Banks are the pillars of their communities, supporting businesses and families as they grow and prosper. One common way is through financial education. While most banks see financial literacy as critically important for their customers and communities, supporting the financial education of consumers also benefits the bank. Dedication to financial literacy creates better customers, supports the bank's mission and/or brand, and continues strong partnerships within the community. The key to reaping these additional benefits of financial literacy is for banks to view it as an opportunity to set themselves apart while making a difference, said Jeff McCarthy, VP – marketing director at First Bank Financial Centre, Oconomowoc, and vice chair of the 2018-2019 WBA Marketing Committee. "At the end of the day, community banking is about supporting our community businesses and families, and what better way than by addressing this knowledge gap?"

"Teach Them Early"

Financial education intersects with the banking industry because good bank customers—commercial and consumer alike—are also financially literate. "Providing educational seminars, participating in school programs, and promoting efforts of financial literacy organizations remains a must for all community banks, as the children we influence will someday be our depositors and borrowers – our future customers," explained Cathy Couey, chief retail officer at Security Financial Bank, Eau Claire, and a member of the Wisconsin Bankers Foundation Board of Directors. Starting early with financial education is an effective way to grow future customers for the bank, said Frank Habib, interim executive director of EconomicsWisconsin, a not-for-profit which has been delivering quality teacher training in economics and financial literacy in a free market and free enterprise environment for the past 55 years. "Invariably, the more those students learn, the better graduates and employees they'll become because of that early investment," he explained. "Teach them early. They'll become a well-informed and good customer."

Unfortunately, today many consumers don't receive the early education in money management that they need in order to thrive and avoid financial pitfalls. "A lot of people don't know what they don't know about their finances," said McCarthy. "And even when they know they don't know everything, people are afraid to ask questions because they don't want to look dumb. There's a large knowledge gap, but people are intimidated. People feel like they should know and they're a little embarrassed that they don't, so we try to create an atmosphere where people can ask questions."

The difference between understanding personal finance and never learning those skills can be dramatic. "It's very important to teach these life skills," said Habib. "Your choices will have a long-term impact on your life, and unfortunately, the costs of not understanding this are exorbitant sometimes." But financial literacy isn't all stick, no carrot. Michael Frohna, president of Junior Achievement of Wisconsin, which has been inspiring and preparing young people for success in a global economy for 78 years in Wisconsin (and for 100 years in the United States), summarized the ultimate goal of financial education: "Financial literacy allows people to pursue a life that's unique and meaningful to them," he said. 

"Make Lives Better"

That quest for betterment is what ties financial education to a bank's mission or brand. For most financial institutions, at least part of their mission or vision is to help their customers and their community. That goal can be nuanced and look different depending on the institution's niche or geographic location, but it's one that many banks share. "I personally feel it is a banker's responsibility to aid consumers in making the best financial decisions," said Couey. "Offering and/or participating in financial literacy proves your dedication in helping your customer reach their financial goals."

"We feel it's incumbent on us to expose people to these topics and issues so they can be set up for success in the long term," McCarthy agreed. First Bank Financial Centre (FBFC) sees financial literacy as part of the bank's strategy to live out its mission, rather than another marketing channel or way to prospect for potential customers. "It's not really about ROI," McCarthy clarified. "It's more about investment in our mission, which is 'Make Lives Better.' It's an investment in the people in our communities as a way to make lives better. It's a proof point to support our overall mission and support our brand."

In addition to the financial benefits of being educated about money, banks can also enhance their brands or missions by inspiring and mentoring young people through their financial literacy outreach. Frohna explained that of all the curriculum Junior Achievement presents to a class, the students probably only retain about a quarter of it. "The other 75 percent of what they remember is the volunteer talking about their own experience," he said. "Bankers have a tremendous ability to go into a classroom and tell stories that augment the curriculum and really bring it to life." Another reputational/brand benefit of demonstrating a banker's job and banking to students early: a recent national study revealed that 20 percent of Junior Achievement students chose a career path based on the career field of their classroom mentor. "It pays to volunteer, because you can change perceptions of what bankers do," said Frohna. 

Building Vibrant Communities 

As the financial cornerstone of their communities, banks also fill key partner roles with many local organizations, including the chamber of commerce, schools, and other entities. "Ultimately, I think organizations like ours and entities like banks really have the vibrancy of our communities at the heart of what we do," said Frohna. "Finding more ways we can partner and reach people who don't have all the tools they need to thrive will benefit everyone in the long-run by creating communities who are financially literate and responsible."

Partnering with an organization dedicated to financial education can be an effective, efficient way for banks to act out their mission to benefit customers and the community. "We align ourselves with best-in-class organizations and tools," McCarthy explained (FBFC is a Ruby level partner with Junior Achievement). "We participate in reality stores at our local high schools, and our online component is powered by EverFi, which is a nationally recognized leader in financial education." 

One of the primary reasons banks gain efficiencies through these partnerships is because no new contacts or infrastructure need to be built in order to deliver financial education in the bank's market. "What's important is banks don't need to create anything," Habib explained. "There are enough solution-oriented agencies to do that." He recommended lending facilities, such as meeting rooms, and hosting or sponsoring events through those agencies as a better use of the bank's resources than creating new materials. Serving on the boards of these organizations is also a valuable way for bank executives, in particular, to give back.

Whichever strategy Wisconsin banks utilize for their financial education efforts, the Wisconsin Bankers Association and Foundation have both dedicated resources to help bankers provide the education needed in their communities, Couey explained. "They promote Money $mart Week and Teach Children to Save Day by providing Reading Raises Interest Kits to communities within Wisconsin, and provide the online resource MyMazuma.com," she said. "All of this aids bankers in providing resources to help educate consumers on financial development."