Post-Recession Staffing Strategies

Today’s employees must be highly trained, adaptable, and tech-savvy.

August 13, 2012

Credit unions are looking at staffing differently these days, for many reasons. Two of the biggest are the challenging economy and changing technology.

Branching out

Tallahassee-Leon Federal Credit Union, Tallahassee, Fla., is opening a new branch about 45 minutes from its main office, which poses staffing challenges, saysLisa Brown, president/CEO.

When you have distant branches, it’s difficult to rotate staff when someone’s sick or on vacation, she explains. “You’d normally pull from another branch, but in this case it’s not practical. And you typically need all back-office staff in one branch for effective communication, but we wanted to be a little more creative.”

The $40 million asset credit union is moving its accounting department from its main office to the new branch. “It will help with dual control and redundancy, and will give us more space in our main branch,” she says.

“We’re fairly progressive with technology, so I think we can overcome any communication challenges,” she adds. Staff will use video calls and tablet devices for meetings.

Brown uses transaction volumes to plan staffing levels—within budget guidelines—and to forecast expected volumes for the new branch. “We’ll have two accounting employees and three branch staffers,” she says. “We also use kiosks at all branches in place of tellers. You can check account history and make withdrawals; it really helps traffic flow.”

When Brown joined Tallahassee-Leon Federal, she needed to ramp up collections. That need has since abated, and she’s reallocating collections staff to the credit union’s branches. “Luckily, we didn’t have to downsize,” she notes. “And, thankfully, the economy isn’t playing as much of a role in staffing as it did two years ago.”

Technology always has an impact on staffing, she adds. “You can centralize or decentralize—with a few employees who know all the systems or all employees who know a little. We’re choosing a more decentralized approach.

“When searching for new staff, we require a much higher level of technical knowledge than in the past,” she continues. “Even tellers are required to troubleshoot common software issues.”

Compliance is one exception to the decentralized approach. The current regulatory climate led the credit union to hire a full-time compliance specialist. “We needed a very specific knowledge base,” says Brown. “It’s something credit unions, especially those our size, never needed in the past.”

The credit union currently outsources after-hours loan application review, some network security, and core processing.

Future staffing strategies will depend on growth, Brown reflects. “We’re at a tipping point. When we hit the $100 million asset mark, a lot of dynamics will change. We’re limited because of dual control requirements and the need for such attention on compliance, but that will change as we grow.”

NEXT: Evolving member needs

Evolving member needs

Like a lot of credit unions, 1st Advantage Federal Credit Union, Yorktown, Va., is seeing in-branch transaction counts drop and electronic transactions increase dramatically. Consequently, Paul Muse, president/CEO of the $567 million asset credit union, has re-evaluated staffing levels.

“We reduced the total number of staff through attrition and, as a result, we have fewer staff but they’re more highly trained,” he says. “They can handle everything from loan applications to teller transactions.”

Muse foresees the trend continuing—especially as the credit union tries to attract younger members—and expects to follow the same staffing strategy for quite a while. The hybrid staff model fits especially well in 1st Advantage Federal’s two newer branches, which have “pods” instead of teller lines. The branches also have a few private offices and some cubicles, where employees can meet with members.

“It’s more conducive to having discussions and building relationships,” Muse explains. “We want a more relaxed feel, and we want staff thinking more about sales and relationships than doing transactions and getting the members out.”

When hiring, Muse and his team look for sales-oriented people with vibrant personalities. They’re less concerned about product knowledge or lengthy cashbox experience. “We want people who are more in the mindset of revenue generators,” he says.

When a position comes open, whether in retail or operations, management evaluates it thoroughly, says Muse. “We ask ourselves, ‘Do we need the position? Do we need a new job description?’ ”

Staffing is a group effort, he notes. The chief operating officer sets the strategic direction and human resources and training staff are heavily involved.

The credit union outsources mortgage operations. “We’re a partner in a CUSO, and three loan officers cover our market,” he says. “Our 11 branches use them as mortgage specialists and bring them in for appointments.”

The arrangement works well, he says. “It’s cost-effective because the CUSO hires them and pays their salaries and benefits. It’s nice because we have influence on who gets hired so it’s a good cultural fit. We think of them and all credit union staff—whether they’re branch or facilities staff—as marketers, capable of referring business.”

He predicts staffing strategies will keep evolving. “The key is continuing to evaluate positions and job descriptions, and staying up to speed on member behavior and how it’s changing.”

Partnering and outsourcing

Village Community Credit Union, Dearborn, Mich., hasn’t decreased the number of staff, but when hiring, it looks for different disciplines and experiences than in the past: more marketing, cross-selling, information technology (IT), and social media skills. “It’s becoming apparent that we need those skill sets more than transaction processing or balancing the teller drawer,” says Janet Thompson, president/CEO of the $18 million asset credit union.

“Even at higher levels, we need that background and education, and a desire to learn more about new technologies,” she continues. “As members’ needs change, the way we deliver services will change.”

Members today use multiple delivery channels, want immediate access to their accounts 24/7, and want timely information that’s easy to understand and access.

“They don’t necessarily put time in their schedules to go to a branch and do a transfer, but they still need to do the transfer,” she says. “In this economy, they’re more aware of what they’re saving and spending, so we need to stay in touch with them and do more with technology.

“During times when we’re not as busy, we use branch staff to do things like go out in the community and talk to businesses about our products and services,” says Thompson. The credit union finds this an excellent way to develop community partnerships to better serve members.

“Or we pull lists of members who’ve never been in our branches and make outbound calls,” she adds. “We want to make sure members know the credit union is really looking out for them and has their best interests at heart.”

Village Community outsources its IT support, so it pays for these skills only as needed. “We also outsource some marketing support—not setting strategy, but things like graphic design and printing,” she says.

If the credit union can’t afford full-time positions and outsourcing isn’t an option, it partners with other credit unions. “We didn’t have the expertise to write a required information security policy, so we partnered with another credit union to take advantage of their expertise and savvy. We also partner with our league for staff training.”