- A collaboration between DC Credit Union and Bank on DC has provided thousands of teens and young adults with savings accounts, financial literacy, and occupational success.
- The credit union’s Youth Advisory Council provides insight into what what’s working well and how the program could be improved.
- The initiative creates lasting relationships with young members and helps the credit union live its mission as a CDFI.
Over the course of nearly a dozen years, a financial education program from DC Credit Union ($82.6M, Washington, DC) has impacted the lives of thousands of youngsters in the nation’s capital.
Launched in 2010, DC Credit Union’s Summer Youth Employment Program was designed to provide banking services for teenagers holding down their first jobs primarily those between the ages of 16 and 18 but the initiative proved so popular that after its first year the credit union expanded the age range from 14 to 24.
The program is part of a partnership with Bank On DC, a collaboration between the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, multiple financial institutions, and nonprofits focused on providing access to affordable financial services for un- and under-banked households in the region. Organizers at the credit union envisioned it as a way to not only help DC teens and later young adults develop savings accounts and financial literacy but also expose them to the benefits of credit union membership.
“We needed to engage and keep the attention of our new young members,” says LaTesha Wheeler, the credit union’s youth outreach coordinator. “We found that once you lose their attention and interest, it’s like starting all over again.”
Through its affiliation with the Department of Employment Services (DOES), the program offers a wide range of job opportunities, such as working for community-based organizations, along with district and federal agencies, including the Department of Parks and Recreation.
As the program was developed, certain rules were established, such as requiring participants to receive payment either through direct deposit or via a pre-loaded debit card. Accounts for each age group 14 through 17 and 18 through 24 are also in place to address risks that could result in losses to the credit union.
For example, youths from 14 to 17 years old have non-custodial accounts, which restricts their account access to ATM-only cards for cash withdrawal transactions up to $300. Program participants aged 18 and older have custodial accounts, which require a cosigner and include a checking account and debit card that offers point-of-sale transactions up to $300 a day and online banking access.
Regular, high-touch communication with participants via email and phone is also a key component, Wheeler says.
“If I speak to kids at an event, the youth present can put a face to the name of the person who calls or emails them,” she says. “It’s a matter of building trust. After all, we are a financial institution they need to trust with holding their money.”
The DOES built in an incentive for participants reach their summer savings goals. The Super Saver award provides $1,000 to a deserving summer saver who meets of exceeds their goals during the program. The more money saved, the better the chances of winning the drawing and having $1,000 deposited directly into their savings account.
A Lasting Legacy
Now in its eleventh year, the program has exceeded expectations and created a lasting legacy. Championed by three mayoral administrations including DC’s current mayor, Muriel Bowser, the program was renamed in 2014 in honor of former DC Mayor Marion Barry, who campaigned tirelessly on behalf of Bank on DC and the institutions that support it, including DC Credit Union.
Thousands of teens and young adults have found meaningful employment, built savings, and learned money management through the program, and many alumni have maintained their credit union membership, even referring family and friends to DC Credit Union.
We needed to engage and keep the attention of our new young members. Once you lose their attention and interest, it’s like starting all over again.
The program’s success also offers a blueprint for how other CDFI-certified credit unions can fulfill their mission of enhancing members’ lives. One of DC Credit Union’s loftier goals is to help young consumers in the region find long-term occupational and financial success, and Wheeler says helping them find ways to earn an income and save was a cornerstone of that effort.
Wheeler says marketing and communications efforts including engaging with participants via social media helps retain new members and keeps them engaged.
“Even if we don’t capture that young person in the summer program, they still tell their relatives and friends about the credit union,” she says. “Just having that one person in the house can engage and intrigue other family members to join.”
DC Credit Union supplements its email and retention strategies with a Youth Advisory Council that appoints a youth advisor in each DC ward to meet with residents and gauge interest from potential participants or would-be members. These leaders meet one Saturday per month to share insights and inform the credit union about new developments or concerns in the wards. All council members are volunteers serving one-year terms on the panel, and the credit union rewards their participation with an entrepreneurial award in the spring and the fall.
Wheeler is quick to note the impact the program has made on DC area youth.
“Many tell me, ‘DC Credit Union gave me my first account when I was 14, and I’ve been with them ever since,'” she says. “Now, those kids’ are young adults in their twenties and early thirties and applying for car loans and mortgages.”
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