A Wisconsin community bank builds relationships for life through financial literacy outreach
By Audrey Wright-Cipriano
Headquarters: Prairie du Sac, Wis.
Assets: $348 million
Retail locations: Two
Full-time employees: 49
Innovative InstructionThe Bank of Prairie du Sac in Prairie du Sac, Wis., has been involved in financial literacy efforts with its local school district for more than two decades. However, the community bank expanded those efforts when it began providing scholarships to a local high school teacher to attend national financial literacy education conferences.
Since then, the teacher, Joel Chrisler, has attended the conference for the past five years and implemented several innovative classroom activities, including lessons where high school students now teach grade-school students money management skills.
“It’s great to have a partnership with someone who shares the same passion we do,” says Brianna Yanke, Bank of Prairie du Sac’s marketing director.
When Roxi Maier, senior vice president of Bank of Prairie du Sac, Wis., asked her high school freshman son’s friends if they had opened their first checking accounts yet, she was surprised when they scoffed, “What do we need checking accounts for?”
Further questioning revealed that the teens did in fact understand what a checking account was, but due to the decline of paper checks they referred to demand deposit accounts as debit card accounts.
This encounter underscores the importance of talking to youth about money management in financial parlance that they use and understand. Bank of Prairie du Sac, a $348 million-asset community bank with two retail locations, has been a passionate advocate of youth financial literacy for more than two decades, but its strategic partnership with the Sauk Prairie school district has helped the bank expand its efforts and reach while also staying fresh and relevant.
Brianna Yanke, the bank’s marketing director, says that approximately six years ago Bank of Prairie du Sac approached the school district about the possibility of providing a scholarship for a teacher to attend the Jump$tart National Educator Conference. Hosted by the Jump$tart Coalition, a nonprofit of various organizations seeking to advance youth financial literacy, the event is the only national conference dedicated to preparing teachers to provide personal finance education for the classroom. Each year, the conference provides pre-kindergarten to 12th-grade teachers with financial education resources, personal and professional development, access to a nationwide network of colleagues and general support for financial education.
Sauk Prairie High School consumer economics teacher Joel Chrisler was invited to attend the conference and jumped at the opportunity. A veteran educator of 24 years and a lifelong resident of Prairie du Sac, Chrisler returned from the conference brimming with ideas and sat down with representatives from the bank to debrief and discuss how they could work together to implement some of his conference takeaways.
Chrisler says he and the bank’s staff members debated offering an adult education program, but ended up nixing that idea. “We decided our efforts would bear more fruit if we focused on building a solid financial literacy base first that would encourage lifelong awareness of basic money management concepts. After some thought it occurred to me that my high school students could take some of the lessons we were learning, put it together into a fun program and then take it to the elementary schools,” he says.
The Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy program was officially launched in 2011. As part of the program, Chrisler’s high school students give presentations to elementary school students that highlight basic financial literacy concepts such as needs, wants, making choices, savings and earnings. Bank of Prairie du Sac’s team has the opportunity to introduce the student presenters and serves as a resource to them during the presentations.
Over the years, the program has evolved from storytelling and hands-on activities to include interactive technology in the classroom, like smart boards, for the presentations. In 2011, Chrisler received the Robert W. Baird and Economics Wisconsin Excellence in Teaching Award and in 2012 was selected by the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy to receive the Wisconsin Financial Literacy Award for his innovative Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy program.
“We respect Joel’s enthusiasm for youth financial literacy,” Yanke says. “It’s great to have a partnership with someone who shares the same passion we do.”
Maier adds that in the past year the bank has worked on 46 presentations in conjunction with the Sauk Prairie School District and that when students reach the third grade they receive a tour of Bank of Prairie du Sac, which includes a peek inside the bank’s vault and the opportunity to see a $1,000 bill.
And although the bank offers Eaglee Savers Club accounts (named after Bank of Prairie du Sac’s official mascot, Eaglee the Eagle), it doesn’t actively advertise its services during these educational events. “This effort is very much about giving kids the financial education and building blocks they need to be successful,” says Maier.
The additional visibility doesn’t hurt though. Presently more than 700 children under the age of 13 have Eaglee Savers Club accounts, and Maier reports that many of the children who open accounts at the bank have continued their banking relationship well into their college years and beyond. She says, “We are in the business of building relationships for life, and fortunately the industry is making it easier for people to stay at their local community bank, no matter where life takes them.
“With products like mobile deposit, online banking and bill payment, mobile banking and person-to-person transfers, there’s really no reason they ever need to leave the bank.”
Audrey Wright-Cipriano (email@example.com) is ICBA’s director of marketing and brand strategy.