4 Ways To Rethink Employee Roles And Change Branches

By creating new jobs or redefining old ones, credit unions are making branches more efficient and profitable.

 
 

Job descriptions of branch employees used to fall into neatly designated roles of teller, loan officer, and manager. But as the branch evolves from a place of transactions to one of sales, credit unions are rethinking employee roles in both subtle and dramatic ways. A teller’s job, for instance, is morphing into one that encompasses everything from relationship builder to technology guru. Some branches are experimenting with new job functions, often assigned on top of an existing workload to the employee who performs them best. But credit unions are also creating new roles or redefining old ones to capitalize on a commodity that everyone wants more of: direct contact with the membership.

Face-to-face time with the member is becoming more rare. Because the branch staff is the first point of contact with members, there is this great opportunity to enter into a dialog with them. 

“Face-to-face time with the member is becoming more rare,” says Brad Canfield, president and CEO of KeyPoint Credit Union ($805.2M, Santa Clara, CA). “Because the branch staff is the first point of contact with members, there is this great opportunity to enter into a dialog with them.”

That dialog often has ramifications for everything from the credit union’s ability to attract new members to the number of loans it generates. Some credit unions are so conscious of the need to connect with members that they actively recruit employees who reflect the membership’s demographics, even for positions that are mostly behind the scenes. Yet, as the four credit unions profiled below demonstrate, all of these strategies are helping to make branches more efficient and profitable.

A Tech-Savvy Ambassador

At Mountain America Federal Credit Union ($3.6B, West Jordan, UT), more transactions now take place through online and mobile channels than in all 76 branches and the call center combined. With such a tech-savvy membership, one would think the job of a tech champion — someone who teaches members and colleagues how to use different online or mobile banking features — was superfluous. But technology changes all the time, and Mountain America is always introducing new features to an audience that also includes die-hard traditionalists.

cu-facts-1Mountain America assigned the tech champion role, introduced earlier this year, to one employee at each branch. The job is in addition to the person’s other duties, and anyone can apply. Although training is provided, the tech champion typically already has experience with the credit union’s cutting-edge products. Often, the job entails helping members find the right tool or banking channel that best fits their needs. The credit union offers a dazzling array of electronic resources, including its new My Money Manager, which allows the user to manage all accounts and loans, even those at other financial institutions, from one place.

The job isn’t branch bound either. Mountain America periodically sends its tech champions into the community to introduce members and nonmembers alike to electronic banking.

“We want them to be our ambassadors,” says Marshall Paepke, executive vice president and chief administrative officer. A little bribery also catches the public’s attention. A typical ploy is offering anyone the tech champion encounters on the street a one-dollar check for downloading one of Mountain America’s free mobile apps on a phone.

“People will do interesting things for a dollar,” Paepke says.

That tactic occasionally reels in new members because the check can only be deposited in a credit union account. The tech champion helps the person open an account on the spot using a smartphone or tablet.

But the real benefit of tech champions has been that existing members are reconsidering how they bank. Within just a few short months, interest in remote deposit capture has skyrocketed, with 2,000 additional members each month using the service to deposit checks through an online or mobile channel. That shift in member behavior offers real savings to the credit union.

“For each one of those deposits, we save between $1 and $4 per transaction,” says Rob Cummings, senior vice president of online and mobile banking. “Once members start doing this, they never go back to the old ways.”

The Tellerless Branch

Last April, GFA Federal Credit Union ($409.8M, Gardner, MA) opened its first tellerless branch in Leominster, MA. Instead of tellers, the branch has three or four member service associates who are trained to handle a broader repertoire of services ranging from teller transactions to loan applications and even new accounts.

The branch replaces teller windows with four separate counters spread loosely around an open area. Each counter is equipped with an eSigning device and a cash-recycling machine that only the employee uses. The machine is essentially a teller’s ATM for cash deposits and withdrawals, efficiently dispensing bills and coins in any denomination a member requests. Because the machine does all the counting, it also removes human error from the transactions. Meanwhile, the associate is free to learn more about the member and recommend other GFA services. Senior staff members, including a manager and assistant manager, address more complex queries.

These changes reflect a shift in the branch’s role from handling transactions to driving sales of other services, which suits members just fine. At GFA, roughly 86% of member transactions are conducted electronically.

“GFA members just aren’t walking into branches as much as they used to,” says Linda Carmichael, senior vice president for member resources and technology. “And when they do, they’re looking for information.”

The new branch design and job roles also encourage better service. By replacing teller windows with counters, those workstations can handle multiple banking functions. Nearby glass-enclosed offices provide spillover space when all the counters are occupied as well as a place to consult with members privately. Meanwhile, any employee, from associates to a branch manager, can fill in at a counter to keep lines from forming.

“With a traditional teller window, the teller is assigned a cash drawer that only that person has access to, but anyone can step up and work with a recycler,” Carmichael says. “It’s not assigned to a specific employee.”

A Strategy for Maintaining Focus

Sana Saleh, a senior vice president of member relations at Premier America Credit Union ($1.5B, Chatsworth, CA), knows firsthand the hazard posed by branch employees who try to do too much. Too often, the day-to-day interruptions that come with working at a branch — for example, a member with a lost checkbook or an account that needed reviewing — got in the way of employees meeting the credit union’s larger goals, including growth objectives for auto loans and membership. Worse, the interruptions were frustrating staff members who had fallen behind in their work.

Until the problem was corrected, the credit union’s performance and employee morale would continue to suffer, but the challenge was finding a solution that didn’t sacrifice customer service. To ease the strain, Saleh began redefining job functions by limiting them to a set number of prioritized tasks. In a way, clarifying employee roles is the exact opposite approach of what some credit unions have adopted by allowing certain job functions to overlap.

The teller, for instance, has three functions: performing basic account transactions, balancing the cash drawer at the end of each day, and informing members about products and services. Any other task is generally referred to a new position, that of sales and services specialist.

Like a universal employee who can fill in for colleagues in a pinch, the all-encompassing sales and services specialist has both the expertise and time to help members with complex or pesky problems. The position also ensures the right person is always on hand to assist a member.

But getting staff to see the value of role clarity was another matter. Saleh informed her employees how the roles would be defined and how those changes could improve everyone’s productivity. Employees were also given a say in choosing their jobs. By sharing financial reports and customer satisfaction surveys with her staff, Saleh also offered tangible proof that the new way of working was having a positive impact.

Since role clarity was introduced four years ago, employee morale has improved at the credit union. At GlassDoor.com, where employees rate their satisfaction with a particular employer, Premier America gets mostly positive reviews. With nothing to derail her staff from meeting certain targets, employee performance has also picked up. Membership has grown more than 17% over the past year.

Meanwhile, full-time Premier America employees currently generate 10% more loans and nearly 18% more loan income than their California-based peers.

Support for the Front Line

With a membership demographic that includes employees at Google, Apple, Facebook, and Cisco Systems, KeyPoint Credit Union ($805.2M, Santa Clara, CA) is always looking five years ahead, trying to imagine how people will bank. The credit union helped instigate many of the trends seen at other financial institutions, including replacing the teller’s job with the more sales-oriented financial services representative.

Those former tellers, however, didn’t always find the shift to sales an easy one to make, particularly when it came to meeting numeric goals. So KeyPoint had its staff think of sales growth in more familiar terms — as relationship building — with member satisfaction and employee accountability serving as the benchmarks. To sweeten the pot, KeyPoint offers cash incentives as a reward for strong performance.

But a sales staff is only as good as the products it sells, and KeyPoint’s technologically sophisticated membership thrives on change. “Our members live in Silicon Valley, which is highly competitive and innovative,” Canfield says. “It’s all about what have you done for me lately.”

As Canfield sees it, the primary job of all credit union employees working behind the scenes is to support the front line, particularly with product innovation. A key effort includes finding a way to incorporate new financial players such as Google Wallet and PayPal, which have the potential to affect the credit union’s revenue stream and fee income. Many big-box stores in KeyPoint’s community already accept both payment options.

“We have to figure out how we partner with PayPal or Google Wallet,” Canfield says. “Our membership wants those options so they have to be incorporated into the way our products are developed and delivered.”

To get some of the brightest minds on the job, KeyPoint is recruiting new employees from many of the high-tech companies in its own backyard. Dipping into this rich talent pool offers KeyPoint more than just a source for new ideas. Many of those new hires also represent a significant cross-section of the credit union’s membership: young, tech savvy, and often multicultural, giving KeyPoint a window onto this group’s needs and behavior.

Sometimes that behavior raises a tricky question about branches. When so much of a representative’s job is about building relationships with members, who should be the one to periodically touch base with them? Many KeyPoint members set foot in a branch only once, when they open an account, and thereafter communicate through other channels such as the call center or live chat.

“How do you allocate members when they never visit a branch?” Canfield muses. “We’re still trying to answer that ourselves right now.”

 

 

 

Oct. 14, 2013


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