First Tech Cultivates Hope (And Savings) For Foster Youth

A partnership between the credit union and a community nonprofit provides financial resources for at-risk kids during formative years.

As one of the seven cooperative principles, it’s easy to find plenty of examples of credit unions showing “concern for community.” Across the industry, institutions of all sizes regularly invest in charitable initiatives and build local partnerships, serving members and meeting local needs.

However, deciding which nonprofits or community organizations with whom to partner can be more art than science. First Tech Federal Credit Union ($16.8B, San Jose, CA) has built a very specific community partnership to serve a historically underserved population: foster youth.

A New Law. An Unmet Need.

In 2016, a change in Oregon state law allowed foster youth to open a bank or credit union account without an adult co-signer, enabling youth to control their finances even if their foster status changed. This was great for foster kids who wanted to learn financial skills and build a stronger future; unfortunately, even years later, there were no products that met the distinct needs of these young account holders.

Candace Elliott, Senior Member Service & Solutions Manager, First Tech FCU

That’s when First Tech stepped in.

“Our local program manager mentioned the opportunity to provide foster youth savings account, and I brought the idea to leadership right away,” says Candace Elliott, senior member service and solutions manager for First Tech and an ambassador board member for Youth Villages Oregon, an organization dedicated to children’s mental and behavioral health. “Everyone was excited to create this pathway for the kids.”

It took First Tech approximately nine months to complete the legal, compliance, and other planning phases, and it officially launched the Youth Villages Foster Youth Savings Program in April 2023.

A Path To Financial Empowerment

Financial Beginnings Oregon, another nonprofit with whom First Tech employees volunteer, offered financial literacy courses to classes of 20 or so foster kids. The students displayed a genuine feeling of excitement to learn more about topics such as credit and how it could impact their futures. Plus, those who completed the educational sessions were eligible to receive a grant from Youth Villages after participating.

“If they wanted to save some or all of that money, we had a path for them to do so,” Elliott says.

To take advantage of the special savings account that doesn’t require an adult co-signer, foster youth must be between 13 and 17 years old. After they turn 18, First Tech is happy to work with them through its standard savings and checking offerings.

Youth Villages foster children from 13 to 17 years old may open an account with a valid government-issued ID (or two forms of secondary ID) plus an initial deposit of $5 to$25 depending on the type of account

So far, First Tech has opened five of the new savings accounts, but the initiative was never about hitting a specific production goal.

“If we help even one kid, that’s something we take pride in,” Elliott says.

A Multi-Pronged Approach To Partnerships

First Tech’s community partnerships extend beyond product creation and volunteerism. The credit union donated more than $3.6 million in 2023 to more than 120 nonprofit organizations through grants and sponsorships. It also provides a $1,000 monetary donation to charitable organizations on which First Tech employees serve as board members. Additionally, any nonprofit is eligible for the credit union’s “5 for $500” program, which equates to a $500 donation whenever five First Tech employees volunteer for a shift.


DATA AS OF 12.31.23

HQ: San Jose, CA
ASSETS: $16.8
MEMBERS: 656,384
ROA: 0.19%

“I’m looking forward to providing more support in the future,” Elliott says. “From encouraging 10 employees to volunteer for specific events like backpack building and our holiday heroes’ program to doubling our 5 for $500 donations to potentially expanding grant funding.”

When it comes to directing funds, Elliott says First Tech encourages employees to take a leading role in vetting community partnerships by working with nonprofits of their choosing.

“That’s how this all developed,” Elliott says. “I wanted to dig into a nonprofit and do more than just show up for a volunteer shift. Working with Youth Villages and having open conversations allowed me to identify a cool opportunity that had been here for years.”

Future Outlook And Advice For Others

Although First Tech doesn’t have specific goals for accounts openings, it knows providing foster kids access to savings accounts and giving them the financial tools they need might lead to deeper relationships and the adoption of different products down the road.

“We want these kids to share their experiences and hope they’ll want to come bank with us, trusting they can come to us with any need in their financial life,” Elliott says.

Even in situations where the credit union might not have the right solution, the team wants to be there to provide unbiased advice, referring these vulnerable youth to other providers when needed and helping them start their financial journey on a positive note.

First Tech relies on its employees to help vet local organizations in need of support, andvolunteering in the community helps the credit union identify opportunities to serve in more meaningful ways, too.

For other credit unions looking to build deeper community partnerships, Elliott advises tapping employees first.

“I felt comfortable working with this nonprofit knowing I had my leadership team’s approval and support to be involved,” Elliott says. “Supporting employees in endeavors they are passionate about brings opportunity. It’s like a seed that just grows.”

Transform Your Credit Union in 2024

Do you want to outperform the market, attract and retain top talent, and improve your organization’s impact? You can do this and more — and Callahan can help. Join other leading credit unions that have transformed their organization and learned how to do well while doing good. Register today for 2024 sessions.

February 26, 2024

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