Conversations Transform Members’ Finances At Teachers Credit Union

An in-house training program coaches member-facing staff on how to dig deeper during everyday interactions.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Members’ financial health and wellbeing are tied to mission, vision, and values statements at Teachers Credit Union.
  • A formal training program provides guidance to front-line employees on how to build deeper connections during member interactions.

Teachers Credit Union ($4.2B, South Bend, IN) ties the health and wellbeing of its members to its mission, vision, and values. As part of that focus, Indiana’s largest credit union provides its members with up-to-date financial literacy tools, presentations, and tips to help them build a positive emotional connection with their finances.

Front-line and contact center staff have regular conversations with members to deepen their credit union relationship and improve their financial stations. According to Jeff Sobieralski, director of financial health and wellbeing at Teachers, the credit union has delivered a needs-based style of service stretching back to his arrival in 2005.

In 2015, however, the credit union formalized conversation training for employees. Dubbed “relationship building with conversations” (RBC), the credit union initially worked with a vendor, Carew International, to develop and customize the training to meet Teachers' needs, before bringing the program in-house to provide member-facing employees instruction on how to use conversation to dig deeper into a member’s underlying financial health and wellbeing.

In this Q&A, Sobieralski and Michelle Staber, assistant vice president of learning and performance at Teachers, discuss RBC, training for conversation, tracking success, best practices, and more.

What is relationship building with conversations training? What does it accomplish?

Jeff Sobieralski, Director of Financial Health and Wellbeing, Teachers Credit Union

Jeff Sobieralski: RBC is the method we use to increase our members’ financial health and wellbeing. For the 15 years I’ve worked for Teachers, we have always offered a needs-based style of service. Our credit union leadership often discussed different ways for our employees to deepen those member relationships and help our members by going beyond basic transactions.

Many of our more experienced employees were already good at engaging with members in this way, whereas other employees had opportunity to grow. So, Teachers looked for a sustainable and reproducible model that would help our employees become better relationship builders and attend to the deeper needs of our members.

How big of a shift was RBC for employees?

JS: Our business culture was already focused on doing what is right for our members. We just needed a way to streamline our member interactions in a way that would provide a consistent member experience.

Michelle Staber: When Teachers began using the RBC training, we started with our district and branch leadership teams, who we engaged in training for three days. After them, we added our member-facing team members who handle more complex transactions beyond deposits and withdrawals. Once all our front-line team members were trained, we trained our contact center team.

When do you introduce new hires to RBC training?

Michelle Straber, Assistant Vice President Of Learning And Performance, Teachers Credit Union

MS: Right from the start. We introduce new team members to some component of RBC during the orientation process. We want to ensure our team members understand what it might be like to walk in our members’ shoes. To do this, we help team members understand their personal biases and perspectives that might inhibit open learning and how they can better serve their co-workers and our members. Not only do we want our members to see us as their trusted advisors, but we also want to have better working relationships.

What does the RBC training look like?

MS: In addition to more general learning, we provide skills-based training in RBC financial transactions training. After mastering those skills, we follow-up with RBC problem-solving training. This training teaches team members how to deal with member challenges, concerns, and other problems members encounter. From there, team members take RBC deposit accounts training, where they learn how to ask bigger and broader questions to find out more about a member’s financial complexities and get them to see their financial needs differently. Every training level upskills our team members.

Can you provide an example for how an RBC-influenced conversation is different?

MS: Prior to introducing RBC, a member might have come in and asked to replace a debit card. Transactionally, we would get a new debit card for the member and the interaction was over. We think the member leaves happy; however, we didn’t know if the member’s wallet with identifiable information was stolen or if the member was concerned there could be some degree of fraud in the future.

Now we ask questions about what happened to the lost card, concerns the member has about that personal information being out there, or how they are protecting their information. We are looking to uncover information from even the smallest interaction that allows us to better serve them and provide increased peace of mind during what might be a trying time.

CU QUICK FACTS

Teachers Credit Union
Data as of 03.31.21

HQ: South Bend, IN
ASSETS: $4.2B
MEMBERS: 305,220
BRANCHES: 57
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 28.1%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 15.8%
ROA: 0.66%

How do you track the success of your training efforts?

MS: We’ve found live observation is the best way our team members learn. Team members display their learning through role-playing exercises.

Once they return from training, they are observed and attend weekly coaching session with a mentor or manager to reinforce the skills they learned. During coaching sessions, we follow much of the same RBC processes. We ask questions to help employees discover the best way to handle situations in the future. Asking questions helps team members own the interaction and increases their recognition and retention afterward.

We also use surveys and questionnaires to see if the questions we are asking meet the needs of our member.

How have employees taken to RBC training? Are there any common challenges?

JS: RBC training success varies based on how well an individual employee adapts to the model. As an organization, we have embraced the definitions and terminology, but we still have work to do to incorporate the RBC process into every daily conversation. Sometimes our biases still interfere with true service. Because we are the financial experts, we think we have the answer without learning more about what the member wants or how they see the solution.

The best solution we have is to practice and refresh to reinforce and master the new skills.

What best practices or lessons learned do you have for other credit unions?

JS: It’s important employees understand why members are asking questions and seek to understand their needs better. The strategy is not meant to be intrusive. Instead, it enables us to give our members the best advice and exceed their expectations to lead them to a better level of financial wellbeing.

For an organization planning to introduce a structure like this, we’d recommend celebrating successes from the launch of the initiative. Celebrate successes early, often, and in front of as many employees as possible so you can reinforce those behaviors and employees can emulate them. And don’t forget to tie celebrations back to the financial successes we’re helping our members achieve.  

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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