Pelican State Credit Union Nation’s First to Certify Entire Staff in New Online Financial Counseling Training Program

Pelican State Credit Union Nation’s First to Certify Entire Staff in New Online Financial Counseling Training Program

BATON ROUGE - In a continued effort to assist its members at every touch point possible, Pelican State Credit Union ($200 million: 33,530 members; Baton Rouge, LA) has become the nation's first financial institution to certify its entire staff in the Community Development Certified Financial Counseling (CDCFC) training program created by CU Strategic Planning, a CDFI grant writing and marketing consulting company. Essential for credit unions serving moderate-to-low-income populations, the CDCFC training, testing, and certification ensures credit unions like Pelican State can better serve its members who are experiencing financial challenges. Pelican State's entire staff completed the certification on November 30, 2012.

According to CU Strategic Planning's President/CEO Chuck Cockburn, CDCFC's training focuses on lending to "working class" consumers who need loans for better financial footing. It works by allowing credit unions to "invent" their own qualified borrowers by coaching members to become credit worthy. "Obtaining certification is also an effective way for mainstream credit unions, not just CDFIs, to better serve their members when they experience challenging times with finances," adds Cockburn.

Because CDCFC's training is an online curriculum with testing protocols and security equivalent to a proctored exam, its training and tools are never out of date. Pelican State can leverage new tools and information that are continually added, as predatory lenders consistently update their practices to find ways around changing regulations.

"Since we have 10 branches located throughout Louisiana, the fact that our entire staff could be certified online was really appealing to us," states Pelican State's CEO Jeffrey Conrad. "We are now the first financial institution not only to have its whole staff certified but also the first to use this new certification program to help our members with their finances."

The credit union's business practices have always included providing free introductory credit counseling to its members through its Credit Management Program. Today, when members call, chat, email, or visit a branch, they will be speaking with a certified financial counselor who can provide them with sound guidance. According to Conrad, the CDCFC program "will provide a certified financial counselor at every human touch point."

The CDCFC program is the standard financial counseling certification obtained by Community Development Credit Unions serious about providing financial counseling to their target markets.

"The certification process is more than just a webinar," he adds. "It is an in-depth course that teaches everything from the latest predatory lending practices to helping members improve their credit scores. It's time consuming but an educational and rewarding process for us and ultimately our members."

The advantage Pelican State gains from having each employee certified is that it can clearly determine which members are in need of in-depth credit counseling. The credit union can identify the patterns and warning signs of a member in trouble and refer them to one of its full-time credit counselors for further assistance, which also includes loan officers or collectors for workout loans, debt consolidation, or budgeting assistance. Additionally, the program has encouraged the credit union to develop its own community resource database for members who need non-financial help. Pelican can refer members to the proper organizations.

"For the sake of our members, we wanted to ensure that no matter which method they use to contact us, or which employee assists them with their needs, they were receiving information and guidance from someone with a strong financial education knowledge base," explains Conrad. "We are empowering all employees to be effective ambassadors for our credit union and project the knowledge they have gained through this certification."

Financial education is one of Pelican State's main priorities and its efforts have been awarded at national and local levels several times. The credit union has a Credit Management Department made up of five fulltime Nationally Certified Credit Counselors. This department does not generate revenue; its services are offered to members completely free of charge as a good will gesture. Members in need of in-depth credit counseling are referred to the Credit Management Department. These team members are located strategically throughout the state so all members can easily access them.