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CUs Find New Way to Connect with Schools as More States Pass Financial Literacy Requirements

New Financial Literacy Program Helps Schools and Credit Unions Achieve Education Goal With More States Passing Financial Literacy Requirements, Credit Unions Have Found a New Way to Connect with Their Local Schools

PROVO, Utah – When Utah implemented a requirement that all students complete a financial literacy course before graduation, Mark Williams immediately started looking for curriculum to engage his students. Williams and the state of Utah weren’t alone.

More than 20 states have passed financial literacy requirements for their students in recent years. Williams, prior to teaching at Independence High School in Provo, was in the banking industry for 15 years and knew all too well why such a course was becoming a requirement.

With bankruptcy filings up about 14 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, about one in every 150 households has declared bankruptcy this year in the United States, according to the National Bankruptcy Research Center.

This prompted former investment manager Morgan Vandagriff and his partner, Kendall Buchanan, to take action.

With the idea that financial education should start at a young age, Vandagriff and Buchanan created Banzai, an interactive online financial literacy tool that teaches students how to budget and manage money through real-life scenarios.

Students are taught a jar system where they put a portion of their income into designated jars for expenses such as car, food and clothes and are then given real-life scenarios that force them to choose how to spend their money and teach them consequences. For example, you are going to the mall with your friend and you forgot it was his birthday; you have to choose between spending $10 on buying his lunch and cutting that $10 from your monthly gas budget or sticking to your budget and skimping on your friend’s birthday.

Teachers Take Notice

More than 1,400 teachers in all 50 states have turned to Banzai to make financial education interesting and real to their students. With tight school budgets, a free, interactive online program appealed to Williams.

“Most other financial programs use beans,” said Williams. “That’s one of the reasons I – and my students – liked Banzai so much is because of the real-life application. Plus most adults who budget use a computer program, so it’s starting the students on the right track early, giving them a valuable life skill. They are always more engaged in online activities than they are by traditional paper lesson plans.

Emma Williamson, a teacher at Lockport Township High School in Illinois who also uses Banzai in her classroom, is of the opinion that schools are ideal to teach students how to budget wisely because parents often don’t know how to handle nor do they have a good relationship with money

“New Financial Literacy Program Helps Schools…” – ADD ONE

“Financial literacy is a life skill,” said Williamson. “To any student who asks, ‘When or where will I use this?’ for the rest of your life, is my response. Banzai teaches responsibility about money, relationship to money, the rigor of good money management skills.”

The Credit Union’s Role

To offer the program free for schools and teachers, Banzai began seeking sponsorships from local credit unions. The Banzai founders thought credit unions would be the perfect fit because of their shared mission of education.

“Financial literacy is in our strategic goals, but it’s often hard to get your foot in the door at schools,” said Terri Branam, UT Federal Credit Union in Tennessee. “Banzai made it easy by connecting us with teachers in our area who were already using the program and providing us the tools to reach out to students.”

As a sponsor, credit unions underwrite the cost of materials for their local school and representatives from the credit union are often invited into the classroom to teach students other important financial lessons including the differences between a bank and a credit union.

“The biggest challenge is connecting with the kids,” said Ken Payne, president of Freedom Credit Union in Provo Utah. Payne has given several in-class presentations at the local high school. “The Banzai material is both interactive and something the students can relate to, making our job much easier.”


Charles Schwab, in a study conducted in 2007, revealed that only one in three teens know how to read a bank statement, balance a checkbook or pay a bill.

Assessments of students before and after they completed the Banzai program demonstrated an average improvement of 18 percent in understanding the technical aspects of checking accounts in an average of only two weeks.

“If we were able to reduce our country’s bankruptcy rate by 18 percent, nearly 23,000 less people would have filed for bankruptcy last month,” said Branam. “Kids think money grows on trees. We have to educate children early, so they don’t get into financial trouble as adults.”

“People assume when you grow up you know how to use money,” said Williams. “Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Someone has to teach you. When my students are done with the Banzai program, they often know more than their parents about budgeting and financial literacy.”

But Banzai founder Kendall Buchanan said there is more to the program than just improving test scores and comprehension. He says the program is about encouraging good behavior which is something you can’t quantify with multiple choice.

“Banzai is about starting kids on the right track, introducing them to budgeting and giving them a new perspective on money,” said Buchanan. “We receive constant feedback from teachers about how much Banzai has changed their students’ perspectives on money, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do.”

Banzai was designed to help students learn to make smart spending and savings decisions and works closely with credit unions to build their brands and increase youth membership by offering co-branded financial literacy solutions. For more information, visit