Florida credit union offers financial education from influencers

Traditional methods of financial education teach kids to save for college, save for a house, and save for retirement. It’s a message that feels outdated to young people who see their peers achieve instant fame and fortune on TikTok and Instagram. 

So Community Credit Union Florida turned to a new pool of experts to help it reach potential Gen Z members: influencers.

The $1.02-billion asset credit union, which was formed under a state charter by a group of 10 teachers in 1953, has launched an educational program called 321 Financial Liftoff featuring speakers such as TikToker and Instagram influencer Emily Zeck, who talks about how she parlayed her social media persona, That Pineapple Girl, into a branded swimwear line. 

It also features J.T. Hassell, an NFL free agent who has played for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets, and Alyssa Carson, who at 17 received an applied Astronautics certification that will allow her to do research missions in suborbital space.

“Teens need to know there are options,” said Laurie Cappelli, president and chief executive of the credit union. “They need to know that you don’t have to have a college degree in order to succeed.”

The name of the 321 program comes from the Space Coast’s area code — it is home to the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station — and is a nod to launching students’ financial journeys. 

The 51,000-member credit union is based in Titusville, Florida and is reaching out to juniors and seniors in Brevard County high schools with 321. In past years, CCU Florida has offered such financial literacy programs as the Money Masters Youth Savings Account to encourage elementary school students to start saving, and has partnered with the local chapter of Junior Achievement to teach budgeting, understanding college expenses, and how to fill out financial aid applications.

Tracy Almada-Singian, who was vice president of marketing at CCU Florida and is now a global head of talent acquisition at Citi, spearheaded the initiative which features young, local influencers who speak about their own financial struggles and lessons learned. 

Two local entrepreneurs also speak on the panel to impart advice on how to run a small business. Branden Sewell is the owner of Seal Pro Painting and his five-year-old business will reach seven figures in revenue this year. Tinasha Dorsey worked in human resources before opening her own nail salon in 2019.  

In the U.S., the Gen Z population is estimated to be 68 million and represents $140 billion in spending power. But reaching this completely digital native population who grew up on smartphones and social media requires a different approach. 

“This generation is less mass-media oriented,” said Steve Reider, president at Bancography, a financial services consulting firm. “You need to use underground marketing tactics to reach these consumers.” 

CCU Florida’s decision to recruit influencers to connect with Gen Z consumers is a smart move, Reider said. 

According to Kantar, a data analytics and brand consulting firm, 44% of all Gen Z consumers made a purchasing decision based on the recommendation of an influencer, compared with 26% of the general population. 

“It resonates with them to have trusted voices explaining that this is complicated, and it’s okay not to understand,” Reider said. And, he adds, since the role of advertising is to “put you into a choice set,” the 321 series is sending the message to Gen Zers that “maybe you don’t have a need today, but when you do, we are here to help.” 

The 321 events are largely unstructured. The influencers introduce themselves, talk about their careers and their life experiences, and field questions. “It’s a no-holds-barred discussion. The influencers are very open and honest about their stumbling blocks,” said Capelli. 

The students who attend the sessions receive a $100 refer-a-friend coupon, a parental information packet, a CCU t-shirt and a moon man sticker. They can also open up a checking account and receive a $100 enrollment bonus.

There has been an uptick in new accounts opened by students, but the credit union hasn’t compiled any data yet since it has only held the inaugural 321 event in March, Capelli said. But there are three more scheduled for this year, and Capelli said the program will continue for the foreseeable future. 

“It’s such a sharing and amazing environment,” she said. “The students are much more engaged and open about talking about finances if it’s a peer talking to them rather than a parent.”

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