Growing money

Alcoa Tenn opens school branch at Maryville Christian

Photo with no caption
By Lance Coleman
Senior reporter
Blount Today

Some of the customers at Alcoa Tenn Federal Credit Union Branch No. 5 can barely see above the bank counter. And when the credit union closes, the whole office -- furniture and all -- disappear. The bank counter is a long folding table.

Branch No. 5 is called The Money Tree, and it is located in the gym of Maryville Christian School. Customers at The Money Tree can get a variety of services, including opening savings accounts, making loan payments and playing ball with friends.

The "bankers" are students at the school and members of an honors math course.

Alcoa Tenn marketing and business development director Doris Brown said the credit union has been working on setting up a school location for about five years. When she first read about them, no one was doing school banks in Tennessee. Since then, one has opened at Austin-East High School in Knoxville, but this is the first one in Blount County, she said.

"It’s something the credit union feels will be beneficial for students who are voluntarily working in the credit union, as well as for those looking to be better stewards of their money and learning to save for the future," Brown said. "It’s not a money-making venture for the credit union. We believe in giving back to community."

Alcoa Tenn started their first school branch at Maryville Christian School because they are the credit union’s adopted school. "They’re so supportive and appreciative of everything we’re trying to do," she said.

Brown said the school chose the students who would help run the program. The individuals are "bright, bright" students, Brown said. She took them through the applicant interview process as they applied for their positions.

"They went through training for a couple days where they were learning the functions of the different jobs they were doing," she said.

The branch opened on Aug. 15 in a conference room. Since then, they have moved to the school gym, and traffic has increased. So has the student customers’ enthusiasm for the program.

"The second day we were open, the kids asked if they were going to get to do this next year," Brown said. "That mean a lot to me -- that they like it that well."

Brown explained the way the credit union works at the school: Students open savings accounts, but a parent must be present before the child can withdraw any funds because one or both parents are trustees on children’s accounts.

"We hope to open checking accounts later," Brown said. "We wanted to start this first, to get them on the road to a savings plan," Brown said.

Brown said the credit union always has two representatives at the school every time the branch is open. The student bankers are divided into two teams to work the branch, which is open from 11 to 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
There is a branch manager who opens accounts, tellers and a marketing person. The marketing person makes sure the bank counter is set-up on a table in the gym at the opening of business. The marketing person also visits classrooms to talk about the program.

"The students are in these roles and we are there as representatives. We furnish the money and the students must balance the drawer at the close of our business hour," Brown said. "They’re really learning what running a branch is all about."

Brown said that the students volunteering for the program now could have opportunities in the future when the credit union hires summer help. The students may even decide to get into finance.

"One may be a director of a credit union or president one day. I hope it inspires them. I want them to do what they want to do, but who knows, maybe one will get into finance," she said. "For now, they’re learning management skills and the importance of saving."

Brown said that each volunteer employee must open a savings account. "You have to believe in what you’re selling before you can sell it," she said.

Students and teachers open a membership account with $5 deposits. "That’s all we’re asking for is a minimum deposit. We just want to encourage them to think about bringing some allowance money or money they earn," she said.

Last week, the credit union ran a promotion where they matched each student’s deposit dollar-for-dollar up to $10.
Business was brisk as the students figured how they could get the most for their deposits. The promotion and the branch’s move to the school gym helped spur business.

"We have so much more business than we had at the beginning," Brown said.

The dollar-for-dollar deposit promotion stirred interest among students who were members of the credit union. "It really made the kids think," she said. "It’s great to see them bringing their allowances."

David Gill with Alcoa Tenn said the process of watching youngster learn money management was fun. "It’s exciting to be part of teaching children to save money," he said. "I think it’s exciting for them to watch money grow. It’s exciting for them to learn the process and see how money can grow."

Kami Akins, teller and member service representative, said the students named the Maryville Christian School branch the Money Tree. The students have responded well to the credit union. "It’s gone really, really well," she said. "Right now we have 54 complete accounts."

Akins said she enjoys being around kids, loves her job and the opportunity to come supervise the student bankers twice a week is fun.

"You get the best of both worlds, working with kids and doing what you love," she said. "I wish we could do it everyday. I love it."

Akins said today’s students need to learn more about money management.

"Banking needs to be taught more in schools," she said. "I’ve been in the banking business 11 years, and I’ve been amazed at the number of people who don’t know the simple things like balancing their checkbooks."

Jaycie Lay, 5, made a deposit while preschool teacher Missy Powell looked on. Powell said her youngsters have enjoyed starting bank accounts. "The kids have really enjoyed it, especially the little ones," Powell said. "They get to go to the bank."

David Byrd, 15, said he wanted to get started in the work world. "I’ve never had a job," he said. "I’m trying it out and seeing what it as like."

Fourteen-year-old Cody Wiggins said the job helped her resume. "I did it so I could say it did it for colleges," he said.

Daniel Farnsworth, 14, echoed Wiggins’ thoughts and said the banking job could be good experience, but it isn’t always an
easy position. "Sometimes it can be challenging," he said.

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