"We wanted to do something different to help our members improve their financial situations."
By Rhonda Miller PBN Staff Writer
Meg Sisco is vice president of marketing for Westerly Community Credit Union. She is responsible for development and implementation of the credit union’s strategic marketing plan and for managing all marketing department segments, including communication, graphics and advertising – both online and print – as well as electronic marketing, community outreach programs and sponsorships.
She has 23 years of experience as a marketing professional. She is on the board of trustees of South County Hospital, chair of the board of directors of VNS Home Health Services and is active with the Chariho Financial Literacy Board. She is also active in the Credit Union Association of Rhode Island’s Marketing Committee, American Bankers Association Marketing Network, the American Marketing Association and the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council.
Sisco has a bachelor’s in business administration with a major in marketing from Bryant University. She earned the designation of Certified Senior Executive from the Credit Union Executive Society’s Center for Applied Executive Management.
PBN: What’s the goal of Westerly Community Credit Union’s Take the Challenge program?
SISCO: We see first-hand how the economy has affected our members, with businesses closing, layoffs and the difficulty of finding work. We wanted to do something different to help our members improve their financial situations. The Take the Challenge program is a way for us to achieve our main goal – helping our members achieve financial success. We believe in it so strongly that we have made it our service mission for all staff at Westerly Community Credit Union. It is a concrete way we know we are helping each member, rather than the typical industry approach of selling products and services. Although we are a full-service financial institution, we want to be known for something even more beneficial.
PBN: What have you found to be the most challenging part of financial planning for your customers who have participated in the Take the Challenge program?
SISCO: Some members have many financial goals they would like to achieve at once, whether it is to reduce debt, improve their credit score or save for retirement. Sometimes they are too overwhelmed with all the goals and don’t know where to start. By using the Take the Challenge worksheet, we can prioritize those goals and work on them top down. Sometimes solving one priority can lead to solving many of them. Improving a credit score, for example, can help secure a consolidation loan at a better rate and reduce debt, which, in turn, can help them start a retirement or emergency saving account.
PBN: Across Rhode Island, many banks, nonprofits and some state agencies are offering programs that provide guidelines on how to better manage finances. How is Westerly Community Credit Union’s Take the Challenge program unique?
SISCO: Although there may be others in our community that offer to help customers manage their finances, our Take the Challenge program is different. First, it is a free program offered to all WCCU members regardless of what products and services they have with us. Second, there are no obligations or requirements to open certain accounts when they Take the Challenge. We simply work with them to determine their financial goals and priorities. We pull a soft credit report, then we look for ways to help them achieve their goals, such as consolidation, saving on rates or budgeting to start saving. And finally, what is great about our Take the Challenge program is that we can customize a program based on the specific needs or concerns of the individual. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some of our employees have even been designated as Certified Financial Counselors through the CUNA Financial Counseling Certification Program, so they are available to help with situations that may be somewhat complicated or that have special financial circumstances.
PBN: The Take the Challenge program offers customers time with a Westerly Community Credit Union financial services officer. How does the credit union justify that kind of time and cost of staff, especially anticipating that some customers will show up without necessary documents or preparation to make the time spent worthwhile?
SISCO: Our main goal is to help as many people become financial successful as we can. It may sound altruistic, but that is why credit unions are different than banks. Our first priority is always to help our members succeed. It makes sense for us to provide the resources to help make that happen. Our staff believes in it and is very willing to put in the time necessary. We believe that doing this will build loyalty with a member that will last a lifetime, and through that lifetime they will look to us for all of their financial needs.
PBN: The Rhode Island economy has been struggling for quite a long time. Is it realistic to assume that if customers benefit from the Take the Challenge program it could, eventually, have an overall positive impact on the state economy – or is that too much to expect?
SISCO: There is an old adage that says, “Think globally, act locally.” I think that applies with the Take the Challenge program. We will do our best to help our members succeed financially. We have worked with more than 1,600 members so far, helping some with immediate needs and starting others down the right path. We have more than 15,900 members and are growing, so we still have a ways to go. Our Take the Challenge program dovetails perfectly with our other existing financial education programs, especially ones we work so hard on in local schools, such as the Save for America School Savings Program in elementary schools in Westerly, Chariho and Narragansett. We also sponsor other financial literacy education, including Everfi, Cemark and the CU 4 Reality financial literacy fairs at Westerly, Chariho, Exeter-West Greenwich, South Kingstown and Narragansett high schools. These programs are sponsored with the hopes that we can teach our children the importance of good financial management skills so they will be better prepared for the challenges ahead. We really concentrate on starting in our local communities and hope these programs can make a difference.