Bankers across the state amp up financial education efforts

More than ever, April 2018 highlights the good that financial institutions do all around the Badger State. From Financial Literacy Month to the Power of Community Week (April 16-20) to Reading Raises Interest Kits and National Teach Children to Save Day (April 20), this month presents myriad opportunities for bankers to advocate for their communities. A website, MyMazuma.com, offers a growing connection with consumers, and a new Wisconsin law underscores the importance of financial literacy.

All of these opportunities "are wrapped together with the idea of community advocacy," said Mike Semmann, WBA executive vice president/chief operations officer and Wisconsin Bankers Foundation executive director. Taken together, the various activities demonstrate how financial institutions are leaders in their communities.

That's especially true this year. "It's an exciting time for people in the financial literacy field because we just passed a law requiring every school district to adopt financial literacy education, from kindergarten thru 12th grade," said David Mancl, director of the Office of Financial Literacy in the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Wisconsin Act 94, which went into effect in December 2017, requires school districts to adopt academic standards for financial literacy that create curriculum and activities designed to establish sound financial habits.

"We'll be knocking on every school district door to ask how can we help," said Mancl, who also serves as executive director of the Governor's Council on Financial Literacy. "Few states have such a high level agency," Mancl noted. The council annually recognizes outstanding contributions to financial literacy across the state. Last year, for example, WaterStone Bank, Wauwatosa, received an award for its educational efforts in the Milwaukee area, particularly programs and an exhibit in the Betty Brinn Children's Museum. 

Call to Action

But where should a bank begin its community advocacy strategy? Financial institutions across Wisconsin model the possibilities.

Carol Swan, marketing director and executive administrative assistant at Tomahawk Community Bank, listed a number of ways the bank engages with its schools and communities. 

The bank installed its Tomahawk Hatchet Branch in the local high school. Located in a room near the cafeteria, the teaching branch is staffed by one regular employee and two student mentees three mornings a week. In April, customers are invited to guess the number of coins in a jar; whoever makes the best guess will receive the jar of money. An ATM is also available and its proceeds are donated to the Future Business Leaders of America.

Bank employees also visit classes, reaching out to students from kindergarten through high school. On the 100th day of school, bank staff visit kindergarten classes, where the students count out 100 quarters or pennies. Staff also engage with seventh graders in Wisconsin's Mini Business World program and speak to personal finance classes in the high school, as well as helping with mock interviews for jobs or college entrance.

That's not all: Tomahawk Community Bank provides banking services at an assisted living facility twice a month for customers who can't easily get to the bank and sponsors a senior shuttle to transport seniors to lunch, a movie, shopping or wherever else they want to go. During Power of Community Week, staff will place Chamber Bucks into the seniors' bags, adding fun to their trips. 

'An Opportunity to Give Back'

"We do more in April [and] take that as our opportunity to give back to the community," Swan said. "We always start off with a seed promotion." Customers who come into a branch office can select a seed packet from a basket; each packet comes with card stating, "You are the seed to our success."

The second weekend of April, Radio WJJQ sponsors a Home, Sport, and Travel Show, where bank employees will staff a booth and wear their Power of Community t-shirts.

On a day when students leave school early so that teachers can gather for in-service meetings, Tomahawk Community Bank staff will deliver cheese and sausage trays for the teachers. The bank also plans a Hero Appreciation Week to recognize area police and fire department workers, along with school bus drivers.

Lisa Woletz, vice president of marketing at First National Community Bank, reported the New Richmond financial institution plans "a strong stand on showing the power we have by reaching out to folks" during Power of Community Week. Staff will wear the Power of Community t-shirts and perform Random Acts of Kindness in the four communities the bank serves. Staff may randomly give cash to grocery store customers or treat people to lunch.

Woletz will visit the library during story hour, where the story will describe how to save money and what happens when you go to the bank. An activity will emphasize the importance of balancing saving and spending. Each child will receive two toy banks in the shape of First National Community Bank's mascot, Hoot the Owl—one bank for saving and one for spending. "The primary goal is to teach them there is more than just saving," Woletz explained. "How they spend their money in their communities is important, too, but they need to save for themselves first."

First National Community Bank staff regularly teach financial literacy at the elementary and middle school levels. The week of April 16-20, they will teach five second-grade classes. The following week, sixth grade students will travel to Mapletown, Minn., and participate in a business simulation. The Junior Achievement Biz Town program is correlated to Wisconsin academic standards.

"Finally, we're going to show the Power of Community Banking by doing a food drive for local food shelves in all four communities," Woletz said. "These things are very focused on this particular week, but they also happen throughout the year in different forms," she said, "because we are a very strong community presence."

The Yelp of Financial Education

One new, year-round program creating a lot of buzz this April is the website MyMazuma.com. Launched by the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation, the site connects consumers with financial solutions.

"MyMazuma started as a member-driven concept," said Semmann. "A Foundation Board member asked, 'Can we inventory what's going on in financial literacy?'" There are hundreds of resource providers, including government and nonprofit organizations, so how can a bank make good decisions about where to invest time and effort? 

The resulting inventory revealed a need for a qualitative measure to help consumers select resources, as well as a need to connect consumers with resource providers (both financial institutions and nonprofit programs) and those banks and businesses that "by their charter want to provide help and assistance," Semmann said.

Board member Oliver Buechse asked whether "the Foundation could create a platform to bring these three parties together so the resources are moving where they need to and there's this qualitative component," Semmann said. "And that's how MyMazuma came to be."

A collaboration of five parties—the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Associated Bank, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, School Choice Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation—created the MyMazuma framework. Its name was coined by a marketing firm engaged to design the website. "Mazuma," a slang term for money, derives from the Hebrew word meaning "to "prepare."

Visitors to MyMazuma identify their location or what they want to learn about. With one click, they're directed to a list of programs, articles, classes, or videos that match their search term(s). Visitors can then create an account to bookmark what they find and review resources to enhance the experience of other users. Financial institutions can provide resources to their existing customers and other consumers, and bank employees can use the website as consumers themselves. WBA programs are among the resources listed, for example, and the Reading Raises Interest Kits, which have had a record year in participation, has already garnered a positive review.

"The banks are in the best position to help their customers and communities," said Amy Vetrone, community engagement consultant for the website. "MyMazuma creates a gateway to financial education, which can lead to stronger relationships with their customer base."

Vetrone hopes the website "will be the Yelp of financial education. We want everyone to pull up MyMazuma" on their phone, tablet, or laptop. "When they have a financial question, we want MyMazuma to be their go-to," she said. "There's nothing else like it… The one central location … makes it unique."

Last year the focus was on adding resources to MyMazuma. Now, "we're trying to get the word out to consumers," Semmann said. "Consumers, in this case, are initially parents and teachers," following direction of Wisconsin Act 94.

The new law highlights the important role of MyMazuma. "The financial system is complicated, credit is more available, and the evolving financial system requires a lot of financial [understanding]," Mancl said. "Banks are on the front lines of helping consumers understand financial products and services."

"Bankers are seen as community leaders," Semmann said. "Local business leaders say how important that bank CEO is in their community," so outreach efforts in April and year-round "reinforce that positive impression."

Green is a freelance writer for the Wisconsin Bankers Association.