The term “productivity” can mean many things, such as “the rate of output per unit of input,” “the state or quality of producing something,” or even “involvement in the creation of goods and services to produce wealth.”
By all these definitions, NorthCountry Federal Credit Union ($448.7M, Burlington, VT) is a peer-buster. Its relationship- and market-building tactics combined with evolving channels has built a business that quantifiably stands out in service and value.
What’s more, NorthCountry has achieved this despite generating far more fee income per each of its 33,128 members than credit unions nationally, and having one employee for every 268 members, compared with one per 349 on average for the 344 credit unions in the $250 million to $500 million asset group in Callahan & Associates data.
But far from being inefficient, NorthCountry gets a lot out of its 124 staffers. Its reported net income of $2.88 million in third quarter 2014 is up 15.31% from one year ago and notably more than the $589,969 posted by its average peer group credit union.
So what gives?
“Sustained efficiency is driven more by revenue enhancement than by cutting costs,” says Lisa Huyer, North Country’s executive vice president.
Marketing + Member Service = Member Growth
NorthCountry spent $24 per member on marketing in third quarter 2014 compared with $14 for the average credit union in its peer group. It’s been like that for years but, following up on recommendations from Cornerstone Advisors, that spend now includes boosting in-branch tactics for attracting more business from existing members.
“Walk into any of our branches and you’ll see lobby monitors, stand-up banners, and counter bulletins,” Huyer says, adding, “We try not to clutter our space with too many messages. Rather, we focus on up to three at a time.”
Meanwhile, direct mail campaigns have helped boost Visa card balances by 14% in the past year and reach new members with special offers.
CU QUICK FACTS
NORTHCOUNTRY Credit Union
data as of 09.30.14
HQ: Burlington, VT
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 1.70%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 5.07%
“We’ve also added many new members by offering the best checking account in the market and through our indirect lending relationships with dealerships,” Huyer says.
Relationships with the community are a big deal here. “Your Community Credit Union” is NorthCountry’s tag line and the credit union returns 10% of its net income each year to local non-profits while encouraging employees to volunteer their time, too.
“It makes our staff feel great about working here,” Huyer says. “And it makes people in the community want to know us better and — if the timing is right — do business with us.”
The community apparently agrees. NorthCountry’s membership growth was 6.52% in third quarter 2014, compared with 1.41% for its peer credit unions, continuing a pattern that stretches back several years.
Next: The Cross Sell (Not The Hard Sell) »
Lending And The Cross-Sell (Not The Hard Sell)
Tight spreads and stiff competition make boosting lending and cross-selling vital to many a credit union’s existence. NorthCountry meets that challenge by focusing on direct and indirect auto lending, mortgages and home equity lines, and credit cards.
That’s bread-and-butter stuff, so the Burlington-based credit union strives to stand out with convenience and service. That includes online loan applications, competitive rates, quick turnarounds, and contact center loan officers that offer personal service.
“People can also stop by any branch, of course, even on Saturdays,” says EVP Huyer. “What ever way people want to engage with us, we do our best to ensure the process is smooth, easy, and fast.”
We make it easy for our staff to cross-sell, but only when it’s appropriate and in the member’s best interest.
NorthCountry uses Micronotes software within its Digital Insight online banking solution to provide appropriate cross-sell prompts at the front line. Huyer says GAP insurance and debt protection offers have done particularly well.
However, Huyer says, the emphasis is as much on service as on sales. That approach is hard-wired through training and compensation. Front-line staff can authoritatively tell members how much a car loses value, for instance, as soon as it’s driven off the lot.
There are no quotas for selling, and no “product of the week,” Huyer says. Instead, the EVP says, there’s a recognition program for employees who exemplify the credit union’s core values of “confident, caring, and creative.”
4 Tips For Boosting Productivity
NorthCountry FCU EVP Lisa Huyer recently attended a Callahan Roundtable and later agreed to share some of the credit union’s keys to success:
Don’t be afraid of cross-selling. “It’s good service to tell a member about a product or service that can improve their financial situation, make their life easier, or solve a problem they have,” Huyer says. “When it’s done well, everyone benefits.”
Invest in the tools staffers need to do their jobs well, such as on-screen prompts about products that a member might like.
Ensure staff knows how to use those tools. “Don’t just say, ‘You’re a loan officer now,’ and send them out there,” Huyer says. “Having training plans for all levels has been a huge benefit and improvement for us.”
Avoid robbing Peter to pay Paul. “Promoting from within makes a lot of sense, but continually poaching from the front lines can be off-putting to members who enjoy seeing the same faces every day,” the NorthCountry EVP says.
Huyer did say the credit union does sometimes use promotion-specific incentives, albeit rarely, and that staffers who contribute to the credit union’s overall success in meeting its annual goals qualify for a year-end bonus.
The net effect: “We make it easy for our staff to cross-sell, but only when it’s appropriate and in the member’s best interest,” the credit union executive says. “If the employee believes in a product or service, has the confidence to discuss it intelligently, and can see how it will benefit the member, they’re more likely to open the conversation.”
Productivity In Payments
The same consultant who recommended boosting in-house advertising also recommended hiring a payments manager to develop and champion strategies to maximize both the member experience and revenue growth.
As a result, NorthCountry has launched person-to-person and account-to-account payments.
“While still in their infancy, they appear to be taking off with our members,” Huyer says.
Staff buy-in has been a big part of that.
“If the staff uses the products, they’re more comfortable offering them as solutions to members,” Huyer says.
Meanwhile, NorthCountry uses deep analytics to segment card campaigns that have helped increase card balances 14% in the past year. It also emphasizes security and is rolling out EMV for credit cards and ATMs.
“We have more projects on our horizon, including Apple Pay, which will offer our members another payment option with enhanced security,” Huyer says.
One tap at the POS and the deal is done. Secure and efficient.
Want More Data?
Check out the CreditUnions.com GRAPHIC OF THE WEEK for a sampling of productivity and efficiency metrics.