Wisconsin Credit Union League: Wis. employers vie for free staff training that will help employees, boost productivity

Companies to enroll 4,000 employees in a financial literacy program that offers $400,000 in value for WI firms

Pewaukee, Wis. – Wisconsin companies are lining up fast to enroll their staff in the Investor Education In Your Workplace™ program, a grant-funded program that offers employees 10 hours of self-paced, unbiased online training on money & investing. As many as 4,000 Wisconsin workers could soon become more financially fit thanks to the program that, in addition to offering $400,000 in free training value to Wisconsin firms, may offer improved bottom-line results for participating companies.

“When employees are financially fit, that can help the companies they work for,” said Brett Thompson, President & CEO of the Wisconsin Credit Union League. “Studies have proven that financially savvy employees are less stressed, happier and more productive. And companies that help their staff achieve peace of mind with their pocketbooks often see fewer workplace distractions, improved employee morale, reduced absenteeism and decreased turnover.”

Companies seeking more information can register for a free webinar planned for 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 23 that will explain the program in detail. The webinar repeats on March 2. Companies that wish to participate should register immediately for either session since demand is expected to exceed capacity. Questions should be directed to Ellen Smith at (608) 205-4046 or by email at [email protected].

More than 3,500 employees from 80 credit unions – member-owned financial institutions – completed 30,000 hours of investment education in 2009 – the year the program was developed and piloted in the United States. Twenty-two of those employees received advanced training in 2010 to become Certified Financial Educators® (CFEd®) – a nationally recognized designation by the Heartland Institute. This year those specially trained community educators will offer the same basic online program they initially completed to employers across the state.

The Certified Financial Educators® will help recruit participating companies, coordinate the online training for firms in their area and coach participating learners. These trainers are impartial educators tasked with imparting a command of basic investment and financial literacy concepts. They are strictly bound by a code of conduct to provide unbiased information and not promote specific financial products, partners or services, making them a valuable third party and objective “coach” to help employees and employers alike.

The online coursework, which engages learners at their own pace, focuses on investing concepts including setting goals, planning for educational needs as well as financial emergencies, distinguishing among investment vehicles, managing risk, diversifying a portfolio, maximizing tax advantages, understanding mutual funds and working with investment professionals.

Credit union employees who completed the program achieved tremendous success: an average passing grade of 87.69% on coursework and an average 23.31% improvement in knowledge. Furthermore, they used that knowledge to make many positive changes in their financial behaviors including 5% to 50% increases in the number of participants to create a family budget; set short-, medium- and long-term goals, as well as make regular contributions to a tax-deferred retirement plan like an IRA or 401(k).

“The goal is to debunk a common fallacy that has prevented most Americans from doing the basic investing they’ll need to secure their futures,” Thompson explained. “Workers often mistakenly believe that they can never get ahead financially because they have too few dollars to invest and that common expenses will derail those efforts. But that’s not true. Every person with income, no matter how modest, can turn small contributions to investment accounts into significant assets while at the same time planning for life’s inevitable financial emergencies.”

“We can’t afford to let individuals’ failure to plan for their futures become an enormous public burden. That would be totally unsustainable,” Thompson continued. “So we’ve turned to the workplace, which has proven an effective environment for basic financial learning, to ensure that average working people take simple steps to improve their financial security. And that includes people living paycheck to paycheck, whether they are making modest wages or above average salaries. Both types of earners, if not investing, will have troubled futures.”

Participating companies will be encouraged to allow employees to engage in the coursework during working hours although that is not required. Employee participation will be strictly voluntary. Companies will receive materials to facilitate employee involvement, including posters, PowerPoint presentations and more. Additional webinars will be offered throughout the duration of the program – which is expected to begin in April and end in July – to encourage progress. Employees will be recognized with certificates and companies will achieve recognition – at gold, silver and bronze levels – for varying levels of staff participation.

The Investor Education in Your Workplace™ program was so successful for Wisconsin credit unions – which called their pilot program Real Progress & Pathways to Prosperity (or RP3) – that credit unions in Pennsylvania and North Carolina have also enrolled in hopes of replicating that success. They, too, hope not only to stimulate investing among credit union members in their respective states, but also to turn out advanced investment grads who can offer the same basic, online investing program in additional workplaces.

Credit unions are participating in the project as part of their REAL Solutions initiative, which helps people of all incomes build wealth. As not-for-profits without stockholders, credit unions’ role is to help people regardless of profit.

Additional Partners include the Puelicher Center for Banking Education at the Wisconsin School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Precision Information and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.

Funding for the program includes more than $250,000 in grants from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT), a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education. Since 1993 the IPT has worked with the states to provide the independent, objective investor education needed by all Americans to make informed investment decisions. Visit http://www.investorprotection.org.