A Reward Program That Takes The Cents Out Of Incentive

The gaming approach employed by Community First Credit Union of Florida offers experiences rather than cash to high-performing branch staff.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Cash incentives didn’t align with the culture at Community First Credit Union of Florida, so the cooperative experimented.
  • Community First Games assigns points to performance and ties experiences, not cash, to payouts.


Community First Credit Union of Florida
DATA AS OF 12.31.18

HQ: Jacksonville, FL
MEMBERS: 134,886
ROA: 1.28%

It’s been nearly a decade since branch staff at Community First Credit Union of Florida ($1.6B, Jacksonville, FL) collected any form of cash incentive not that anyone misses it.

Cash incentives didn’t fit into the organization’s culture for several reasons, says Chris Culpepper, the credit union’s sales performance manager, but competitiveness was not one of them. To encourage a sense of service and sales, the credit union sponsors the Community First Games.

Community First divides branch staff into teams, sets product-specific goals to reach within a set timeframe, and rewards the winners with experiences. For example, a team that opens the most auto loans might be treated to a dinner on the credit union’s dime. Every employee voluntarily participates in the program, underscoring the staff’s preference for experiences more than cash.

In this Q&A, Culpepper and Jonathan Hanson, director of product marketing, discuss Community First Games, experiences versus cash, and best practices for discovering incentives that work.

What was your incentive structure before Community First Games?

Jonathan Hanson, Director of Product Marketing, Community First Credit Union of Florida

Jonathan Hanson: Before we launched the Games four years ago, we were dabbling with the idea of offering experiences. The year before, we ran six- to eight-week campaigns for teams of branch staff. Let’s say we ran a mortgage campaign, the branch team with the most dollars funded by the end of that period would get a night out paid for by marketing.

We only invited the winners to these dinners because we wanted it to be a team-building experience. They got to interact with other branch staff some of whom they might not have met in person bond outside of a working environment, gain exposure to senior staff, and eat at a restaurant they might not have been to before.

How did this evolve into the Community First Games?

Chris Culpepper: We still have the same corporate initiatives from a marketing focus, and we still run the team campaigns every six to eight weeks, but we’ve added layers over the past four years. Branch staff wins points throughout the year, and we maintain a running tally between January and November.

These games do a great job getting everyone behind our initiatives. Employees have fun while doing it, and they are tremendously engaged in what we are trying to do.

Chris Culpepper, Sales Performance Manager, Community First Credit Union of Florida

How do the points work?

CC: Every member of a campaign-winning team gets points, employees who meet their monthly goals earn points, and the top three performing employees in a particular job category get extra points based on their individual production.

The first year we started, we focused on consumer loan production. We statistically ranked each branch staff based on their production against their peers part-time teller, full-time teller, head teller, member service representative, assistant branch manager, and branch manager and added up points across the year.

Now, someone can hit their monthly goal every single month, but if they don’t win any team-based campaigns, they are not going to win the Community First Games. They can’t rely on their individual production alone. They need to have some team wins as well, which is a great representation of our core values.

How many campaigns do you run throughout the year?

CC: Five or six, and they are now more than dinners. We go to Dave & Busters; we go to Main Event Entertainment, which is a local spot with laser tag and bowling and other games; we get Skydeck tickets at our minor league baseball team’s stadium.

What is the Community First Games prize?

CC: When we started, we took the one winner in each job category. Now, we take the top two and even the top three in one category.

JH: We want as many winners as possible because the goal is to foster collaboration and employee engagement. We announce the winners in front of all the staff at an end-of-the-year meeting, and we typically take the winners and a guest on a trip to either Universal Studios or Disney World. There’s no programming involved for us, it’s all already there. We typically have the winners meet up one day at a dinner, but the rest of the trip is theirs.

What else have you focused on aside from consumer loan production?

CC: We’ve done everything. We’ve done credit cards, auto loan refinance, mortgages, deposits. Right now, one of our corporate goals is to drive deposits.

JH: One of the benefits is that we can shift focus based on our internal goals. It’s a platform we know we can turn on that engages staff right away.

How have employees reacted?

JH: One of the biggest outcomes has been an increase in collaboration. When you ask branches to team up to hit a certain goal, you’re really encouraging them to talk to one another and identify best practices to help members and reach our goals.

CC: I’ll say this, too: You don’t want to underestimate the competitive spirit of some of our employees.

JH: They like our incentives. We ask them what they want, and it’s experiences. I had an employee tell me, I am always going to remember that awesome experience you took me on with my family and coworkers, but I’ll never remember what I spent a $25 gift card on. I thought that was powerful.

Have you hit your goals?

CC: We had tremendous results last year. We ran a two-month auto campaign that helped us hit 10% growth over the previous two months. We did a two-month mortgage campaign later in the year where we saw 59% growth over the preceding two months.

These games do a great job getting everyone behind our initiatives. Employees have fun while doing it, and they are tremendously engaged in what we are trying to do. Last year, we set a benchmark for employee retention at our credit union, and I have to believe our games play a role in that.

What are some best practices or lessons learned?

JH: Transparency works well. We publish leaderboards monthly so staff can track their progress. They know where these numbers are coming from and there’s never a question of validity when it comes to how one person or one team is performing against another. It’s worked for us, and we’d like to keep the concept as simple as possible.

CC: I think we are going to continue to evolve the metrics we track, whether we look at just one or we blend a few together when we assign points. It’s important to continuously look at it to see how much better it can be.


December 20, 2019

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