With 36 branches spread across 11 states and Puerto Rico, BCU ($1.9B, Vernon Hills, IL) knows you can’t think big in brick-and-mortar without setting a proper foundation to support that growth. Today, in addition to the executive team, the credit union employs four regional directors who each manage their own swath of the institution’s brand footprint.
“We try to tie together locations wherever it makes sense, either because of branch concentration, SEG relationships, or other factors,” says Patti Dixon, the credit union’s vice president of member services. “But because we’re so geographically diverse we don’t have a way to break the branch network up into true regions like the Southwest or Northeast.”
Taylor Murray, the credit union’s regional director of service centers, manages branch operations in Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. In part, the credit union selected Murray for this position because of his success managing the turnaround of a branch in Crystal Lake, IL. Murray developed many of the best practices at the Crystal Lake branch, which had been battling to reach its full potential since opening in 2004, that he now relies upon to continually improve the locations he oversees.
Breaking The Mold At Crystal Lake
BCU branches are primarily located in SEG facilities, but the credit union does have four stand-alone service centers, including Crystal Lake, each of which presents distinct challenges and opportunities.
"Crystal Lake, being one of our only public access, community branches, brings challenges we simply don't face with growing our SEG-based branches," Murray says. "There are probably more banks than gas stations in this market, and competition is fierce."
Stand-alone locations require a more significant investment than a standard SEG branch, and although the troubled Crystal Lake branch was not in danger of closing, missed opportunities there were magnified on the balance sheet. Additionally, employee complacency was a detriment to the member experience and career development standards at BCU.
"When a branch has flat membership growth, decreasing loan originations despite great rates, and service levels that fail to surpass competitors, those are signs you need to pay attention to," Murray says.
Rallying The Troops
BCU transferred Murray from a successful SEG location in 2009 to manage Crystal Lake’s turnaround. By that time, two branch managers in five years had already cycled through. Murray knew two challenges he faced in this location were resuscitating the credit union’s brand awareness and developing a proactive sales outreach.
“If members and potential members have no knowledge of a great product or service we offer, that’s a bigger problem than them knowing about it and not taking advantage of it,” he says.
For the sales activity, Murray had to address employee education and secure employee buy in for the type of consultative environment he wanted to build.
"It was important to show employees that, although well-intended, being friendly and completing a bunch of transactions didn't equate to success as a branch," he says. "We had to open up the books and help them understand the financials to correct those misconceptions."
During Murray’s first month, he led the entire branch staff through a high-level analysis of branch profitability metrics and the individual levers, such as non-interest income, that drove them. Then, Murray traced a path backward from those financial metrics into individual roles at the credit union. Finally, he laid out the specific actions each employee needed to take to put Crystal Lake back on track.
“The staff was revived because they finally understood how to identify opportunities as well as define and benchmark success,” Murray says. “They saw how their work connected to the bigger picture.”
Over the next few weeks and months, employees took small, voluntary extra steps — such as picking out cars with dealer plates in the drive through and checking to see if the vehicle was a BCU loan or an opportunity for a refinance — that rarely occurred before.
In addition to employee education, Murray had to address efficiency. He trimmed the branch’s hours of operation during slower periods and shuffled resources to expand Saturday hours without adding cost. For other hurdles, Murray had to double down to get ahead. For example, instead of using a teller to support work overflow from the location’s single on-duty loan officer, Murray permanently reallocated some transaction-oriented staff to dedicated lending roles.
The credit union lost one employee during Murray’s turnaround tenure. The rest are still employed at Crystal Lake, and many are enjoying more advanced career roles.
Given Murray’s experience as a branch manager and his current role supervising managers across a region, he knows leaders at the branch level need a different work environment and culture than other employees. As the primary boots-on-the-ground resource for the brand, branch managers need the autonomy to run their locations like their own business, Murray says. At the same time, they must still be accountable for institutional goals and strategies.
Benchmarking A Turnaround
Prior to Murray’s arrival, origination activity at Crystal Lake had lulled to roughly $4.5 million a year. Now, the location originates loans at a level much closer to its full potential, approximately $9 million annually, and attracts around 100 new members per month.
In a few years’ time, Crystal Lake has gone from one of the credit union’s lowest Net Promoter Score (NPS) locations to consistently ranking among its best. By comparison, BCU’s three other freestanding branches rank in the low double-digits for NPS while Crystal Lake’s score surpasses 80%. And for the first time ever, the location won Branch of the Year at BCU’s annual President’s Award ceremony, an event that honors outstanding operational performance.