"MAKING A DECISION about higher education is one of the largest financial and “life event” choices a family will ever have to make," said Brendan Coughlin, president of education finance for Citizens Financial Group
Brendan Coughlin recently was named president of education finance for Citizens Financial Group. He is responsible for the portfolio of Citizens Bank and Charter One borrowing and deposit products for college students.
Coughlin came to CFG in 2004 following his work in a variety of product-management roles for Bank of America and FleetBoston Financial. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston College and an MBA from Babson College. He has served on a number of boards, including Operation HOPE, an organization supporting financial literacy in the city of Boston.
CFG recently announced its second annual TruFit Good Citizens Scholarship program – college scholarships totaling $50,000 for students involved in community service. Coughlin discussed his new role and the bank’s 2012 scholarship program.
PBN: How did the TruFit Good Citizen Scholarship originate?
COUGHLIN: We strongly believe in making higher education more affordable for students. Helping students get access to higher education is a critical component to long term prosperity in our communities. We launched the scholarship program last year, awarding a total of $50,000 to college students whose volunteer efforts have made a difference in their communities. It’s really an extension of our own dedication as a company to community service and of our commitment to helping college students finance their education to make it more affordable.
PBN: With applicants coming from across the nation, what qualities are you looking for from potential winners?
COUGHLIN: We are looking for students who embody this sense of community – students who give back to those who need it most. These students are all driven to make their communities a better place, motivated either by adversity they faced or an innate sense of making a difference.
PBN: Are there other Citizens initiatives focused on education?
COUGHLIN: Making a decision about higher education is one of the largest financial and “life event” choices a family will ever have to make. In addition to our scholarship, we are increasing our student loan lending commitment to our communities through our TruFit student loan product. To help students and parents evaluate all their options and ultimately make the best choice for their personal situation, we have a Citizens UTM website offering resources for students like MoneyHelp for Students, which provides tips for preparing and saving for college as well as information on how to apply for financial aid. It also offers online tools like a financing calendar with important dates and deadlines for securing funding to a loan calculator to help students determine how much they will need to borrow to pay for college and how much they will owe once they graduate.
PBN: Tell us a little about the Citizens' Education Finance division. What services do you provide?
COUGHLIN: The student loan marketplace has rapidly changed over the last five years. As a result, there has been a real void in the marketplace for affordable financing options for higher education. As we have looked for ways to meet this need, our education finance business has been able to help more and more students achieve their higher education aspirations. Because every family situation is different, we offer both fixed and variable rate products, as well as a number of repayment options including deferring payments until after graduation. I’m proud of the product choice we provide our customers, because financing higher education is very personal and families have different needs and preferences. Our options were specifically designed based on feedback from customers who wanted to have more choices in how they borrowed to pay for school. To help our customers make these decisions, we have a dedicated team of experts who work with students to make sure they are aware of federal aid and that they have fully explored those options before deciding the best way to finance their education. We also provide customer service and operational support to colleges and universities.
PBN: What service looks particularly attractive for customers?
COUGHLIN: The rising cost of college is a real challenge for many students and their families. We like to help families plan and save for higher education very early. We have a “College Saver” savings product which offers a $1,000 bonus towards tuition when they set up a regular savings plan while their child is young. For those families that have students already enrolled in a university or that are nearing that point, many are finding a very affordable solution through a private student loan through Citizens. In addition to the attractiveness of these features, we also offer a rate discount to students and parents when they do their banking with Citizens and deduct their student loan payment from a Citizens checking account. At the end of the day, it is important that families take the time to evaluate all their options and we are committed to helping them through this process. Whether they chose to borrow from us or not, it is our goal to advise our customers on the best solution for them so we can earn their trust and loyalty.