Marketing

Early Mistakes Lead to Life's Purpose

To reach youth, speak their language.

February 01, 2011
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Who: Juli Lewis

What: Youth Marketing Manager, Suncoast Schools FCU

Where: Tampa, Fla.

My responsibility as a regional coordinator for the National Youth Involvement Board (NYIB): Motivate, inspire, and connect credit unions—with the goal of youth financial literacy. I work with other financial educators to track and pursue classroom presentations, establish student-run branches, and use NYIB as a resource.

NYIB involvement allows me to: Share my genuine enthusiasm for young people, financial education, and credit unions. Consumers often turn to credit unions because of negative experiences at banks. I’ve been a Suncoast Schools Federal employee for 18 years, and a very happy member my entire life. I want to connect more youth with my experience.

Youth financial education has always been a personal priority for me because: Like many teenagers, I moved into an apartment I couldn’t afford right after high school. To pay for it, I feasted on Ramen noodles, economized by re-using paper towels, struggled to do laundry regularly—all while often working two part-time jobs and taking college classes. That glorious life cost me my full academic scholarship my freshman year because I couldn’t keep my grades up. The debt accumulated because I couldn’t resist all those free T-shirts and beach towels that came with signing up for credit cards. I needed more clean towels! I made every mistake imaginable. After about six months of independent living, I had to break the lease, tuck my tail, and beg my parents to let me move back home. At that point, I was broke, had about $3,000 in credit card debt, had lost my scholarship, and had just broken a lease, which I learned I had to pay back. And my credit was destroyed. All of this came at the beginning of my adult life. Thankfully, my parents took me back and taught me a valuable lesson.

My early mistakes had a silver lining: A couple years later, Suncoast Schools Federal hired me. I often use my experience as a “teaching moment,” hoping to help young people avoid similar mistakes. The best news is that I found my purpose as a result of my lack of knowledge.

CUs must be more rele­vant and accessible to young consumers: Credit unions are doing a great job of creating and growing youth programs. The average age of our members, however, remains close to 50. Youth programs at credit unions are like junior sections in department stores. Yes, you’ll have some sales, but most likely to parents shopping for their kids. So the average age of the customer is high. Retailers that focus directly on youth (such as Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister, and Aéropostale) attract youth directly. Young people shop at these stores, even though the prices often are higher. It would be nice if credit unions could build “specialty youth” branches and websites like these successful youth retailers.

To reach youth: We have to speak their language. Today, that means electronic literacy. They want information, options, flexibility, and communication through electronic devices and programs, including their smart phones. Credit unions are often conservative by nature, but we can “up our youth” in many ways—beginning with being connected to the NYIB for fast-track resources.

We must also serve retirees: We have to speak their language, too. Located in sunny Florida, Suncoast Schools is adept at serving this market segment because they comprise a large portion of our demographic. Women and seniors are the fastest-growing Facebook market segments, so we stay connected that way and serve them well with free online banking and bill pay, direct deposit, a large ATM network, and very minimal account requirements. We make it easy for them to access products and services using tools they’re comfortable with.

An inspirational story about my job: One of our student-run branches is located at a career center—a second-chance high school for kids separated from a “regular” high school for one or more reasons. Some have had problems with drugs, gang activity, pregnancy, attendance, or family issues. Most of the students have little or no parental support or guidance, and graduation is considered ambitious. At this very student-run branch, a female student faced difficult odds. Although hesitant and a little withdrawn at first, she ended up being one of our best student branch workers. Her attendance and grades improved. The branch seemed to give her a renewed hope and purpose, helping her set goals and work toward them. Once headed for an uncertain life as a single teen mother, she earned her high-school diploma and is now a very valued Suncoast Schools employee. “People helping people”—that’s the credit union motto in action.

Next: Effective mentors

To pay for the apartment, I feasted on Ramen noodles, economized by re-using paper towels, struggled to do laundry regularly—all while often working two part-time jobs and taking college classes. That glorious life cost me my full academic scholarship my freshman year because I couldn’t keep my grades up. The debt accumulated because I couldn’t resist all those free T-shirts and beach towels that came with signing up for credit cards. I needed more clean towels! I made every mistake imaginable. After about six months of independent living, I had to break the lease, tuck my tail, and beg my parents to let me move back home. At that point, I was broke, had about $3,000 in credit card debt, had lost my scholarship, and had just broken a lease, which I learned I had to pay back. And my credit was destroyed. All of this came at the beginning of my adult life. Thankfully, my parents took me back and taught me a valuable lesson.

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