The Adopt-a-Branch program at Georgia’s Own Credit Union ($1.9B, Atlanta, GA) has been such a hit with senior managers, they’ve expanded it to others on the executive team.
A dozen leaders — including the CEO, senior vice presidents, vice presidents, and assistant vice presidents — have each “adopted” a branch, where they do their own jobs while watching others do theirs. But the intent is not to look over anyone’s shoulders. Quite the opposite.
“We started this program because there is no better way to learn about member needs than to experience them first-hand,” says Cindy Boyles, Georgia’s Own senior vice president of organizational development. “Being in the branch enables management to identify pain points or inhibitors to service. It allows us to gather valuable member and staff feedback and is a great reminder that we are in the relationship business.”
CU QUICK FACTS
Georgia's own Credit Union
data as of 3.31.15
HQ: Atlanta, GA
12-MO SHARE GROWTH:1.52%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 3.63%
Now in its third year, the Adopt-a-Branch program has helped the credit union streamline loan processes, improve employee benefits, and build a new branch.
Down Home In Douglasville
That new facility resulted from the pain points Dave Preter, Georgia’s Own president and CEO, witnessed at his adopted branch in suburban Douglasville and heard about in the credit union’s town hall meetings.
Staff members were doing their best to keep up with member demand at the overcrowded branch, but they needed more space and resources. Senior managers saw potential in the location, and the resulting new, freestanding facility posted 9% growth in lending and revenue-generating ancillary products in 2014. Georgia’s Own expects the location to notch 31% growth this year.
Ken Brehm, vice president of consumer lending, works every Friday out of a branch office he chose, in part, because of its high loan volume.
“Working regularly from a branch has been a positive experience,” Brehm says. “Not only has it allowed me to build a stronger relationship with our branch staff, it also has given me a chance to see the challenges they face.”
No matter how much we talk about how we support our members and our employees, being able to watch them work together makes a deeper impression.
Brehm has since pushed for new efficiencies in the communications between retail loan officers and the consumer loan call center and main office. His Adopt-a-Branch experience also prompted the credit union to add home equity line of credit training for branch loan officers so they don’t have to refer members to other locations.
“It’s nice to spot opportunities where our employees can take advantage of advanced training and improve member service at the same time,” Boyles says. “No matter how much we talk about how we support our members and our employees, being able to watch them work together makes a deeper impression.”
Building Relationships Externally
Georgia’s Own became a community credit union eight years ago and building community relationships is a big deal. Branch managers live in the communities they serve, Boyles says, and each of the Adopt-a-Branch participants try to do the same.
Boyles, for instance, has adopted the branch near her children’s school where she has become a frequent sight both as a parent and as a credit union representative. Others are similarly engaged with athletics, fundraisers, shelters, and other civic matters.
One of the emergency phones Georgia's Own helped place on hiking trails.
“The idea is to expose our Adopt-a-Branch participants to what is important to members in that particular community by serving outside the branch itself,” the Georgia’s Own SVP says.
For example, the credit union’s Buford branch is a major supporter of the Right to Hike organization, created by the family of a college student who was murdered after apparently being abducted while hiking nearby. The slain woman was well known to the credit union staff, and they support the organization her family and friends started to provide protective measures such as emergency solar/wireless phones on area greenways, parks, and trailheads.
Building Relationships Internally
According to Boyles, a trusting relationship is crucial to making the Adopt-a-Branch program work. Participants set their own schedule; however, Boyles notes that consistency is key because it allows executives to see repeated issues emerge and builds rapport with the branch staff and members.
If branch staff feels senior management is there merely to observe their behavior or just have an alternative office to work out of, you leave tremendous insight on the table.
“Being there regularly and engaging with the staff and members helps build the open dialogue you want,” Boyles says. “I’ve seen first-hand how with greater access to senior management, our employees have become more comfortable offering suggestions.”
Another important element: Soliciting feedback and being open to constructive criticism.
“If branch staff feels senior management is there merely to observe their behavior or just have an alternative office to work out of,” Boyles says, “you leave tremendous insight on the table.”