Level Up: How Career Pathing And In-Branch Training Create Better Retention

MSUFCU’s approach to front-line employee development has helped it halve the national turnover rate.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • MSUFCU launched a robust career development path five years ago. The credit union followed that up with in-branch trainers three years later.
  • Since offering these services, the credit union’s front-line turnover rate has dropped to half the national average.


Data as of 06.30.19

HQ: East Lansing, MI
MEMBERS: 278,287
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 12.1%
ROA: 0.93%

How long does it take a front-line staff member to become fully proficient at their job?

Several weeks? Several months? A year?

At Michigan State University Federal Credit Union ($4.5B, East Lansing, MI), it can take several years. And that’s according to plan.

According to statewide surveys, consultancies, and management firms, teller turnover rates range anywhere from 25% – 50%. That figure might varyby market, but what doesn’t vary is the fact it’s expensive to find the right talent to fill vacant jobs. Retaining front-line talent, however, provides organizational benefit beyond cost savings. For example, seasoned employees are oftenmore engaged, says Lea Ammerman, chief operating officer at MSUFCU. And that can lead to better service.

Engaged employees provide a better member experience, Ammerman says. They are ready to help and also have the organizational knowledge to know when and how to promote a product or service.

Lea Ammerman, Chief Operating Officer, MSUFCU

So, how can credit unions make their front-line opportunities attractive to good employees? One way is to offer a clear means of job progression. In fact, according to one SHRM analysis, the top reason employees quit their jobs is to find greater opportunities for career development.

In line with this reality, MSUFCU offers a robust career development path for new front-line hires. It also has a team of in-branch trainers to formalize when and how it presents education.

Just because we hire an employee in one position doesn’t mean they should stay in that position forever, Ammerman says. We think it’s better for the organization if our employees move from within, and we want to give themthe skills to do that.

Employees appear to agree with that philosophy as front-line turnover at the nation’s largest university-sponsored credit union is 15% or, half of what it is in some markets.

Interested In Advancing

MSUFCU rolled out its career development path five years ago when, based on employee feedback, it adopted a universal teller model.

Kelly Showerman, Assistant Vice President of Branches, MSUFCU

Until then, the credit union had hired specifically for a teller position or a loan officer position; however, employees exhibited an increasing desire to help members in ways beyond their job description, says Kelly Showerman, one of the credit union’sassistant vice president of branches.

Of course, not all new hires arrive with the same skillsets, and the credit union doesn’t give them all the same level of responsibility. Employees earn more responsibility and with that, promotions through experience and education.MSUFCU aims to provide both by breaking career progression into six specific levels that each come with different requirements and responsibilities.

Employees told us they were looking for a defined career progression, Ammerman says. They wanted to know where they could go and by when they could get there.

Today, a new front-line hire starts as a financial services representative I (FSR I). To reach a loan officer position requires at least 30 months in the organization, Showerman says, with the ultimate goal to reach senior loan officer. Within thosetwo-plus years, employees must constantly learn and grow if they want to progress. Finding employees with the desire to do so starts in the hiring process.

We can typically teach employees all of the necessary skills to reach this level within two-and-a-half years, Showerman says. But it starts with finding those interested in advancing in their career.

The Path

New hires with little financial institution experience needn’t worry when they join MSUFCU because the credit union has a clear path for them.

Allison Horn, Assistant Vice President of Branches, MSUFCU

According to Allison Horn, an assistant vice president of branches, employees start with two weeks of new hire orientation at the credit union’s headquarters. The training focuses on the organization and culture before transitioning the new hireto their assigned branch for more functional training.

During the first nine months, employees learn how to process basic teller-type transactions . Once they are proficient, the credit union might promote them to an FSR II and introduce new account openings and credit card approvals.

Employees typically spend more than one year as an FSR II learning about specialty account opening authority and small-dollar loan processing. MSUFCU increases loan and cash dispersal limits approximately every six months to layer on more responsibilityand add competencies.

At the two-year mark, and depending on an employee’s lending performance, the credit union begins to promote from FSR II to loan officer I. As a loan officer I, employees can process consumer and mortgage loans and, after approximately six monthsof demonstrated learning and performance, home equity lines of credit and loans.

After that, employees can earn promotions to loan officer II, loan officer III, and senior loan officer. These bumps, however, are not based on added functional knowledge.

It’s about intangibles, Horn says. How comfortable are they with members? Can they work through difficult situations or complex requests? As they start to take on leadership responsibilities within the branch, how are they workingto make their team better?

Not all employees learn at the same speed, of course, so the timeline for promotion is approximate and depends on an employee’s aptitude and willingness to learn. What doesn’t hold up a promotion, thanks to the credit union’s team of10 in-branch trainers, is inconsistency of information.

We need someone who knows the credit union, our culture, and our expectations and can translate that to someone who doesn’t.

Kelly Showerman, Assistant Vice President of Branches, MSUFCU

The Branch Trainers

MSUFCU runs a decentralized lending model, and giving branch staff the ability, and responsibility, to complete transactions, open accounts, and process and decision loans bring with it an inherent need to train.

To ask someone to be that knowledgeable about so many products and services, we had to invest in them to make sure they were getting the information they needed to provide excellent service, Ammerman says.

Two years ago, MSUFCU began to hire in-branch trainers from within the credit union. Today, the credit union has 10 such trainers, but its long-term goal is to have one trainer for each of its branches, which range in size from 12-27 employees. Interestedemployees must complete the highest-level functionality training the credit union offers. But more than being trained in all aspects of the branch experience, trainers must be well-versed in the credit union’s culture. They also must be leaders.

We need someone who knows the credit union, our culture, and our expectations and can translate that to someone who doesn’t, Showerman says.

Functionally, trainers administer modules built in-house that correspond to particular skills. All modules begin with classroom training that combines presentation and practice. For example, employees at the FSR I level learning basic cash operationsand teller skills spend several days in the classroom logged into a test version of the credit union’s core system. During that time, they practice cash handling and role play increasingly complex member conversations.

Initially, skills can be better learned in a non-live, conversational way, Showerman says.

Once they complete the module, FSR Is move into a live branch environment. For the first few days, they shadow the trainer. Once they feel comfortable, the two switch.

The trainer watches and helps them through various transactions, gives feedback, provides notes on cross selling, and more, Showerman says.

Trainees are typically ready to work alone after two weeks, but trainers remain on the sideline in the nearest teller window to be a resource for additional questions. Trainers spend most of their time working with employees of variousskill levels, administering classroom sessions, shadowing, or working within arm’s distance. But that’s not always the case. When not working with employees, trainers create and update educational resources such as a handbook thatincludes information on how to process every form of transaction as well as making sure these resources are easily accessible on the credit union’s intranet.

In the past two years, the credit union has learned several important lessons. For example, employees want structure but don’t learn at the same speed, which means the credit union must show a degree of flexibility and customization. Also, findingand retaining branch trainers is key. Because most are high-performing employees, they’re highly sought after in the organization and have opportunities to grow. So, along with hiring one trainer for each branch, MSUFCU aims to create a bettersuccession plan for trainers that move into other areas of the organization.

In fact, MSUFCU’s greatest branch trainer retention plan might lie in providing these employees their own career paths. Trainers have three levels, none of which require adding functional knowledge. Rather, the march from branch trainer I to branchtrainer II to senior branch trainer requires them to place more emphasis on soft skill feedback and cultural training.

It allows them to mentor and coach employees in a more holistic way, Showerman says.

Like the front-line training program, the branch trainer program is not complete. MSUFCU continues to ask for feedback from trainers and trainees knowing that its early iterations likely won’t be perfect. If there’s one takeaway Ammerman stressesfor other credit unions that want to develop their own career progress program, it’s to be open to change.

You’ll need to make continued incremental developments to ensure the program is as valuable as you think it should be, she says. What you don’t want to do is create the program and walk away.


October 30, 2019

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