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Cascade: No. 77, Spring/Summer 2011

Book Anchors Bank’s Financial Education Program

Tom Petro, president and CEO of Fox Chase Bank based in Hatboro, PA, watched family members and neighbors struggle with excessive debt and was especially troubled that an employee at the bank resorted to payday loans.

Petro and his wife, Kris Messner, a business consultant, began holding workshops for the bank’s employees, and in the fall of 2009, they decided to write a book entitled Save! America: Your Guide to Achieving Financial Freedom to help consumers manage their money. In writing the book, they remembered how they struggled to manage their finances when they were first married in their mid-20s. They met a financial advisor who described a system that they outline in the book. Petro said, “With the system, we were both in alignment and all the tension over money went out of our marriage.”

The book has become the cornerstone of the bank’s financial education program, which includes training “certified savings counselors” in the bank’s branches and conducting seminars in its community in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Fox Chase Bank paid for the book’s printing in January 2010 and distributed about 6,000 copies without charge at the bank’s branches and seminars. The book is sold on Amazon.com as a paperback and a Kindle e-book. All proceeds are donated to the Fox Chase Bank Charitable Foundation, which funds financial education, entrepreneurship, the arts, and human services.

“The state of financial literacy is incredibly poor among people of all incomes,” Petro said. “Folks say that we present an integrated system that’s easy to follow and allows them to be in charge of their money for the first time in their lives. They can see a way out and make steady progress.”

A basketball coach in Coatesville, PA, told Petro that the book had changed his life and that he has talked to his team about managing money.

Petro has spoken to entrepreneurs who are very knowledgeable about their businesses but who haven’t paid much attention to retirement. He held a seminar for administrative staff at a law firm and noticed that the attorneys also attended and paid attention.

The bank created its own curriculum and certifies branch managers as “savings counselors” who help customers prepare a budget, establish a savings plan, and create a plan to pay off debt. There is no fee for the service. Messner developed the curriculum and knowledge-based tests and taught the counselors.

In 2010, Petro, Messner, or other bank representatives spoke to nearly 1,000 people at 21 locations, including rotary clubs, high school classes, retirement communities, chambers of commerce, church groups, a university, a library, and a law firm.

Petro cannot trace new business to the bank’s financial education program but said it’s consistent with the “principles of good financial stewardship” followed by the bank.

Petro, first vice chairman of the board of the Pennsylvania Bankers Association, added, “Without a public that understands basic principles of money management, there can be no flourishing banking system in this country.”

For information, contact Tom Petro at 215-775-1402 or tpetro@foxchasebank.com E-Mail Address; http://www.foxchasebank.com/saveamerica/ External Link.

Book Review: Save! America: Your Guide to Achieving Financial Freedom

Save! America: Your Guide to Achieving Financial Freedom

This 162-page book conveys practical information on managing personal finances in an easy-to-understand, direct style.

Tom Petro, CEO of Fox Chase Bank, and his wife, Kris Messner, a business consultant, advocate freeing up about 2 percent to 5 percent of take-home pay to accelerate debt repayment and build cash-reserve accounts, which can reduce the use of credit cards. Petro and Messner emphasize seven principles:

  • Make a Budget and Stick to It — A budget enables an individual or family to gain control of their finances and become aware of small, unnoticed expenditures.
  • Give Yourself an Allowance — Take an allowance with no restrictions for discretionary spending and use a “weekly draw” for budgeted expenses. Thus, one portion of the budget is used for “fun things” that are not part of the budget, and the other portion of the budget is used for “must-haves,” such as parking or train fare.
  • Restrict the Use of Your Debit Card — Use debit cards only for necessities, such as groceries and medicines, to help keep track of budgeted expenses.
  • Establish Cash-Reserve Accounts — Build cash-reserve accounts for expected expenses, such as auto maintenance and inspections, home repairs and appliances, clothing for work, tuition, gifts, and vacations. This helps avoid taking on additional debt. In addition, gradually build a “rainy day” fund until it reaches six months of living expenses.
  • Start Paying Off Your Debts — Avoid using a credit card as an extension of income and pay the card off each month. Resolve disputes with creditors.
  • Pay Yourself First — Save and invest money for retirement.
  • Live Within Your Means — Live within or, preferably, below your means. Seek sales and discounts when making purchases.

A chapter that describes each principle is listed on Fox Chase Bank’s website at www.foxchasebank.com/saveamerica External Link. The site also has useful budget templates that can be downloaded.
— Keith L. Rolland.