Third-party providers of human resource information systems (HRIS) know credit unions allocate a big chunk of their HR budgets toward employee compensation and benefits.
“Credit unions are intensely employee-focused,” says Eileen Westbrook, executive vice president of business development at CU People Inc., a CUNA Strategic Services alliance provider that provides back-office HR strategy and support.
“They want the best for their people and constantly search for ways to sweeten their benefits packages.
“In the past,” Westbrook continues, “new hires would sit down with credit union managers to review benefits packages in detail—something few other industries do. They’re very hesitant to remove the personal touch.”
Modern HRIS offers a clear advantage by offering an online solution, which complements face-to-face discussions. This tool empowers employees to review their benefits packages at their convenience and make changes as they see fit.
Benevolent approaches to employees aside, HR concerns have become decidedly more complex compared with even a few years ago, according to Westbrook.
These functions now interpret health-care reform, absorb increasing regulatory compliance demands, handle payroll, track pension benefits, and monitor employee performance.
That’s quite a collection of needs. For credit unions already groaning under the weight of almost innumerable demands, what tools can third-party vendors offer them to lighten the load?
All-in-one HR applications
Many vendors offer HR applications designed to address all organizational needs. Credit unions should carefully assess whether these “all-in-one” applications provide the caliber of functionality and familiarity your staff has come to expect with existing tools.
“HR tools have evolved from spreadsheets to easy-to-use applications that address specific areas of HR,” says Aaron Adams, senior vice president at the HR performance solutions division of CU Solutions Group, which offers an HRIS called Compease and Performance Pro.
“In recent years,” Adams continues, “many HR software companies have invested a lot in marketing ‘all-in- one’ solutions that talk to each other and supposedly do everything you could ever need them to do.”
But Adams believes if a solution sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“When you go with an ‘all-in-one’ solution, there will be tradeoffs,” he says. “You might have to give up a performance evaluation application you love, for example, because you’re trying to work through all-in-one software that has a performance evaluation application you don’t like quite as much.”
Westbrook agrees with Adams on the frustration some credit unions experience with all-in-one HRIS. “In our experience, many credit unions have been promised highly functional HRIS only to find the systems didn’t live up to expectations.”
Most all-in-one tools weren’t developed in integrated fashion from the ground up, according to Adams, so the user experience doesn’t always live up to expectations. But the emergence of application program interfaces (APIs) should eliminate the need to even consider an all-in-one product.
“By using data APIs, many vendors can send any data point to another HR application of choice,” Adams says. “The best part is that you can keep only the applications you love for each area of HR. If an exciting new startup comes along, you won’t be pinned under a major investment that prevents you from accessing the latest technology.”
CU People addresses that need for flexibility, Westbrook says, by surveying credit unions about their requirements and explaining how its HRIS product, Infinity HR, fits the bill.
“We’ve been in the field for 20 years, so we understand credit unions’ needs and limitations,” she says. “They’re constantly multitasking, so HR becomes a crucial process.
“We help them streamline those processes, especially on the benefits side,” Westbrook continues. “We understand the demands of new laws and regulations, so clients can outsource as much of their HR tasks to us as they want. When we visit a prospective credit union client, we ask what they’re doing for, say, payrolls, benefits, or time management. Then we demonstrate how Infinity can pull these different parts together into a coordinated system.”
Employee appraisal and compensation
In terms of salary planning and administration, credit unions look for solutions that provide the best market data and administration tools, says Adams. CU Solutions Group offers Compease, which draws salary data from 700 credit unions and many other data sources from inside and outside the industry.
“Many progressive credit unions maintain that hiring the best people is a strategic priority for ensuring their long-term survival,” Adams says. “Compensation planning is an essential component in successfully executing this strategy because it ensures credit unions have the most competitive compensation practices—something top talent demands.”
Because credit unions approach employee appraisals from a wide variety of perspectives, flexibility is a crucial component of any system you consider. CU Solutions Group’s Performance Pro enables credit unions to their preferences.
“There’s a lot of creativity out there regarding performance management,” Adams says. “Some credit unions have gone so far as to create a standard, simple, three-question approach to appraisals to see how employees are performing relative to peers. Others are trying a combination of things while keeping standard appraisals in place.”
Likewise, CU People’s Infinity HR has a proven track record of fitting existing credit union infrastructure and practices.
“We know it works well with credit unions and easily integrates with payroll,” Westbrook says.
Performance management should play a key role in executing strategic plans, Adams advises.
“While many organizations use their performance management tool for simple year-end appraisals, more are using HRIS tools to create alignment between individual employee goals and organizational strategies,” he says.
Cost, bandwidth, and inertia represent the most common obstacles to streamlined performance appraisals, according to Adams.
“But as an organization owned by credit unions,” he says, “we offer a value proposition they love: Clients that use all of our programs, including our Sprint Membership Discount program, can get those services for a net-zero financial cost. In fact, most credit unions end up with a net-positive financial relationship with us.”
Through hands-on collaboration with credit unions, CU People complements employee training programs.
CU People assists clients on a project-by-project basis, “which means we only deliver the specific services a credit union wants or needs,” Westbrook says. “We have some credit union clients for which we are their virtual HR department. They use our HRIS solution for hiring, training, payroll, benefits, and performance reviews.”
To achieve that level of effective facilitation, credit unions should develop a one- to three-year vision for their HR capabilities. This clarifies the specific needs applications should address.
“The key to HRIS is to select applications you love that fulfill their specific, intended objectives,” Adams says. “Don’t compromise one area of HR for another. It’s also important to work closely with your HR vendors and make sure they clearly understand your needs.”
Working with consultants can be a cost-effective way to get a head start on big projects, absorb the consultant’s expertise, and maintain a cost-effective relationship with industry experts, Adams says.
“Do enough due diligence to assure yourself that you have the resources to execute your plan, whether or not that includes consultants,” he says.