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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Lake Trust Credit Union Powers Community Wellbeing Through Products, Education, and Philanthropy

Lake Trust Credit Union Powers Community Well Being
Mike Senecal

Written by: Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal
Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal draws on more than 20 years of editorial experience to update readers on industry trends, business news, and best practices in budgeting and credit use. Mike has worked for decades in academic and trade publishing, including roles as managing editor and technical editor at the University of Florida and as contributor to finance industry publications, including Surety Bond Quarterly and Independent Agent, among others. Mike holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina, and he enjoys bringing his years of academic and industry expertise online to help consumers of diverse financial backgrounds.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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In a Nutshell: For the team at Michigan’s Lake Trust Credit Union, financial wellbeing means a positive emotional connection to money to build stronger, more empowered communities. The credit union achieves that through products that give members a clearer path to their goals, education to help students, community members, and small businesses. Lake Trust’s other approach to community-building is philanthropy that reaches out to the underserved and supports development. It’s an intentional strategy of universal caring based on Lake Trust’s vision of a world in which everyone thrives.

Lake Trust Credit Union serves more than 180,000 members with branches across Michigan’s lower peninsula and manages more than $2.6 billion in assets, putting it in the top 1% of America’s credit unions. That outsized presence powers an ambitious community impact strategy with creative approaches to products, financial education, and philanthropy.

Lake Trust — 22 branches strong as of spring 2024 — has gathered steam since it formed through a merger of equals in 2010. Since then, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Linda Douglas said it has focused on helping members achieve financial wellbeing, which it defines as a positive emotional connection with money.

“Financial wellbeing is our heart and soul,” Douglas said. “We’re dedicated to helping our members walk the journey by meeting them where they are and providing them with tools and solutions to achieve their goals.”

Lake Trust Credit Union logo

Douglas said financial wellbeing is the pinnacle of a tiered view of the credit union’s mission. The first tier is financial education, which Lake Trust provides online through blogs, articles, newsletters, and webinars. It also offers in-person financial education through workshops and programs.

Those resources help people and businesses progress to the second tier, financial wellness, knowing the right thing to do with money. The key to money mastery is making confident personal and business decisions.

Douglas said financial wellbeing makes financial wellness possible. A positive emotional relationship with money bolsters the people-serving-people ethos of credit unions. Encouraging financial wellbeing enables member-owned financial institutions like Lake Trust to become agents of change.

“We each have the power to improve our financial wellbeing, to strive for better,” Douglas said. “When we come together, we positively impact our communities and the world.”

An Engine of Member and Community Wellbeing

As a relatively large credit union, Lake Trust offers broad-ranging personal and business financial products to suit members from all walks of life. The common thread in the product lineup is empowering member and community wellbeing. Douglas said many products fit that mold.

On the personal side, Aspire Savings stands out because it rewards members with an annual percentage yield boost on the first $5,000 on their account — in contrast to conventional higher-yield savings products that offer higher rates on deposits above a threshold.

“We designed Aspire Savings to incentivize members to build their emergency funds,” Douglas said. “When we first created the product, the threshold was $2,000, but we’ve since increased this to $5,000 to encourage higher savings.”

Linda Douglas
Linda Douglas is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Lake Trust.

The Lake Trust Easy Cash Loan stands out in the personal loan product lineup because it doesn’t follow a traditional loan decisioning model. The underwriting looks at the applicant’s relationship with Lake Trust instead of basing the lending decision on credit scores. Broader underwriting opens the benefits of a $1,000 to $2,000 loan to more members, including those struggling financially.

The Life Impact Loan follows more traditional underwriting criteria while making credit available to members facing unemployment or labor action or dealing with a natural disaster or a family crisis. Created in response to a 2019 auto industry strike that affected many members, the Life Impact Loan provides access to lower-cost credit to help people overcome sudden financial stress.

Lake Trust became a federally certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in 2018, enabling it to strategically generate community economic growth and opportunity. On the business side of the portfolio, Small Business Microloans are one outgrowth of the CDFI designation.

“Our CDFI application included an intention to create products to support entrepreneurs,” Douglas said. “Small Business Microloans can supply lines of credit, vehicle loans, and fixed loans to help founders, freelancers, and seasoned business owners achieve their goals.”

Practical Knowledge for Consumers and Businesses

Financial education is essential to helping members, businesses, consumers, and communities achieve their full potential and contribute to the greater good. Lake Trust provides education through various online channels, including its engaging blog, which keeps readers updated regarding the credit union’s operations and community impact efforts.

“Frequent content updates focus on topics such as creating an emergency fund, improving your credit score, and using your tax refund to best advantage,” Douglas said. “We really try to provide basic, consumer-friendly advice.”

Middle Village
Lake Trust sponsors Middle Village, an incubator to nurture small retail businesses.

The blog takes a seasonal approach when possible, posting content about holiday gift buying, New Year’s resolutions, Mother’s Day, and back-to-school issues at appropriate times. Lake Trust also produces a member newsletter.

The credit union also prioritizes in-person financial education, partnering with Wayne State University, for example, to present student workshops. Another educational partner is the Legacy Center Sports Complex, which supports various school sports. The Lake Trust team presents financial planning seminars to high school students through the Legacy Center.

Businesses and communities receive support through Lake Trust’s sponsorship of Middle Village, a Downtown Lansing community development organization project. Middle Village repurposes a formerly vacant storefront in Lansing as an incubator to nurture small retail cohorts by letting them test their business ideas before taking the plunge and renting space for themselves.

Lake Trust conducts classes for each new startup to provide them with business know-how and marketing finesse. Classes tackle fundamentals such as financial statements and delve into more creative strategies.

“Much of our approach is around financial literacy, but we go beyond that to subjects like small business branding,” Douglas said. “My team puts on the brand-building class, and cohort members learn to tell their brand stories.”

Giving Back to Power Stronger Community Bonds

Michigan mandates financial education in public schools, so Lake Trust supports students in other ways. For example, the Lake Trust Foundation, the credit union’s philanthropic nonprofit, provides scholarships to Michiganders seeking to pursue further education, including those planning to enter the trades.

“We support students pursuing different types of education,” Douglas said.

Other community support takes on a purely philanthropic tone. Every year in the fall, the credit union encourages employees to volunteer time during Lake Trust’s Powered by Good Day, scheduled to coincide with Indigenous People’s Day when the credit union is closed. Credit union employees donated more than 1,000 hours in 2023.

Lake Trust partnered with children’s book publisher Scholastic to provide volunteer-distributed books to students at two local schools during 2023’s Powered by Good Day. Volunteers matched students with books they were interested in to encourage them to read.

Volunteers also worked with children’s coat and shoe provider Operation Warm to provide every student at one school with a winter coat.

During Powered by Good Day, credit union volunteers are out in the community, contributing time and energy to programs to reduce food and housing insecurity, earning CPR certification through the American Red Cross, and volunteering at local nonprofits to provide food, housing, clothing, financial assistance, job training, and access to helpful resources.

Giving back also permeates Lake Trust’s product line. For example, since 2019, the credit union has donated to local housing-focused charities whenever it closes a mortgage loan. Lake Trust has contributed more than $260,000 to local housing charities since that program’s inception.

It’s all part of Lake Trust’s ongoing commitment to live up to its responsibility as a leading member-owned financial institution in Michigan. In a state where change may be the only constant, Lake Trust continually steps up on behalf of members and communities.
“We envision a world in which everyone thrives,” Douglas said. “We intentionally use that word because we are a union of hope for everyone and everything we touch.”