How Empower FCU Empowers Branch Employees

The Syracuse, NY-based credit union has put in place a “self-promotion” program to help branch employees advance their careers and earn a series of raises, all while boosting member service.
Erin Fuller, Chief Administrative Officer, Empower FCU

Empower Federal Credit Union ($2.9B, Syracuse, NY) has really gotten into self-promotion in the form of a self-paced learning journey for branch staff that leads to pay raises and promotions, even when there’s not a job to promote them into.

Known as “career pathing,” the program is available to an exclusive club: 174 of the credit union’s 594 employees. They comprise branch staff who are not managers or universal employees. According to Lori Verzillo and Erin Fuller, chief retail officer and chief administrative officer, respectively, the idea is to help them move to a higher level within the organization.

There are four tiers for branch staff in the program. They are:

  • Branch Service Representatives (BSR): The entry-level, basic teller operations role.
  • BSR hybrid: Someone who completes the courses for the next level, except for business accounts.
  • Member Services Representative (MSR): Staff who completed all MSR training. That includes operations; a product, sales, and service course; business accounts, deposit accounts, and beginning consumer lending. They also have a year from completion of the above to earn Certified Financial Counselor (CFC) status.
  • Financial Services Representative (FSR): Staff who completed all the above as well as additional consumer lending and home equity training, and have achieved NMLS licensing.

Except for the compliance modules, the courses were created in-house and delivered via Teams classes composed of usually about five people and an instructor, Verzillo says, although in-person sessions are being planned now.

‘A Constant State Of Promotion’

The program was launched in late 2019 with the idea of transitioning as many branch staff as possible into universal employees. Since then, 70 employees have completed at least one level of the program, including 36 who have become MSRs and 34 who have attained FSR status.

Those employees are then paid at a higher grade even if a new role is not available to them at that time. That’s the “self-promotion” piece at work.

“We’re allowing our branch generalists to gain knowledge at their own pace that will be helpful to their careers while helping us better serve our members in the branches because there’s always someone there who knows what needs to be done and how to do it,” Verzillo says. “It particularly helps the go-getters who want to advance even though a position is not available at that moment,” she says. “We’re in a constant state of promotion.”

The Pandemic … And Now The Great Resignation

Lori Verzillo, Chief Retail Officer, Empower FCU

Employees complete the classes on company time and are equipped with laptops for work at home when necessary – an innovation that, of course, became imperative during the pandemic.

COVID-19 struck just a few months after the career pathing program launched, and the staff that had already been through the training were well-prepared to move into contact center roles as lobbies shut down.

“Our wait times on the phone were less than 30 seconds. Having additional people who could answer so many questions and help in so many more ways really made a difference when we had to go to just drive-through at our branches,” Verzillo says.

Meanwhile, Fuller, the CAO who has HR and training under her umbrella, says the program has helped with recruiting during the so-called Great Resignation because of the ability to reach a higher pay grade just in the first year. The opportunity for employees to do that through their own initiative adds to Empower’s appeal to prospective new employees, she says.

Fuller adds that the program is particularly appealing to new staff such as recent college graduates who might be “a bit shy” at first about such things as engaging members about lending products. In fact, the lending element of the career pathing program includes two lending coordinators who work side-by-side with branch staff to help them achieve their goals and the credit union’s alike.

Before, After, And Going Forward

Fuller says the pandemic has made it hard to compare staffing metrics from before and after the program’s launch, but employee feedback has been positive and staff flexibility has notably improved. “We’ll be watching the turnover metrics, too,” she says.

Verzillo adds that “we’re knocking it out of the park in lending and member growth. We can’t attribute it to just that, of course, but I do think it plays a part.”

Creating the career pathing program was a team effort, from senior management to IT (which has to work with regularly changing software application permissions as people move up the authorization chain).

It also may be expanding. “We’re considering looking at introducing it to the contact center at some point, too,” Fuller says.


August 15, 2022

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