For Aziza Gary, Manager of Member Financial Wellness for MECU, financial empowerment – and escaping the trap of payday lending – are personal. Gary, was herself burdened with multiple high cost loans. Finally, she took a credit union loan to consolidate her payments, lower her interest rate, and pay off her debts.
Her story resonated and inspired others. After an article about her story was published in the the Baltimore Sun, she recounted that when she arrived at work the next day, she had about 40 calls from members saying, "I'm so happy that you said something, because I’m going through the same thing and I want to know what I can do.”
MECU CEO at the time, Bert Hash, was so impressed with the response that he encouraged Gary to become certified as a financial coach through CUNA, which she achieved in 2007 after completing the comprehensive FiCEP (Financial Counseling Certification Program) program.
MECU Credit Union has provided financial education and counseling for many years, but only in 2017 under CEO John Hamilton was it formalized. In 2019, the program took another step forward when it introduced “Pathways to Financial Empowerment,” a new financial counseling model supported by first-of-its-kind technology to track impact, developed by Inclusiv and Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners. In a few short months, the “Pathways” program enrolled over 75 members, and “every single month more members are coming to us.” Gary is leading this effort and reporting to CFO Adrian Johnson (Johnson is also Board Chair of AACUC), who is also very passionate about personal financial wellness.
One key to MECU’s success, relates Gary, is that it is a “hybrid” approach: “Not only do we do one-on-one coaching, but there’s the touch point on our webpage where you can educate yourself through modules and sign up for coaching if you would like.” Gary’s team visits branches and business sites, makes presentations, offers classes, and more.
But it’s not just the techniques and tools: it’s also the people. “We all talk to people on their own levels,” she comments. What is both common and essential for her team members is a passion for their work.