PEWAUKEE, Wis. (5/21/10)--An investor education project that, since last fall, has provided online investor education to Wisconsin credit union employees, is taking on a new challenge. Credit union staff statewide will complete advanced investor education online, then try to motivate the least likely investors to make positive financial strides--financially underserved or low-wealth individuals. As many as 5,000 such citizens could benefit in the first year alone, said the Wisconsin Credit Union League. “Most Americans haven’t done any retirement planning,” said Brett Thompson, president/CEO of the league, which is coordinating credit unions’ effort. “But we can’t afford to let the failure of entire generations to plan for their futures become a public burden. That burden would be enormous--totally unsustainable. So we can’t afford to let the average citizen--those who live paycheck to paycheck--think they can’t become successful investors.” In July, up to 25 credit union employees statewide--who completed basic investor education online in an ongoing study of 3,520 credit union staff from 80 credit unions--can apply to enroll in 50 additional hours of online investor training this fall. The graduates will earn a Certified Financial Educator (CFEd) designation valued at $1,700. Each grad will then train at least 100 financially underserved or low-wealth individuals to turn modest contributions to investment accounts into significant assets. “By offering advanced training, we’re applying a basic concept of investing--exponential growth--to the challenge of expanding our reach,” Thompson said, noting that the program can make swift in-roads to bring investing tools and financial success to people who might otherwise never attempt to advance their financial position. “Modest wage earners often mistakenly believe that they can’t ever get ahead because they feel they have too few dollars to invest,” he added. “That’s one of many fallacies our training corrects. Every person with income, no matter how modest, can secure a solid financial future through investing.” The basic investing project kicked off last October and will continue through early 2011. Dubbed “RP3,” or REAL Progress & Pathways to Prosperity, the project engaged participants in roughly 10 hours of online learning about investment concepts, including setting goals, distinguishing among investment vehicles, managing risk, diversifying a portfolio, maximizing tax advantages, understanding mutual funds and working with investment professionals. The first phase involved 53 credit unions, whose 1,623 employees completed the courses in December with passing grades averaging 88.17%. Their knowledge of investing concepts increased 28.27%. In January, another 1,897 employees from 56 credit unions began the coursework. Upon completion of their studies in April, that group achieved an average passing grade of 87.69% and improved its knowledge an average of 23.31%. Credit unions are participating in the RP3 project as part of their REAL Solutions initiative, which helps people of all income levels build wealth. Both phases of the program are being conducted in partnership with the Puelicher Center for Banking Education at the Wisconsin School of Business, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Precision Information, the Wisconsin Credit Union League, Gov. Jim Doyle’s Council on Financial Literacy and the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Funding for the latest phase includes a $15,000 grant from the National Credit Union Foundation and a $53,000 grant from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT), a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education.