In a Nutshell: Centris Federal Credit Union uses its resources to position members to build wealth through education. Its trained employees answer members’ questions and solve their problems. Members and nonmembers have access to seminars and online resources through the credit union so they learn more about the best ways to save money. A local university and online financial literacy platform are just a few of Centris Federal Credit Union’s partners in researching and teaching the best practices for financial success, helping the credit union earn our Editor’s Choice™ Award.
Centris Federal Credit Union’s story begins nearly 90 years ago under a different name. In 1934, seven coworkers pooled their money and formed Omaha Telephone Employees Credit Union with just $49 after local banks could not meet their needs.
Centris decided to open up its membership to a broader demographic through a community charter. Its headquarters are in Omaha, Nebraska, but the credit union serves several counties in the state and one county in Iowa.
Anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Douglas, Sarpy, Lincoln, or McPherson counties in Nebraska or Pottawattamie County in Iowa is eligible for membership. Employees of certain companies in Grand Island, Nebraska, as well as immediate family of members, can also apply to become a member.
Centris puts its members’ financial well-being first. As a credit union, Centris does not answer to shareholders looking for large profits. All the money the credit union makes goes back to its members by offering better products and services that are designed to save members money.
“We tie your health and wealth together,” Centris Federal Credit Union Vice President of Community Relations Dawn Gonzales said. “You need to be challenging yourself with your budget. The more you know about what’s in your wallet, the more informed you will be when you are making financial decisions.”
Providing Members Resources At the Right Time
Centris Federal Credit Union leverages its vast online presence with an inclusive branch network. The credit union features 15 locations, two of which are in Iowa.
Members can go into any branch and know they are working with a professional trained to guide them through their finances. Centris wants people inside its branches to ask questions on how to save.
Sales representatives are trained to coach and provide the resources people need to budget their money better. A common tool used by many members is to set up automatic transfers from checking to savings in an amount that fits within the member’s own budget.
“If I walked into the branch today, and I asked about how I could save $1,000 in the next year in my savings account, they can direct me to do that,” Gonzales said.
Members can find educational resources online at any time of day. Centris regularly uploads blog posts that cover trending financial topics, such as 12 Tips to Help You Save Money.
Podcasts are a great way to consume in-depth information in an easy-to-digest format. Centris hosts its own podcast that takes a deep dive into essential topics on finance.
The podcast is called “A Penny Or Two For Your Thoughts”. Its hosts talk to Centris content experts about how a variety of topics from how to detect fraud to buying a home. Interviews have also included the credit union’s leadership.
Classes are also a vital part of what Centris does to educate people in its communities. Members and even nonmembers can take part in the credit union’s classes to discuss budgeting and understanding credit.
“We teach people about the actions they may be taking to damage their credit or actions they need to continue doing to maintain or improve their good credit,” Gonzales said. “We go over what people need to keep doing and help them understand how credit bureaus look at their information that can impact rates they pay on loans or even insurance.”
Financial Literacy Emphasizes Early Education
Centris prides itself on its multiple approaches to financial education. The target audience for the credit union’s educational resources are adult members and nonmembers of the community, but many of the lessons are also relevant to children and teenagers.
The credit union uses a youth-focused program known as Mad City Money that’s for high school students. Students receive a packet of information that provides them with a career and a salary. The students role-play based on the packet they received and must learn how to budget their money. Many students realize they may be unable to afford the luxuries they want without throwing their budget off.
“This immersion activity is something that they walk away remembering and realizing that life is about choices,” Gonzales said. “Those financial decisions that mom and dad or their guardians make on an everyday basis can be challenging.”
The credit union also works with first- and second-year college students to better prepare them for life ahead. Several nonprofit mentor organizations partner with Centris as well to provide mentoring for underserved youth.
Students and community members have access to an online financial wellness center created in partnership with an online financial education provider. The program provides those visiting the site with 50 learning modules to practice and study financial literacy at their own pace..
Researching Solutions to Close the Poverty Gap
Centris Federal Credit Union emphasizes the importance of financial literacy and health and wellness, not just for its members, but also for its employees. The credit union understands it cannot put itself in a position to help others without happy and knowledgeable employees.
Earlier this year, employees took part in a new initiative for Centris’ own internal wellness program. Staff completed two challenges and earned a T-shirt they could wear with jeans and sneakers every Wednesday as a reward. The challenge tied health and financial wellness together so employees can be mindful of their habits and choices that impact their health.
“If you’re making healthy choices, your greatest wealth is your health,” Gonzales said. “We encourage our staff to be thinking about healthy choices while also thinking about financial literacy.”
“Stress and money go hand in hand to create other issues,” Gonzales said. “If you’re stressed about your money, you’ll begin to worry, which is not good for your body. We know that stress is a large cause of irritation in the body and stress can lead to chronic illness if it is not managed appropriately.”
The credit union has invested more than $200,000 into the Financial Hope Collaborative’s Financial Success Program, housed at Creighton University.
The Financial Hope Collaborative, located in Omaha, Nebraska, has been instrumental in helping many low to moderate income families find financial stability. The program’s curriculum helps families fix immediate financial issues and learn to make better decisions by tracking expenses, saving for emergencies and following a budget.