How Our Bank Took on Financial Education

By Jeff McCarthy

According to the 2019 PwC Employee Financial Wellness Survey, 76 percent of millennials say they are experiencing financial stress. And they’re not alone. Sixty-five percent of Gen Xers say the same thing, as do 51 percent of boomers. These are staggering numbers.

Perhaps worse yet is the fact that many people don’t know how or where to get help. I taught a class at a local university for two years and discussed this topic with students. I’ll never forget the look on one young woman’s face as she explained, “People think our generation is dumb, and I don’t want to prove them right. I’m not going to ask questions because I don’t want to look stupid.” How sad is that?

At First Bank Financial Centre (FBFC), our mission is to “make lives better.” We do that through our products and services of course, but we also do it through charitable giving, volunteerism—and more recently, through financial education. Today, we take a comprehensive approach toward solving the financial literacy crisis facing our communities.

The beginning

When we launched our new website three years ago, one of our goals was to make the site a true resource for customers and prospects alike. Understanding that banks can be intimidating, and that no one responds to industry jargon, we changed the tone of the site to be conversational and approachable. Further, we launched our Financial Education Centre, complete with video tutorials, self-guided learning modules, and a custom-built account recommendation tool. These resources are provided free of charge and do not require the user to register or log in, making it a safe, judgment-free zone to get smarter about finances.

The launch of our Financial Education Centre was only the first step. We recognize that different people consume content and learn in different ways. One way that we can continue to make lives better is to provide helpful information through a variety of formats to ensure that we have options for every learner.

With that in mind, we supplemented the tools we already had with a blog. Our blog section now boasts more than 60 different article topics covering categories like mortgages, credit solutions, financial planning, and more. Some articles are serious in nature, while others, like “Building the Ultimate Cheese Board on a Budget” are fun and entertaining.

Surprisingly, the blog is not only good for learners, but it’s good for business, too. In March of 2019, our blog titled “Identifying Numbers on Your Check” earned 25,939 new users to our site from all over the country. The blog worked its way up to the number-one ranking on Google search results, generating over $109,000 in value for the bank. In just one month.

The lesson for us was clear: the demand for financial education content is strong, and a community bank like ours can have a definite impact on people’s lives in this regard.

Expanding the reach

To further the reach of our blog content, we push out links to our blog articles through social media. We specifically create posts for LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram that are designed to entertain and educate our followers and ensure that users can find the help they need through platforms that they find most useful.

Beyond our site and social media platforms, we are continuously looking for new ways to reach people with this important content. Through research, we determined that podcasts should be part of our education strategy. According to Nielsen, 51 percent of Americans have now listened to a podcast. Additionally, podcast listeners tend to be heavy social media users, creating a nice synergy between the tools we already had in place and this new technique.

With this research in hand, we launched a radio show called “That’s So Money” in April of this year. In partnership with the top talk radio station in the Milwaukee DMA, the show provides financial education content in a plain-speak, judgment-free way that is fun and entertaining. After the show airs, it’s converted to a podcast and housed on the iHeart Radio platform. Best of all, we can now link our blog, podcast and social media together to create a fully integrated, comprehensive approach to financial education.

We’re not in it alone

To round out the approach, FBFC partners with other like-minded organizations to expand our reach. Our employees frequently volunteer with Junior Achievement to bring financial education to the classroom. In 2018 we were named a Ruby Level partner, meaning that over 50 employees volunteered with this wonderful organization.

Further, we provide several scholarships to students pursuing higher education, including our own “Good Savers” scholarship. This scholarship, valued at $1,000, is awarded each spring to a bank customer who has been an active account holder and is about to begin a four or two-year college or technical school education.

Making lives better

Our dedication to financial education reflects our mission as a community bank. In a recent study by eMoney Advisor, nearly half of respondents (43 percent) report feeling stressed, embarrassed or confused when talking about their personal finances, and 20 percent never talk about money with other people. By providing educational content through a variety of channels and with several community partners, we’re starting the dialog and hoping to relieve the stress so many feel around this critical topic.

Jeff McCarthy is vice president and marketing director at First Bank Financial Centre in Oconomowoc, Wis.

Get Smart About Credit Day is Thursday, Oct. 17. You don’t need to have your own fully developed financial education program to get involved. Get Smart About Credit is just one of the financial education programs sponsored by the ABA Community Engagement Foundation. This national campaign supports and supplies bankers with materials to educate young people on how to use credit wisely. You can register for free to receive access to ABA Foundation’s Get Smart About Credit resource page. There you’ll find school and parent outreach letters, presentation lessons, student activities, communication tools, and promotional materials like the new GSAC Benefits Infographic.