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Offering Solutions Before It's Too Late

By Jennifer Esperanza, Senior Director of Organizational Culture and Strategy

​June 1, 2024

In my previous career as a college professor, I had a steady stream of students visit my office around this time of year. Towards the end of the semester, I’d inevitably have a line of undergraduates waiting outside my office door, ready to discuss a problem they had been struggling with for weeks. Their struggles ranged from needing an extension on an already overdue paper, seeking help to better understand a complex theory they never fully comprehended the first time it was explained, or looking for guidance on studying for the final exam that was scheduled in a few days, and then come to find out, they never even bought the textbook from which the exam would be based - my personal favorite. As the instructor, I tried to show compassion, but silently wondered why they hadn’t come to me earlier, before their problem exacerbated into the bigger dilemma they now had in their hands.

This is not unlike stories I hear from credit union staff serving members at branches all across the country. Members find themselves behind in making a loan payment, struggling to keep sufficient funds in their accounts just as bills need to be paid, or not realizing that the credit union offers a service that is the perfect solution for something they’ve been struggling with for a long time. And just like the college students, credit union members reach out to credit unions for guidance when the problem could have been avoided earlier. My article from last month’s newsletter, “Taking a Proactive Approach to Assist Immigrants” represents one example of the countless stories I hear.

There is a myriad of reasons for not addressing concerns earlier, but there are three common themes I recognized when working with college students: embarrassment; lack of information; and procrastination. Below are some strategies that I used as a professor to help students seek assistance earlier, that are easily translatable in the credit union space.

Normalize Vulnerability to Avoid Shame

As a professor, I found that students were more likely to seek help earlier, the more I normalized vulnerability. I created opportunities to share what they may not know - “Yes, I had trouble paying for my textbooks too, until I found bookstores that sold used copies.” Share stories of your own moments of struggle - “I had trouble understanding how to set-up online bill payment myself.” This helps members embrace a learning stance, not fear judgement and encourages them to seek help earlier rather than later.

Share Specific Examples Where Support Can Be Provided

During the early weeks of the semester, no one would visit me during office hours. I would announce, “My office hours are for anyone who has questions!”  Now imagine telling your credit union members, “Our doors are open for anyone in need of resources!” While sincere, this invitation is too generic and open-ended for a member to fully comprehend what types of resources you’re referring to, and if they qualify. Invite a specific demographic or pose a common dilemma that will showcase how your credit union has the right solution. I was more successful at getting students to visit my office if I said, “Come see me if you scored below a C- on the last exam.” Credit unions can generate more traffic if you address common scenarios such as, “Did you unexpectedly discover that you owe the IRS money this year after filing taxes? Come see us about a loan to help make that payment!”

Create Around the Clock Opportunities to Ask Questions Online

It was challenging for students to find time to seek help amidst the load of responsibilities they were juggling. I decided to set-up an open online forum throughout the semester, allowing students to post questions any time of the day or night. For credit unions, this is where an online chat-bot or 24/7 member services representative can help avoid procrastination. Members have busy lives and sometimes non-traditional work hours—the more touch points to ask questions, the better!

Though not a comprehensive list, these strategies proved effective at encouraging students to address classroom concerns early on and made them feel comfortable seeking guidance. It reassured them that they were not alone and reinforced the options that were available to help them succeed. Similar approaches when offered to members facing financial questions or concerns, not only go a long way in helping members overcome financial difficulties, but ultimately leave members feeling valued and strengthens member relationships for years to come.

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