A Talent Imperative Facing Credit Unions

A 2020 challenge: How to deepen relationships between staff, members, and the tech tools that bind, or separate, them.

 
 

Everywhere I turn, I read about some new application for AI, which jobs are going to be disrupted or displaced due to AI, or how the answer to every problem is a new digital app.

But I’d like to challenge your thinking. Is technology really what’s holding us back as an industry? Is the next best app going to set us apart from the competition? Do we as an industry even have the ability to go toe-to-toe with the financial pockets of BofA or Wells Fargo? As an industry maybe (see our third imperative) but individually? Probably not.

That’s where Callahan’s second Imperative for 2020 comes in — talent. We believe that where credit unions are going to differentiate themselves in the next decade is on the human front. 

Don’t get me wrong — having a mobile app that delivers on members needs is table stakes. But what makes for good apps and good in-person experiences? Human-centered design. It starts with the member’s needs and develops from there.

Algorithms can’t empathize. They can’t understand context or history or emotion — at least not yet. And that’s where the talent imperative lies.

Alix Patterson, Chief Experience Officer, Callahan & Associates

What credit unions need are employees who understand the members’ struggles, intellectually and emotionally. Algorithms are great at easy questions — What’s your RTN? What’s my account balance? — and can delight the member when done well. Even those easy loan decisions can be automated. 

But algorithms can’t empathize. They can’t understand context or history or emotion — at least not yet. And that’s where the talent imperative lies. Use technology to do the easy stuff and free up your employees to do more impactful work. 

Members aren’t the only ones who will benefit. Employees need connection, too. Increasingly, in these changing times, employees need to know their work has purpose and that they can grow within their organization. Study after study shows that pay is only one reason for hanging around, and it’s not even the most important. Just one example is a SHRM report that found career development — at 22.2% — as the leading reason why employees left their jobs in 2018. Compensation and benefits were fifth, at 9.6%.

Credit unions have long been investing in their communities and in their members’ financial well-being. Now, it’s imperative that that same attention be given to the people who provide that service. 

Formalizing talent development begins with identifying skills and personality strengths and moves on to matching those with roles in the credit union. Helping staff navigate personal issues also is a way to strengthen the workforce. 

We’ve profiled some of this work on CreditUnions.com, such as the “dream manager” at CommunityAmerica in Kansas and a “success navigator” at American 1 in Michigan. Those credit unions and others have seen how imperative it is to address workplace satisfaction and focus as a way to retain talent and maintain high levels of member service.

We’ll explore the topic of talent development and retention, including the thorny issue of inclusion, in future installments of our “credit union imperatives” series this year. Meanwhile, let’s look at one factor in the disconnect between member and staffer and the kind of satisfying engagement that both require: technology.

The ATM experience provides a stark example. They provide convenience at the expense of the human touch. Harvard business professor Ryan Buell puts it this way. “… separated … by a hard, metallic surface and a vague ‘processing transaction’ message, customers take the ‘wizardry’ for granted in a way that they don’t when they’re face-to-face with tellers who are working on their behalf.” 

The result, Buell says in his Harvard Business Review article, is that “automation has enabled enormous efficiencies in recent years, but it has also detached customers from operations.”

Now, I’m in no way suggesting credit unions rip out their ATMs and start processing transactions by hand. That would just be silly. If a member needs a $20 bill, make sure the ATM is stocked! 

But we do want to invite our members into conversations about how credit unions offer solutions to more than the need for cash or an auto loan. After all, credit unions were created to improve the financial wellbeing of their collective membership, rather than just the bottom line of the institution itself. 

Helping one member improve their FICO score may lead them to a new job which creates economic stability for their whole family. A bot can’t do that. Employees can empathize, strategize, support and design solutions that can.

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