If you can manage an unmanned drone, you should be able to manage your finances.
That’s the goal behind a new partnership involving Texas Trust Credit Union, which was selected by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Foundation to provide financial literacy training to a group of college students training in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), better known as drones.
The training initiative is linked to the Wagner-Peyser Unmanned Aircraft System Consortium grant, which was issued in conjunction with the Texas Workforce Commission (the principal governmental job training and job search program in Texas). The Wagner-Peyser project was established to encourage the development of an unmanned aviation industry workforce in the state “in the near future.”
More than 30 students – ranging from age 18 to 24 – have participated in the training, hailing from Tarrant County College, the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of North Texas Denton. Under the arrangement, TTCU provided 20 hours of instruction on topics including money management, understanding credit – including payment cards and personal loans – and investing, as well as financial considerations involved in starting a new business.
While the course was designed for drone students, it does not include those training for military applications of drones. Rather, students in the program are focused on the potential safety and commercial usage of drones.
Debi Knoblock, AVP of business and community engagement at Texas Trust CU, who oversaw the financial literacy training initiative, said the credit union routinely provides financial literacy training to the Arlington community. The local chamber of commerce approached Texas Trust with the idea of teaching drone students about financial well-being.
Texas Trust is closely linked to the aviation industry given that it was originally chartered by employees of the Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation, but that’s not why the chamber selected it for the drone program, said Knoblock.
“The credit union has worked closely with a variety of organizations and the local schools to develop financial literacy programs for people of all ages,” she explained. “Financial literacy was a key element of the grant that funded the UAS training. We saw this as an ideal opportunity to educate young adults between 18 and 24 years old about personal financial matters.”
Early days for the industry
Karen Austin, senior director of education and workforce development and Wagner-Peyser project director of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce Foundation, pointed out that there is a “huge gap” in financial literacy among college students. “Since the UAS training is a demonstration program, we wanted to incorporate financial education with it to help students better prepare for life after graduation,” she said.
Austin added that while many students have hopes of turning their interest in drones into a career, “they are entering an emerging industry with evolving changes. Texas Trust provided the expertise to show students the importance of a budget and practical ways to use credit to help minimize debt in their personal life and in business.”
The drone industry is in its early stages, with little assurance that it will ultimately develop into a vibrant, sustainable enterprise, but Knoblock said the credit union is committed to supporting pioneers in the field.
“Arlington is home to some of the largest players in the aviation industry, so it makes sense for our community leaders to be looking at how we can support this emerging new aviation field,” she said. “We proudly took part in the program as part of our mission to build brighter financial futures for those who live and work in Arlington.”
She further indicated that the students “overwhelmingly” responded favorably in a course evaluation survey – particularly to the question of whether or not the financial literacy part of the curriculum had an impact on their personal and business lives.
Drones have a wide variety of consumer and commercial applications – most of which have nothing to do with the military – and include products for hobbyists and toy enthusiasts.
According to, ABI Research, a technology market intelligence company based in Oyster Bay, N.Y., the UAS market will surpass $30 billion by the year 2025, with the commercial sector exceeding the defense sector of the market by the end of this year alone. By 2025, ABI reports, commercial drone usage could account for more than 70% of all small UAS ecosystem revenues (including agriculture, industrial inspection, and professional videography applications)
However, as with any new industry, individual companies will face significant obstacles.
For instance, earlier this year, Parrot SA of France, one of the largest manufacturers of non-military drones in the world, said it would lay off about one-third of its workforce after poor performance in Q4 2016.
But of course, virtually all emerging industries suffered growing pains during their early stages.
Meanwhile, Texas Trust’s program appears to be the first of its kind. Moreover, it underscores the growing importance of educating consumers about their financial health and futures – and credit unions play a key role in this endeavor.
“Financial education has always been a linchpin of credit union service to its members, and I think this is even more crucial now with the millennials – some of [whom] may be a bit more focused on today than on the future,” said Dennis Dollar, a former NCUA chairman and now a credit union consultant based in Alabama. “True financial literacy is more than balancing a check book, which fewer and fewer do because of the ability to do online balance monitoring.”
Effective financial education, Dollar explained, deals with cost of credit, ability to repay and where one’s current spending, borrowing and savings patterns will leave the individual ten and twenty years from now.
“Credit unions, due to the member-ownership structure, have a unique credibility to offer this as an integral part of their service and it accrues to their benefit as much as it does the member,” he added.
Helping emerging industries
Credit unions have long provided financial literacy training for students of all ages, and Adam Lee, incubator director at the Filene Research Institute, noted that CUs could also provide financial education and loans to businesses in emerging industries – including drone technology.
“As economic conditions change and more and more people are starting their own small businesses for a primary or supplemental source of income, credit unions are in a unique position to provide services to these populations,” Lee said.
Microloans, he noted, have traditionally served individuals without a strong credit history or substantial assets to start a small business in fields in the service industry – for example, hair stylists, lawn care workers or painters, to name a few.
“But as new employment opportunities revolving around technology emerge for small business owners, such as drone operators, the need remains the same,” he said. “Individuals often need small loans, perhaps $10,000, $5,000 or less, to kick-start or expand their small business. The trend appears to be that the number of opportunities for small business owners in the ‘gig’ economy are expanding and this creates a unique opportunity for credit unions to serve these consumers.”