(September 22, 2015)
Currently in its pilot stage, a project designed to promote financial literacy in communities served by electric cooperatives while building credit union membership is gaining momentum and generating enthusiasm among co-op sector leaders.
Called Operation Connect, the project brings together credit unions and rural electric co-ops operating in the same geographic location to promote financial literacy, budgeting skills and long-term financial planning for the 42 million electric co-op members nationwide.
“A small but significant portion of these members experience difficulty in meeting their payments, often due to a lack of financial literacy in budgeting their financial obligations,” said project architect Adam Schwartz, an NCBA CLUSA senior consultant for Domestic Operations and founder of The Cooperative Way. “The payment collection process, disconnect and reconnect of electricity is costly for both consumers and electric co-ops,” he added.
“If we can intercede to end this cycle, we can improve quality of life for electric co-op members while also growing the number of credit union members,” Schwartz said.
In Virginia, the Fort Lee Federal Credit Union and Prince George Electric Co-op have already partnered to offer financial literacy seminars paired with easy, low-cost home improvement ideas to help lower monthly household energy costs. There are several other potential cross-sector partnerships in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota, Schwartz said.
NCBA CLUSA is working with its project development partners, including the CUNA Cooperative Alliance Committee, and the National Credit Union Foundation to create a toolkit that credit unions and electric co-ops can use to expedite the rollout of Operation Connect nationwide.
Pat Sterner, NCBA CLUSA COO for Domestic Operations, said cross-sector efforts, such as Operation Connect, are a priority for NCBA CLUSA. “We are thrilled to launch a project that puts Principle 6—cooperation among cooperatives—in action while building financial independence and energy efficiency in communities across the U.S.,” she said.
NCBA CLUSA anticipates a full launch of Operation Connect in 2016, Sterner said.