Double shot interview: Amanda Morrall talks to NZCU South CEO Andrew Leys about its award winning programme Clever Me and its plans to grow

By Amanda Morrall

A Dunedin-based credit union is taking a bull-by-the-horns approach to growing its customer base by tapping prospective members on the shoulder at their place of employment rather than waiting for customers to come to them.

The strategy, the basis of its award winning Clever Me programme, is drawing New Zealand Credit Union South praise from financial literacy proponents.

Derek Bonnar, national manager of CANSTAR (which awarded Clever Me an innovation award this month) said the programme was a creative way of reaching a group most in need of financial help but least likely to ask for it.

Clever Me is not only about helping working Kiwis find and stick to the road of financial wellbeing but it’s actually how they are doing this that is the creative element,” said Bonnar.

"The fact that this unique programme encourages employee engagement more often than not results in improved productivity in the workplace – a win-win situation for everyone."

Clever Me is free to employers and then NZ$10 per month after three months of free coaching for those participants who end up becoming credit union members.

Andrew Leys, chief executive officer of NZCU South, said the benefit for employers that align themselves with the programme is a more focussed and productive employee.

"The message we're giving them is that great organisations today seek to have highly engaged employees and workforces, that's how you achieve higher productivity in our belief," Leys said.

"The role we can do to help that is to work with employees on their own time to educate them in the wise use of their money so when they come to work they're not focussing on things outside of work like where their finances are at. Instead, they're focussing on what you're paying them to do which is to make your businesses more successful," he said.

Clever Me, rolled out last October, works by conducting an initial financial fitness survey of employees, the contents of which are then made available to employers on an anonymous basis. Employees who are interested in following up are then put in touch with a money coach through a credit union branch.

Leys said money coaching, "a core strength" of credit unions, had proven highly successful in helping to build financial literacy and improve financial outcomes.

"Our confidence comes from the fact that we've actually been able to help them,'' said Leys, noting that credit unions had been offering money coaching for 18 years now.

Leys said the turnaround with peoples' finance has mostly to do with supplying people with knowledge and information to make informed decisions.

"What we've found is that it's not necessarily the situation they're in, or not how much they earn, it's how much information and knowledge they have around where they are and the tools they need to effectively move forward in a positive frame."

Leys said surveys gauging the financial literacy of New Zealanders were alarming.

"Of ,3500 household surveyed, 19% stated they were getting ahead but what really worries me is the 81% of New Zealanders who are either standing still or going backwards in their minds in terms of finances. Most leaders within New Zealand are ignoring that but it's not something our organisation can afford to ignore," Leys said.

While Clever Me was on offer mainly to South Island employers, Leys said the credit union was in discussions with business leaders on the North Island as well because of affiliated operations and branches operating here.

Why Clever Me?

Leys said while many New Zealanders abstained from seeking financial advice, Clever Me was designed to remove the stigma that there was shame in getting help.

"We believe that in New Zealand we extol the virtues of No. 8 wire etc., but the problem is that for the broad populace the belief that you have to do it yourself. What we know is that successful people surround themselves with people who can help them and that's what Clever Me is about," he said

"When you come onto the programme and elect to work with a coach, you're the clever one, you're the one who has made the smart choice. It's about empowering people with more confidence about where they are going."

Leys said most participants took quickly to the programme, adopting constructive changes to get their finances on track.

"What we find is that in the first two to three months there's a lot of one-on-one but then people get comfortable, they make the changes necessary to work towards their goals, and they know where they're going. So having a money coach is more of a comfort in that they have that partner in the background, and if they ever need to query something they can pick up the phone," Leys said.

"What we're interested in doing is helping the masses, the 81% who don't think they're getting anywhere, to work out where they're at and then put simple programmes in place so they can start to plan for the future."

Luke warm reception

Leys said he was hopeful employers would become more enthusiastic as reputation of the programme spread.

"It's bit challenging because it's outside-the-box thinking. It's almost too good to be true. But what we have found is there are employers who get it and who want to have highly engaged workforce, and who care about their employees," Leys said.

According to one study out of North America, the average worker spends 20 hours per month worrying about money, with a good chunk of that stress done at the workplace.

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