Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team at Greenville Federal Credit Union, students at Greer High School can save their money, spend their money and learn to manage their money – without ever leaving campus – at a financial institution run by their peers.
The fully functioning credit union office, named The Branch at Greer High, opened to students and staff when the school year began Aug. 8.
Located inside what had been a storage closet off the cafeteria, the branch is run by students with the help of one teacher and a staff member from the credit union.
“It’s been a huge endeavor for a lot of people at this credit union and the school district, and we’re really proud of it. This is a labor of love,” says Catherine James, Senior Vice President of Marketing & Brand Strategy at Greenville Federal Credit Union.
The first in-school credit union opened seven years ago at Greenville High. Greenville County Schools helped choose Greer High for the second location.
“The two high school branches, together, represent a $1.2 million investment by Greenville Federal Credit Union. We do not see it as a revenue generator at all,” James says.
The school district does not contribute funding, she says.
“The high school branches fulfill our mission to be a resource for financial literacy, especially with youth, and to support Greenville County Schools.”
Both Greenville and Greer high schools have business education programs. Greenville High is a magnet school, the Academy of Law, Finance and Business. Greer High has a Virtual Enterprise program, where students under the direction of a teacher develop, produce, distribute and market a virtual product.
The state also mandates that students pass a personal financial management class before they graduate.
Whether young people are leaving school to live independent lives or heading to college, they should learn to manage their finances so that they can save for the future and use credit wisely, James says. That includes basic knowledge about banking, transactions, credit scores and loans.
Students learn those skills from peers who operate the credit unions at each school as part of a teacher-led honors class.
“Students are literally running a real credit union. They’re performing transactions. It’s real money, not pretend. They’re opening accounts and helping members,” James says.
The honors students take part in 100-hour paid internships during the summer; half of the internship is spent sitting side-by-side with tellers and service representatives at the four credit union branches not located in schools.
“Our entire team is committed to preparing the students to run their in-school branches,” says James, a Greenville native who graduated from Eastside High School, then Furman University.
Monica Barnett, credit union Vice President of Member Experience, oversees the in-school branch program.
“Year after year, we get to see the difference this program makes in the lives of these students, their families and the community,” she says.
Two employees from the credit union provide day-to-day support: Samantha Telsrow at Greer High, and Thomora Mosely at Greenville High.
James – who has been at the credit union for 12 years after careers in advertising and marketing – worked with the designers and architects to upfit the space at the high schools; she and her team also developed the branding, signage, publicity, websites and brochures.
The in-school branches are open during lunchtime. Any student or school employee can use the services, but the public is not allowed into the schools for safety reasons.
The credit union does not charge students a monthly fee for accounts and does require a minimum balance.
Students can open accounts, practice making transactions in a safe banking environment, learn to read bank statements, use online banking, have paychecks deposited into their accounts, and connect to mobile apps like Zelle and Apple Pay – with guidance from their peers, credit union professionals and teachers.
The credit union mobile banking app has a feature that explains credit scores and how the scores can be improved. A budgeting feature helps users save money to buy a car or attain other goals.
“Students working in the branch teach new members how to use those tools. I think hearing that from a peer is impactful,” James says.
The program helps students – and student workers – inside classrooms, as well as inside the credit union, she says.
Teachers ask students trained by the credit union to make presentations about financial literacy and financial safety.
“How do you protect yourself once you have a bank account or a debit card? A lot of scams prey upon teenagers,” says James, whose daughter just graduated from Wade Hampton High School and will attend South Carolina Honors College at the University of South Carolina.
Barnett says that student workers develop the confidence to work in a business environment.
“These students enter the program with little-to-no work experience and come away at the end of the school year with valuable financial skills and also soft skills that will put them a step ahead of their peers in career development,” she says.
Nearly 50 student workers have graduated since the credit union opened at Greenville High School. Several also have finished college with accounting and marketing degrees.
“We have been able to hire eight student employees to work full-time and part-time jobs in the credit union,” James says. “It is a workforce pipeline, not just for us but also for the community.”
Mosely is one of those success stories. She now works for the credit union, overseeing the same Greenville High School program that she graduated from in 2017. “She has risen through the ranks and is a great leader,” James says.
Greenville Federal Credit Union was founded in 1968 as a not-for-profit financial institution by nine Greenville School District employees, James says.
“We exist to serve our community. That’s baked into our DNA,” she says. “It’s about listening and recognizing the needs of every individual, not selling them products. Our team is devoted to looking at members’ finances and helping them figure out the best way to save money and ensure that they’re making decisions that will help them prosper.”