For 10 years, the TS Institute has worked to spread financial literacy through student saving, money-smart curriculum and education programs for young and old alike.

TS Institute, the nonprofit arm of TS Banking Group dedicated to financial literacy, celebrates 10 years of operation this year — 10 years of reaching students and others with the goal of raising the level of financial knowledge in our communities.

Since inception in 2009, TS Institute has collectively impacted over 90,000 individuals — including students and community members. TS Institute has full four-time employees administering this mission.

The Institute offers a variety of programs, including in-school banks and financial literacy curriculum, teacher workshops, community education classes, economic education challenges and more.

“We need to educate. We not only need to teach, but we need to help form healthy financial habits. This is not just about giving folks a bunch of content and sending them off,” said TS Institute Director Kyle Osborne. “There’s an education piece and there’s a behavior piece — that’s why we commit to classroom engagement, in-school banks, community classes and more.”

The Institute was born out of the economic collapse of the late 2000s. As the U.S. was struggling with market crashes in 2008, leaders at TS Banking Group thought, “What can we do for our community?”

“As I first spoke of the vision of the TS Institute, during the depths of the Great Recession, that I personally believed was not caused by a housing crisis, nor economic crisis, nor financial crisis; but a financial literacy crisis, in which many parties along the way played a role in the ‘cause’ of this economic catastrophe,” TS Banking Group CEO Josh Guttau said. “From that igniting belief, the Institute took flight, because at the TS Banking Group we feel it is part of our responsibility to arm consumers with the facts, as the more educated they become, the better decisions they can make about their financial futures – and the earlier they learn it, the better.”

The Institute approached the Treynor Community School District about implementing curriculum. Partnering the private and public sector and putting “troops on the ground” was not in the matrix of most curriculums available in 2009.

“I have always considered financial literacy to be very important. Thinking back to my own K-12 days, I didn’t have the benefit of any kind of financial literacy programming. You had to figure out much of that on your own, unless you had parents that taught you those types of skills,” said Larsen, senior vice president of community banking with TS Bank. “There were definitely lots of financial decision-making mistakes made during my younger years.”

Three of Larsen’s five children were student bankers.

“It was exciting to be part of bringing an in-school bank to Treynor, but equally as exciting to have your own kids involved. One thing I noticed almost immediately was how they starting viewing their own money and the decisions they were now making when it came to spending. As they grew older and some now in college, those habits have become part of the good decisions with their own finances,” said Larsen. “I do not believe they would be where they are today without the benefit of this early financial literacy foundation.”

That partnership blossomed into the Institute’s current reach of numerous schools within a two-hour radius of Treynor. And TS Institute has spread as TS Banking Group’s banking locations have spread, bringing financial literacy programming to the Tioga and Crosby, North Dakota, and Clinton, Illinois, areas.

TS Institute served 31 schools and 13,247 students last year alone. There are in-school banks in six schools in Southwest Iowa and one in North Dakota, with an average of $1,250 saved by the students each week. In 2018 students saved $41,250.

“My son was one of the first student bankers at his elementary, and I know how much that had an impact on him. So, I approached TS about starting a student bank at Rue,” said Jr Jacket Bank Advisor and CB Schools fourth-grade strategist, Jennifer Plummer. “I wanted other students to be able to benefit from learning about financial literacy. I can’t believe our branch has been open for seven years now.”

The Council Bluffs Community School District and TS Institute created the second K-12 student banking program in the United States and the first in Iowa.

“Many of the students that have bank accounts are the first in their family to have an account. We are providing our students with financial literacy lessons and skills that will set them on the path for success,” said Osborne. “We know children that start the habit of saving early, even small amounts will continue into adulthood.”

“We went to schools and said, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, no catch,’” Osborne said. “It has been well-received and has blossomed.”

TS Institute initially worked with schools that wanted to offer financial literacy coursework voluntarily. However, eventually all schools in Iowa would be required to do so.

“I am so thankful to have TS Bank and TS Institute as our community partner. Working together we are helping students learn how to be financially responsible,” said Plummer.

Rachel Morehead is a parent of a College View Elementary student who utilizes the in-school bank branch located there.

“It is important for children to learn about saving money at such a young age, and being able to do so in a school-setting is fantastic. Our first-grade daughter has a school savings account set-up through College View Elementary and she loves participating on Fridays. She reminds us when it is bank day at school, and will talk to us about the importance of saving money or what types of purchases she could choose to make with her funds,” said Morehead. “TS Bank is teaching such a critical life skill to children that, in return, is preparing them for adulthood.”

In 2010, Iowa mandated financial literacy courses at the elementary level and in 2012 middle and high schools were required to offer courses as well. Both of which TS Institute worked directly with the department of education to help establish these standards.

“Before it was something nice to be taught. Now it was in the law,” Osborne said. “We were poised to help our state in instrumental ways.”

In addition to state recognition, TS Institute and supporting school districts have also received national attention.

“Three years ago, I was able to go to Washington DC and speak at a forum about in-school banks with the FDIC and the impact it makes. Speaking with the chairman of the FDIC and other representatives only confirmed our work,” continued Plummer.

The Institute has placed a large focus on teacher workshops in the last few years. For teachers to share best practices and have additional professional development has spurred the Institute’s mission and community needs.

Soon some Institute teacher training will be linked to graduate level or teacher renewal licensure credits. The organization plans to implement that program in November.

Osborne and his team also conduct community classes. The Institute has a working relationship with the MICAH House homeless shelter, Pottawattamie County Jail and Iowa Workforce Development. In 2018, the Institute provided a total of 264 community classes, reaching 4,752 people.

“With the lack of financial education, often times you have people living in poverty. You have people being taken advantage of from a consumer standpoint. I’ll ask, ‘Raise your hand if you have someone that is for you and doesn’t want anything from you.’” Osborne said. “We have a group of people in our area that want to flourish, they genuinely want to flourish, but don’t have an avenue where they can be educated. TSI steps in the gap and says — ‘We’ll be there for you, we’ll serve you in this way.’ We help you find an institution that will help you. We send them in a direction that’s best for them.”

Teaching individuals how to fish in order to help feed them for a lifetime is the Institute’s mantra — one student, one family at a time.

“The ultimate dream is to have an individual walk into our office and state because of this financial literacy program I had the skills to start my own business and now I am giving back to my community,” said Osborne.”

While celebrating 10 years, the organization is looking to the future. Osborne said the Institute will continue to maintain and grow programs as it reaches more and more students and community members.

“We want to further our mission to ‘Ignite Prosperity,’” Osborne said. “Most people don’t get to a point of flourishing without some help.”

— Melissa Peterson is the director of marketing for TS Banking Group.

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