What sets Utah First Federal Credit Union ($695.5M, Salt Lake City, UT) apart from competitors? Leaders would say it’s the cooperative’s dedication to saying yes when other financial institutions say no. That approach can be difficult, however, especially when a borrower has a blemished financial history. That’s where stringent training comes into play.
Every year, Utah First requires front-line employees to complete 104 hours of training the equivalent of 13 eight-hour days.
“When we tell new hires that, their eyes get wide and their mouths hang open,” says Steve Fifield, the credit union’s vice president of corporate development. “They’re not sure how that’s going to happen.”
But through trainer-led sessions, subject matter expert presentations, and third-party modules, employees and Utah First work together to make it happen. Fifield and two human resources colleagues facilitate most of the training, which the credit union has dubbed Mission University in recognition of the larger purpose training serves.
Here, Fifield discusses Utah First’s training requirement, role-based organization, the expected evolution of the training program in the months ahead, and more.
Why does Utah First require front-line staff members to complete 104 hours of training per year?
Steve Fifield: Our mission is to be significant in the lives of our members. We do that by looking for ways to say yes, not no. We work hard to find the opportunity. It’s different And it can be hard.
How we communicate with our members is fluid based on what we see in their financial profiles, but it starts with our people. It takes an enormous amount of training to instill our philosophy and model in our team members.
Put simply, we’re helping them understand when to hit the brakes and when to hit the gas.
Do you organize training based on role, seniority, or something else?
SF: Our universal employees, who we call financial experts, progress from Level 1 when they are hired to Level 5 when they gain lending authority. Upon hiring, the employee works with their branch manager to create their own training program on their individual self-scheduled pace. The branch manager makes sure the employee stays on track and has access to the elements they need to progress.
Within each level there are about 50 modules, classes, or other elements employees must complete before they can advance to the next level.
What do those modules, classes, or other elements include?
SF: Some 15 to 20 are typically online training we offer through a third-party service. Most of those are regulatory focused.
The remaining 30 to 35 items include practical, hands-on learnings or work-related thresholds. How many new accounts have they opened? How many transactions have they processed? Are they offering products and services to our members? As part of this bucket,employees complete classes through our internal Mission University, where we hold classes, on WebEx currently, run by internal stakeholders every Wednesday morning and most Friday mornings.
What do Mission University classes entail?
SF: There are classes on any operation or topic imaginable: VISA credentials, payment systems, titles, bankruptcy, IRAs, trust accounts, business accounts, new accounts. Depending on the topic and employee’ s level, there are introductory and advanced classes. Business accounts and IRAs are like that.
We have classes on home equity loans, loan closing, fil maintenance, even how to write. If you want to be a lender, you’re going to write loan notes to give to the underwriter. Writing is important.
Is the training within Mission University all internal or do you also use third-party materials?
SF: Most of it is internal. We have subject matter experts who train on various topics. For example, well borrow someone from the commercial services department when it’s time to cover business accounts. We’ve done train-the-trainer classes as well, so our subject matter experts can maintain and improve their skills as facilitators and trainers over time.
What are the differences among the various levels your financial experts can attain?
SF: Everyone starts at Level 1, that’s the new hire level. In addition to their day-to-day duties, they complete 17 different online courses to get them up to speed on various regulations. The training at this level teller transactions, check scanning, check holds, check retrieval is geared toward the employee becoming an effective teller. Once they’re at that point, there’s another 10 to 15 online classes to complete, whether on new accounts or how to cross-sell a VISA card.
At Level 2, they start to do more with loans, more with new accounts like trust and business accounts.
At Level 3, they begin to learn more about our lending ratios. They start observing and conducting loan interviews, become involved in the loan closing process, familiarize themselves with the promissory note, and observe weekly loan interviews at thebranch.
That brings them to Level 4. Here, they wrap up their new accounts expertise, making sure they’re good with CDs, IRAs, MMAs, and every account type we offer. They have more classes on regulation and on writing. They complete loan interviews, submitloans for approval, and do some closing.
And at Level 5, they attain lending authority for the first time.
How long does it take someone to attain that Level 5 designation?
SF: It depends on the employee’s motivation and what experience they bring with them. We’ve had people move as fast as six months in a best-case scenario. Others require a little more time.
How do employees react to the amount of training required to advance?
SF: Once they get into it, they react favorably. We’re not going to leave them twisting in the wind, letting them figur out alone how to come up with 104 hours of training. From their first week of employment, we show them everysingle avenue of training that’s available to them.
They also understand this is a way to advance not only their individual skills but also their career with Utah First. That’s an important consideration as well.
How often do you add new training courses and why?
SF: Because we do things internally, we’re able to remain agile and offer trainings based on need. For example, if we start to see more VISA fraud, we’ll have our payments solution director add a training on fraud mitigation.
In fact, we invite every branch employee to every Mission University training session. Even if they’ve been before, the examples we use are current and there will be a relevance and newness that makes it different
How will you evolve training in the months and years ahead?
SF: We recently added a loan trainer who is spending one on- one time with employees specifically related to lending skills and topics.
Overall, however, although we might have different delivery methods or better technology to offer our training, we’ll continue to be nimble and agile on the subject matter we train on. When we see an opportunity to change, we’ll switch on a dime to offer what our employees need.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
This is part of the “Anatomy Of A Credit Union” series, presented every quarter by Callahan & Associates. Read more about Utah First or dive into a decade of archives. Contact Callahan to learn about gaining access today.