As a personal banker for Wells Fargo, Natalie Johnson sometimes has to turn people down for loans to buy an engagement ring, build a house, or fulfill another dream that might require funding. So when she offers financial education to kids in Huntsville, Alabama, she tells them, “I’m here to provide you with knowledge so you don’t have to hear ‘no’ as an adult.”
Johnson is one of 2,607 team members who provided financial education classes from mid-March to mid-May this year, using Wells Fargo’s Hands on Banking® financial education curriculum and other resources, as part of American Banker Association®’s Teach Children to Save program. Over the course of the two months, 3,433 classes were taught, reaching close to 150,000 people.
“This was a record year for the number of people we reached, and our second best year for the amount of team members who volunteered in their communities,” said Darlene Goins, head of the Hands on Banking program. “We are pleased to see the impact team members are making in their communities and the passion they have for developing the financial capability of others.”
The Teach Children to Save program offers bank volunteers the opportunity to provide financial education within their communities and teach people of all ages the importance of saving. Team member involvement intensifies each April, which is National Financial Literacy Month and when Teach Children to Save Day occurs. This year’s event, held April 28, also celebrated the program’s 20th anniversary.
‘We're learning together’
Johnson started teaching financial education about two years ago when her manager suggested it. Today, she spends about 50 hours each year visiting elementary, middle, and high schools, colleges, churches, nonprofits, and nursing homes — educating people on how to save and manage their money.
“I take it very seriously and try to make an impact by going to as many places as I can,” Johnson said. “My goal is to be conversational and let them know we’re learning together.”
Eric Ward, regional branch manager for Wells Fargo in Grand Junction, Colorado, uses similar strategies. Ward, who has provided financial education since 2010, teaches high school students about checking and savings accounts, credit, and budgeting, while he reinforces the difference between needs and wants to elementary school students. He utilizes Hands on Banking curriculum that is tailored to each age group.
“With the younger kids, I say things to keep them engaged and keep it light,” Ward said. “With teenagers, I tell them about my own financial experiences. The younger kids get excited about creating a budget. Sometimes you think that might be a challenge, but they enjoy it. You’d be amazed at some of the things they think are needs, like a cell phone and buying cool clothes and shoes.”
The importance of financial capability
Classes on basic financial education aren’t commonly taught anymore, so there is a need for the Hands on Banking curriculum, Johnson said. “I have two business degrees, and I have never taken a personal finance class for them,” she said. “If I’m not providing this information to people, who will? These are the skills you need to get by in life.”
She added that offering financial education helps Wells Fargo protect its customers and other members of the communities it serves. “It’s good corporate citizenship,” Johnson said. “We lend money and want to protect our customers from predators.”
Johnson and Ward have also benefited from volunteering. What started out as just a fun activity on the side has become the best part of Johnson’s job, she said.
“When I go out and teach these seminars, I can feel that I’m making an impact even more than just opening a checking account,” Johnson said. “It’s empowering to be able to give people hope, clarity, and the basics. If just one person is impacted positively — if they are able to buy a home or pay off debt — then it is worth it.”