we evaluate it each year.

Based on a random survey of 75,000 people in the Miami Valley, including members and nonmembers, the race still resonates. In fact, 10% of residents and 30% of members said the race has helped them make a positive difference in their lives. The race has also had a positive effect on the credit union, which has seen key metrics like relationships per member increase over the years.

How WPCU Uses It: To keep the race challenging, the credit union has made topping $1 million in collective net worth improvement as this year’s goal. And certainly, the personal stories that come out of the race are one reason why it continues to resonate with the audience. The race is even credited with saving relationships.

One engaged couple postponed the wedding several times because they had different philosophies about money, Fors says. This contest helped them get on the same page financially. They got married and recently had their first child.

Make It Your Own: Striving for more ambitious goals each year can keep old ideas relevant. But an even better approach is demonstrating your credit union’s lasting impact on members and the community using real life examples because personal stories about overcoming challenges are timeless.


August 25, 2014

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