Community Spirit: Red River Bank’s financial literacy drive

Kate Silver-Laborde, mortgage system administrator and Red River Bank University trainer, gets Louisiana students excited about saving money to reach their goals.

Red River Bank in Alexandria, La., is teaching money smarts to local residents for the benefit of all through its Red River Bank University program.

By Jolene Johnson

Educating the community about financial matters has been a top priority for Red River Bank in Alexandria, La., since its doors opened in 1999. In 2004, the $1.7 billion-asset community bank developed a consumer education program, and in 2006, it formed what is now called Red River Bank University (RRBU) to provide “free financial education in a more structured and coordinated manner,” says Jannease Seastrunk, vice president of community relations and CRA officer at Red River Bank.

The bank still offers free financial education today. “President and CEO Blake Chatelain still has that same passion for our local communities and making sure that we’re giving them the tools that they need to make them more confident banking customers,” Seastrunk says.

As proof of this, RRBU underwent a significant makeover and relaunched its program in 2017. Consumers are still learning about credit cards, home loans, savings, budgeting and other important financial topics during in-person seminars and customized education sessions—but now, online financial courses play a significant role. RRBU offers 21 modules on a variety of topics, from financing higher education and auto loans to mortgages and investments. “We realize there is a generation of people coming up who will never come to a seminar but will log on and listen to one, or go online and participate in a webinar,” Seastrunk says.

Quick stat

Number of education modules that Red River Bank University offers

Although the longest online module is just nine minutes, they make a lasting impression on students. “At the end of [one], you can come up with a plan of action,” Seastrunk says.

For the many local residents who do attend in-person seminars and classes, RRBU is now at the ready with a 47-person team of trained volunteers who are also current bank employees. “We have so much expertise under one roof,” Seastrunk says. “I think we have a responsibility to share that expertise with the community.”

Red River Bank’s community encompasses the areas of Alexandria, Shreveport and Baton Rouge. Every year, consumers there have the opportunity to attend seminars about establishing good credit and first-time homeownership. Alexandria resident Gabriel Texada and his then-fiancée, Elizabeth, attended the homeownership seminar in May 2017 and closed on their first home in October 2017, just one month into their marriage. “I really wanted to have a house to move into after we tied the knot,” he says. “I didn’t want to be staying with my parents.”

At the seminar, the couple learned about various financial programs—such as Louisiana Housing Corporation and Rural Development programs—available to first-time homebuyers, as well as how to boost their credit scores. Although Texada had a long credit history (he had student loans and more recently had purchased an engagement ring), he didn’t use credit to make purchases very often. He learned that the credit card he had opened a few years ago—but hadn’t used—needed some activity. So he started using 10 percent of his credit limit for gasoline purchases each month, a move that he says boosted his credit by 40 points.

The Texadas now own a house that they love. “It’s a nice-size home,” he says. “We were looking for a starter home, but it’s a little larger than a starter home. We could plant our roots for a little while if we wanted to.”

Seminal seminars
In March, RRBU partnered with United Way to offer its first Your Money, Your Goals: Train the Trainer events in the Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Alexandria markets. These all-day seminars train social service providers and case managers who work with economically vulnerable members of the community, including those recently released from prison.

“We started to do the [training] with the social service providers because [many] don’t feel confident in their own skills to manage their own money,” Seastrunk says. “How are they going to help their client who comes in who is about to be foreclosed when they’re struggling themselves?”

For all ages
Other learning events on RRBU’s 2018 syllabus include the recent Teach Children to Save (for elementary and junior high students) and this fall’s Get Smart About Credit (for high school students) events. In 2017, 2,451 students attended these events. “Our kids start becoming consumers and thinking about saving for college in junior high,” Seastrunk says. “We want to start as early as we can.”

For adults, Seastrunk says there will be a big push to offer financial education in the workplace during lunch-and-learn sessions for employees of the bank’s corporate customers. Following Louisiana’s recent floods, another agenda item is financial preparation for and response to catastrophes.

All the work that goes into RRBU is worth the effort, Seastrunk believes, because financial education for local residents is a community investment. “If we can help first-time homebuyers, low- to moderate-income folks, move toward homeownership in a way that they can afford it, then the whole community benefits,” she says. “The more homeowners we have, the more people [there are] taking care of and investing in their communities, and that raises the value of our homes and our marketability as a community.

Doing the math

Here’s a look at what Red River Bank University did in 2017 to contribute to its community’s financial education.
In-person financial education
Events: 65
Volunteer trainers: 47
Volunteer hours: 624
Participants: 4,145

Online financial education
Total users: 341
Total number of modules complete: 326

Teach Children to Save
Schools: 12
Students: 1,004
Volunteer trainers: 28 (88 hours)

Get Smart About Credit
Schools: 12
Students: 1,447
Volunteer trainers: 16 (60 hours)

Jolene Johnson is a writer in Minnesota.