Denali Alaskan FCU offers financial fitness education for businesses
Businesses and members are receiving financial literacy advice from a program offered by Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union.
The credit union has partnered with Balance, a national entity that works with credit unions throughout the lower 48 to offer workshops and has an online site that help with financial fitness. Aside from Denali Alaskan FCU, they don’t have a major Alaska presence, though.
As a member-based institution, assisting members’ financial fitness is key, said Keith Fernandez, the credit union’s vice president of corporate development.
“As a credit union, we’re trying to help our members succeed,” he said.
Melissa Falcone also works with the program. She said Balance helps members track their spending, develop a savings plan, and has hands-on activities and quiz modules as part of the website.
The program can help members avoid getting into financial distress, but it’s also a good tool once a member is having trouble, to get them back out, Falcone said.
Last year, certified ambassadors connected with about 1,150 credit union members to talk about the Balance program. That’s just one-on-one efforts, and doesn’t include workshops.
There are about 50 ambassadors, Falcone said. They go through a training program that includes completing 19 BalanceTrack modules, and taking a test about the financial information covered.
Fernandez said the ambassador program is a great way to get all the branches involved. Ambassadors can come from any department of the credit union, he said.
“We’re able to let the local folks take advantage,” he said.
Those ambassadors also teach eight difference Balance workshops. Each is about 60 minutes to 90 minutes long.
Falcone said the two most popular workshops right now are “Understanding Credit” and “Basics of Saving and Investing.”
The credit union averages about one workshop a month. Those are taught in Anchorage, as well as in other cities with branches, including Fairbanks, Juneau and Kenai.
“Our members are truly all over the state,” Fernandez said.
Fernandez said the credit union doesn’t have data on how the program is helping members, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it works.
In the loan control department, where collections are done, ambassadors can recommend the Balance program to members having financial issues. The department has reported that the suggestion seems to help.
Getting financial advice from an impartial third-party seems to make it more helpful, Fernandez said.
“That does make a difference,” he said.
Early in the program, Fernandez said he heard about a member who was facing delinquency. But after participating in Balance, the person straightened up.
“It’s those kind of stories…that makes us know that this program works,” Fernandez said.
Denali also works with select employee groups to do workshops in the workplace.
Those are often called Money Matters or Food for Thought. Often, a meal or snack is served along with the knowledge.
The focus of each workshop depends on what the business thinks employees might be interested in. Denali has a particularly strong relationship with six organizations, where it’s offered several workshops, Falcone said. And they’re always ready to offer more.
Fernandez said that studies have shown that if employees are financially healthy, they tend to perform better at work. More companies are seeing that, he said.
According to the International Society of Certified Employee Benefits Specialists, 96 percent of workers want and need financial planning and advice. Not providing it can raise an employer’s costs, the group says.
Fernandez said Denali has made presentations for the employee groups for several years, but the Balance program has raised the level of the presentations. Balance offers backup paperwork that participants can take home, and a more formal design for the presentation and discussion.
In addition to the workshops and programs offered online, employees can access an infoline, money management counseling, debt management advice, and help understanding credit reports through Balance.
This year, the credit union is trying to expand the program by putting the workshop sessions online. Fernandez said it may take a while to get them recorded and ready, but eventually that will help reach more members.
The credit union also offers financial literacy programs for youth, mostly through classrooms and schools. Those focus on basic money management, Falcone said.
About 10 percent of Denali’s members are younger than 18.
Molly Dischner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.