Running A Tight Ship In South Texas

How the right mix of staffing, incentives, and process improvements at NavyArmy buoy this seaside institution’s bottom line.

Maintaining an employee base that understands the credit union’s culture, values the membership, and respects the bottom line takes the right combination of talent and training. This is a fact Navy Army Community Credit Union ($2.1B, Corpus Christi, TX) knows well.

Given the fact the average member relationship here is more than $10,000 higher than at other Texas credit unions, according to Peer-to-Peer Analytics by Callahan Associates, it’s clear NavyArmy’s 333 employees know how to maximize their opportunities. And although its average salary and benefits is in line with the national average, the staff at NavyArmy faces disctinct challenges related to serving a low credit score, high-risk demographic.

The Right Pay + The Right People

For NavyArmy, providing a top-notch experience means training staff to see beyond siloed job descriptions. Instead, credit union employees look for ways to serve a variety of member needs while keeping the ultimate focus on building wallet share.

You’re not a loan or accounts representative, you’re a member service representative, says vice president of branch operations and training, Terri Young. It’s a one-stop shop.

To encourage the desire to learn what is required of a universal employee, Navy Army Community provides staff with numerous opportunities to earn more than their base salary. These payouts hinge on variables such as education, attendance, cross-sales, and productivity, all of which are filtered and tracked through the credit union’s core system.

The collections department has incentives, the lending department has incentives, there’s back-office incentives, Young says. I am amazed at the dollars that NavyArmy will invest in incentives to congratulate the staff.

For example, an online education platform is available to teach employees about the industry through several multi-course modules. Employees that complete all the modules earn a one-time payout. However, the credit union also expects them to provide at least three talking points from their training that they can use with members or fellow employees immediately.

The credit union also rewards those willing to fill in undesirable openings in the schedule or work more Saturdays than required because of increased member traffic.

We no longer need three tellers on the line, we need six, Young says. And we know that takes them away from their homes.

In addition to education and attendance, employees here also earn extra income based on their cross-selling efforts. But unlike a more traditional sales culture that sets hard goals for employees or departments, NavyArmy uses a tiered benchmark system to recognize employee performance.

To ensure employees are being thoughtful in their cross-sale efforts, the credit union also tracks referral and adoption rates looking for certain indicators. For example, a high referral rate and a low adoption rate could signify that an employee is referring products without fully taking into account what is best for the member.

We can identify these behaviors pretty quickly, Young says. We won’t tolerate it if they’re selling products but doing a disservice to the member.

Finally, all staff can earn extra income just by being diligent employees and producing high-quality work, such as a teller who has few overages or shortages of cash when they close out their drawer or a lower than average quantity of reversals and corrections.

The Right People + The Right Processes

You will find few people around here who don’t view credit union money like they view their own money, says Dana Sisk, the credit union’s chief operations officer. From the corner office down to the teller line, we’re committed to giving members the best return we can.

In support of NavyArmy’s ongoing efficiency goals, whenever a department feels like it needs additional employees, its leaders first thoroughly assess the processes within the unit to determine if the current staff is doing all it can with what it has.

It is only after ensuring that all existing options have been exhausted that the credit union will approve a bump in staffing.

We are careful about throwing bodies at a bad process, Sisk says.

When Roman Escobar joined NavyArmy two years ago as the vice president of real estate, he witnessed this philosophy firsthand. As a rare external hire, Escobar had to figure out how to organize his department in a way that would enable it to sustain loan volume and perform faster.

In August 2012, the credit union closed 201 real estate loans to the tune of $20 million. That’s an admirable feat for a 12-person team.

NavyArmy did a good job convincing me that your people can do more than what you expect, Escobar says.

After splitting the origination and processing responsibilities and putting quality control measures in place, Escobar still ultimately determined the credit union’s loan volume had outgrown its available support structure, so he increased staffing for the department. But he did all this with an eye toward increasing efficiency.

I had the decision-making ability to put a process in place, Escobar says. Now we have no duplicity. And the more efficient [the loan processors] are, the more loans they produce.

If retention numbers are any indication, maintaining higher expectations for employees within reason has proven to motivate rather than discourage the staff.

As of March 2014, nearly 40% of employees have been with the institution for more than five years. At the management level, the average retention rate increases to a full decade.

The Right Processes + The Right Measures

NavyArmy is dedicated to real-world, staff-driven process improvement, but that doesn’t mean it is opposed to investing in technology that can make those efforts more resilient and easier to track.

For example, the credit union uses a resource called the Teller Management System (TMS) to track front-line performance levels, with a per-teller goal of 25 transactions per hour at its largest branches and 15 per hour at its smaller locations.

Our tellers performed $1.9 million transactions in 2013 and we are on pace for a slight increase in 2014, Sisk says.

The credit union also tracks transactions by the branch, day, and hour, which allows it to more accurately plan schedules and staff its branches to avoid excess personnel or long wait times.

Total teller transactions continue to grow each year due to our total member growth, Sisk says. So to isolate the effect of members slowly migrating to self-service channels, we also track teller transactions per member.

Since 2010, that metric has decreased from 1.67 transactions each month to 1.23 transactions a month.

It’s a slow transition, Sisk says, especially given that members in its newly adopted Rio Grande Valley market prefer face-to-face transactions.

In the meantime, NavyArmy has the staff in place to meet members’ needs in whatever channel they use.

October 13, 2014

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