- Patelco launched a certified financial specialist program in late 2019 and is now scaling up the program.
- To date, more than 3,000 members have participated.
Patelco Credit Union ($9.7B, Dublin, CA) operates in a market whose cost of living is among the most expensive in the nation. To help members overcome financial hardships, Patelco launched a program in 2019 in which trained specialists helped targeted members develop and follow a financial plan and build a long-term, impactful relationship with their cooperative.
The program’s launch proved particularly timely. The arrival of COVID-19 added even more uncertainty to the lives of the Bay Area cooperative’s nearly half-million members. Led by its newly minted financial wellness specialists, the credit union proactively reached out to offer personalized financial health checks. To date, more than 3,000 members have participated and the program, now entering its fourth year, has matured into an essential offering.
Here, Tiffany Jew, vice president and head of retail branches at Patelco, discusses the evolution and future of the Certified Financial Specialist program.
How does the Certified Financial Specialist program fit into Patelco’s philosophy as a member-owned financial cooperative?
Tiffany Jew: The financial industry is becoming more digital. We believe in providing members with digital solutions, but we cannot forget the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.” Patelco’s CFS program bridges digital solutions with personalized service and human connection. Products, services, and digital tools are necessary, but financial freedom looks different for everyone. This program takes a personalized, coaching-based approach to reflect those differences.
How do your specialists earn certification? How are they trained? Where do they work?
CU QUICK FACTS
Patelco Credit Union
DATA AS OF 06.30.22
HQ: Dublin, CA
NET WORTH: 9.9%
TJ: Certification is earned through CUNA’s 16-week Financial Counseling Certification Program. Patelco then provides week-long training on conducting counseling sessions and the tools and resources we offer. Four specialists work in our virtual branch for remote member connections. The other 24 are in our physical branches.
How have their roles evolved and adapted since the program launched?
TJ: Although the program’s purpose has not changed, members now face very different economic challenges. Interest rate hikes, tech layoffs, and bank failures have all had their effects. As the environment shifts, strategies for achieving financial freedom also change. We help members make necessary adjustments to stay the course.
How do you track the progress members make? What metrics quantify the impact of the program?
TJ: We monitor progress through members’ financial goal achievement. Common goals include improving credit, reducing debt, and increasing savings. We’ve seen great success among members working with specialists to build financial plans. For example, 59% of participants have boosted credit scores by an average of 46 points, they’ve reduced their total debt by more than $4.5 million, and they’ve accumulated deposits that now exceed $1.4 million.
You began with Gallup surveys, Inclusiv’s Pathways program, and specialist-led initiatives. What’s still in place?
TJ: Gallup surveys still help us gauge members’ financial health. That data, paired with personalized assessments, shapes tools and initiatives. Although specific systems and tools have evolved to better align with member goals, the focus remains: identify innovations that support Patelco’s mission.
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How has Patelco’s front-line leadership responded to the program?
TJ: Change is always difficult, and initially some branch managers weren’t fully bought in. The program came together once all leadership was exposed to the content and heard success stories.
How have members responded to having these financial specialists available?
TJ: Feedback has been fantastic. Our specialized support through budgeting, savings, credit repair, and debt reduction — with regular follow-ups — exemplifies the Patelco difference. Our proudest moments are when members become debt-free. You can see the financial relief.
2 Ways To Support Financial Wellness Programs
- Secure leadership backing and proper resources. Long-term commitment drives long-term benefits. Without support, other priorities can take over.
- Build — and retain — a committed, trained workforce. Financial coaching requires expertise and digging into personal information. Members must trust their coach.
Why has this program been a success?
TJ: The program succeeds because it connects to Patelco’s vision and mission. We kept that in mind at every stage. Specialists commit to at least six months with each member — that’s our commitment, too.
What are Patelco’s short-term and long-term goals for the program?
TJ: Short-term, we’ll launch an outreach program to targeted members. Long-term, we want to empower all branch staff with this expertise, balancing branch transaction demands.
To scale the service for more members, we’ll increase awareness beyond current marketing. We’ll start an outreach program to targeted members who could benefit but haven’t interacted with us much digitally. We hope this shows financial freedom is possible but requires thoughtfulness.
How would you sum up this program?
TJ: In just a few years, this program has made significant impacts while staying true to the credit union’s mission. As economic uncertainty persists, the need for personalized financial guidance and coaching will only increase. With strong leadership support and a focus on building member trust, our credit union is positioned to scale the program to serve even more members on their journeys to financial health and wellness.
This interview has been edited and condensed.