A Banker and a Programmer Walk Into a School…

It’s no joke: How Pinnacle Bank’s partnership with Banzai delivers financial education and CRA credit.  

By Bryce Peterson

Pinnacle Bank, a $11.6 billion regional bank based in Lincoln, Neb., has 151 locations across seven states. Each of its market areas has its own unique needs and culture, which means implementing a cohesive, CRA-compliant financial education program is no small effort.

The ABA Foundation has partnered with Banzai for this year’s Lights, Camera, Save!—a national contest that encourages teens to use video to communicate the value of sound money management. Through this partnership, Banzai connects educators across the country with banks looking to promote financial education to teens in their local communities.
Sue Kocsis, Pinnacle Bank’s CRA/fair lending officer, has it covered. Individual CRA examiners often interpret CRA differently than banks, and that’s where tension can occur. But Kocsis has cultivated a strong relationship with her CRA examiner, who has given clear guidance to Pinnacle Bank.

Generally speaking, bank-sponsored financial education programs may be eligible for CRA credit if they involve:

  • Investments in—or contributions to—a program, activity or organization that provides financial services education programs targeted to low- and moderate-income individuals; and
  • Providing bank staff to serve as educators in financial literacy programs targeted to low- and moderate-income individuals.

Pinnacle Bank sponsors financial education for a number of schools—including those in which most students qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch. Even better, the bank receives service activity credit when a representative visits classrooms to teach students personally. To facilitate service activity, Pinnacle’s education software partner, Banzai, provides a teacher interface with a function that lets them request in-class presentations. This functionality makes it easier for individual branches to connect with schools and earn that service activity credit. In addition, the partner provides supplemental classroom activity kits. The first activity is “Interview a Pro,” which encourages teachers and students to interview a bank representative to answer questions about personal finance. These sessions also help the bank earn service hours.

Best practice: involving branches

Kocsis kicked things off by promoting the program to every branch. The partner helped the implementation process by holding training sessions with all stakeholders as needed. While the partner company did all of the marketing and outreach to the schools to help get teacher buy-in, Kocsis worked on getting organization-wide buy-in on the bank side.

In the beginning, Kocsis promoted the program to her branches several ways:

  • Marketing it to the whole organization, top-down
  • Demonstrating the course to stakeholders
  • Explaining what community outreach activities qualify for CRA

She created fliers using information from the program website and sent them to every branch manager and possible stakeholder. Then she announced the new partnership in the compliance department’s newsletter. Employees were then given the opportunity to try the program themselves.

Of the partnership, Kocsis says: “The outreach was bigger. We could reach more individuals in a classroom setting than we could ever reach just doing this on our own.” She adds that before finding a partner, “our financial education was inconsistent among branches—a few branches offered it while others did not, and courses were not always conducted on a regular basis, which may not have had a long-term benefit for some students. It’s hard to measure success without feedback or grading system.”

In the thick of it

Now that Pinnacle Bank’s financial education program is up and running, branches get involved in a few ways:

  • Teaching in classrooms in their area
  • Highlighting good feedback from students and teachers for other stakeholders to see
  • Reaching out to teachers individually

To keep her CRA contacts at each branch involved, Kocsis uses online analytics software that tracks usage and orders to identify when there’s a teacher who wants a classroom presentation. Here’s how Pinnacle Bank described the results in a 2018 newsletter article:

As more branches are getting involved, word is spreading, and more educators are signing up to teach the course. Most recently, the Thermopolis, Wyo., branch sponsored three schools:

  • Hot Springs County High School
  • Thermopolis Middle School
  • Ralph Witters Elementary School

A total of 180 books have been ordered, and a press release announcing the branch’s involvement is scheduled to be released in the local newspaper in early March. In addition, new orders are coming in weekly.

Because Pinnacle Bank’s service area is so large, Kocsis relies on individual branches to go out to schools and give presentations. This approach is more personal—and the students get to know their local bank better. Over the course of its sponsorship, Pinnacle has had more than 70 classroom presentation requests.

She also shares student and teacher feedback in monthly newsletters for the compliance department. She publishes how many teacher orders they’ve had, classroom presentations and feedback, giving stakeholders at Pinnacle Bank a window into how the program is performing.

A summary of hours logged in the course app for each sponsored school shows that one school in Cheyenne, Wyo., recently logged over 2,500 hours of student usage—up from 1,300 hours the year before. “There’s no way in the world a bank could teach that many hours and also have a lasting effect on students,” Kocsis says.

She continues: “I think it’s important that teachers are given recognition, as well. Without the support of these teachers, Pinnacle Bank would not be as successful in providing financial literacy opportunities.” These teachers’ support has amounted to 8,218 student hours—an impressive number for just two years of sponsorship.

Bryce Peterson is a marketer for Banzai, a provider of financial education that helps more than 800 financial institutions across the United States achieve their outreach and compliance goals. Banzai’s financial education simulation tool uses nature’s most sophisticated teaching method: trial and error. Students use it to experiment with finances in an accountable, yet safe environment. It’s also a self-sustaining service that can go as big and wide as sponsors want, with analytics that streamline marketing coordination within large organizations.