- In the first quarter of 2021, a dozen BCU team members participated in a strategy course focused on sustainability and leading with purpose.
- The course led the credit union to reduce NSF fees, form a financial wellbeing CUSO, and create a fund to help employees experiencing hardship.
The intersection between physical, financial, and mental health has never been greater. Many credit unions offer financial wellness programs to members in an effort to help them feel less stressed about their finances. BCU ($5.4B, Vernon Hills, IL) has taken that charge one step farther.
The Illinois cooperative has established a new CUSO, dubbed Life. Money. You, that offers financial wellbeing programs to everyone — even those who don’t meet the credit union’s membership requirements.
“We wanted to have a greater impact, especially in underserved communities,” says Jill Sammons, senior vice president of marketing and strategic communications for BCU.
Here Today … Here Tomorrow … Here Through It All
That desire is also the driving force behind the credit union’s “Here Today For Your Tomorrow” tagline and overall brand narrative.
To ensure all 800 BCU employees understand the cooperative’s purpose, the credit union surveyed them. Responses showed employees understood well the meaning behind the credit union’s brand; however, they sometimes struggled to understand how the work they did day in and day out contributed to BCU’s purpose and mission.
“They needed help connecting the dots,” Sammons says.
As BCU was talking about purpose and making an impact on the communities it serves, it also started thinking about sustainability. In addition to serving six local communities in Illinois and Wisconsin, BCU serves a number of employee groups and does a lot of business in Puerto Rico.
Plagued by frequent hurricanes, the cooperative’s Puerto Rico headquarters has triple redundancy with solar power, generators, and water preservation techniques. That came in handy this past September when Hurricane Fiona made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. As one of the few places with power in the aftermath, employees used the BCU facility to charge cell phones and even do laundry as they served members.
“During Hurricane Fiona, BCU was like a beacon on the island,” Sammons says.
The Power Of Sustainability
BCU’s newfound focus on sustainability isn’t just because it wants to help members, although that is an important objective, of course. The credit union’s sustainability efforts make business sense, too. That’s a key teaching featured in Sustainable Business Strategy, a virtual learning experience Callahan & Associates offers in collaboration with Harvard Business School.
“There was this huge ‘aha’ moment when I saw the slide showing how you can do good in the world for people and do well financially for your organization,” Sammons says.
When BCU decided to participate in the program, it wasn’t satisfied with sending one or two individuals. So, it sent a dozen.
The cooperative identified high-performing individuals to create a private cohort of cross-functional, mid-level leaders from finance, marketing, consumer lending, deposit products, and more. Employees in different time zones participated together, and team members who rarely interacted — even a pair as unlikely as the director of creative communications and the director of finance — established great relationships.
At the same time, four executive leaders participated in a mixed cohort with other credit unions to glean insights from others.
The two groups took the course in parallel, kicking off the experience in the first quarter of 2021. When the dozen participants regrouped for the final debrief, they were able to identify takeaways to immediately implement.
One immediate action? The credit union analyzed and significantly reduced its non-sufficient funds and overdraft protection fees.
“Those decisions were directly correlated to the learnings from the course,” Sammons says.
Another action? The credit union expanded Life.Money.You.
“We were in the early stages of forming an LLC and needed to gain consensus internally about separating our financial wellbeing work,” Sammons says.
BCU had offered financial wellbeing tools and resources to members under the Life.Money.You. brand for a decade. Convincing the board and leadership team that offering the program to non-members would benefit the community while supporting the financial stability and long-term performance of the organization was critical.
An Investment For Employees, Business, And Community
Doing well while doing good — that’s the sustainable strategy way. Anecdotally, for BCU, there are more voices in the room now pushing the credit union to have these kinds of conversations and identify these kinds of opportunities.
“It’s not a coincidence that more of us are now asking how we grow in a scalable way without losing the internal culture and high-touch business practices we’re known for,” Sammons says.
With plans to send more employees through Sustainable Business Strategy in the future, Sammons sees courses like this as a solid investment in the future.
“How much do we really implement from a conference?” the SVP asks.
Aligning teams around sustainable business strategy also can help employees find their purpose and increase engagement. That’s a major advantage when recruiting and retaining talent is challenging.
At BCU, the creation of a “Generous Fund” allows employees to make small contributions to help their colleagues out of hardships. Employees can make $1 or $2 donations via payroll deduction or one-time gifts via digital banking.
“We talk about being purpose-driven, and this fund gives employees a tangible sense of purpose,” Sammons says. “Their small donation can have a huge impact on someone else. Just like we want to help people find financial peace, we want to help our employees thrive.”
How To Lead With Purpose
Does your credit union serve its members and community in ways that set it apart from other financial choices? Rethink your role and responsibility to members, employees, communities, and the environment with Sustainable Business Strategy, a virtual learning experience Callahan & Associates offers in collaboration with Harvard Business School Online.
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