Rural electric co-operatives in the USA have started collaborating with credit unions to promote financial literacy in their local communities. The project, called Operation Connect, is currently in a pilot stage. The idea behind it is to bring together credit unions and rural electric co-operatives that operate in the same geographic location. This can help benefit the 42m electric co-operative members from across the country, by providing financial literacy training, including budgeting skills and long-term financial planning.
“A small but significant portion of these members experience difficulty in meeting their payments, often due to a lack of financial literacy in budgeting their financial obligations,” said project architect Adam Schwartz, an NCBA CLUSA senior consultant for Domestic Operations and founder of The Cooperative Way. “The payment collection process, disconnect and reconnect of electricity is costly for both consumers and electric co-ops,” he added.
“If we can intercede to end this cycle, we can improve quality of life for electric co-op members while also growing the number of credit union members,” Schwartz said.
Co-ops and credit unions are already working together in Virginia, where the Fort Lee Federal Credit Union and Prince George Electric Co-op have already partnered to offer financial literacy seminars along with easy, low-cost home improvement ideas to help lower monthly household energy costs. According to Mr Schwartz, there are several other potential cross-sector partnerships in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Colorado and Minnesota.
The National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA CLUSA) is currently working the Credit Union National Association’s Cooperative Alliance Committee and the National Credit Union Foundation on a toolkit that co-ops and credit unions could use to rollout Operation Connect across the USA.
Cross-sector efforts such as this project are a priority for NCBA CLUSA, says Pat Sterner, chief operating officer of NCBA CLUSA. “We are thrilled to launch a project that puts Principle 6 – co-operation among co-operatives -in action while building financial independence and energy efficiency in communities across the U.S.,” she said, adding that a full launch of Operation Connect would take place in 2016.