Big Leap To Community Charter Is 'More Of A Hop'

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Looking to make that big leap from a single sponsor or a few SEGs to a community charter?

It's more of a hop, according to one person who shared his insights on the process with The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development Conference, and who noted that as part of the process CUs need to do a better job of playing the TUBA (see item, left).

Steve O'Mara, VP-marketing with US Employees Credit Union in Chicago, has watched as his credit union move from serving federal employees for the past 50 years to opening its membership to the community.

When we go to a community charter, we really need to do a better job of managing the change. Typically, we don't," he said.

"One of the things I've noticed in the credit union movement is that there is a way that change occurs," explained O'Mara. "Typically in the credit union movement all change flows from the CEO. Typically a CEO will get some information about a company from a director or something they read. And the CEO starts to think we might have to look at a different way of operating; we might have to do something different from the way we've done this for the past 50 years. And typically the CEO does a lot of thinking in a vacuum, by themselves or with one or two trusted advisors. And then two or three months down the road that CEO makes a decision and calls a staff meeting."

O'Mara referred to the favorite Chicago axiom about voting-"Do it early and often"-and said it is also true about communicating change within the credit union.

Can't Communicate Too Often

Early on O'Mara said that when a credit union is making a charter change the CEO and senior management need to start talking to staff, not in a panicked or hushed voice, about changes going on within the field of membership. "Communicate, communicate, communicate. You can't do it too often," he said. "And no matter how often you do it, you'll be criticized for not doing it enough. Include everybody in the conversation. Talk to the supervisors and the tellers. 'What's in it for me?' is something they will be worried about throughout this process of change. And what's in it for them may be that 'We all get to keep our jobs.' "

O'Mara said he identified four areas that every credit union needs to look at, also the four "Ps."

Processes: "I have continued to be amazed at how slow moving our credit unions can be," said O'Mara. "In some cases it's not our fault, it's the sponsor's fault. That's because over time a single-sponsor credit union adapts to the culture of the sponsor company. Large corporations with a lot of people in one place are bureaucracies. And what happens to us over 30 or 40 years of being there; we become bureaucrats. How easy or difficult is it for someone to join your credit union? How long is that form? How hard is it to open a checking account? With those members you also need to be able to answer, 'What's in it for me?' People who have been at a single sponsor site for a long time don't know they have options. Thank God."

Policies. "How thick is your policy manual?" asked O'Mara, noting each manual should be dusted off and reviewed occasionally. "We have to stop letting the internal auditor run the credit union or the state auditor run the credit union. We need to run it for the benefit of the membership and become nimble and quick, and if we're going to do that we've got to have policies to support it."

Products. "We all think we have all the products we need. We don't. I'm forever shopping our competition to see what they have that we don't. There are expectations of what you will offer. People expect us to have a wide variety of products and services because they don't want to go shopping around. They want to go one place, get what they want and move on."

People. "This is the most important P. I can't emphasize enough the need to train your people in ways they've never been trained before," O'Mara said. "You hired people for technical skills. But when you get into the real world there is a different expectation of what people want. People want an experience. The bar has been raised on service expectations. We've got people working for us who are trained to be technicians. They can take care of whatever you need today and send them on their way. The expectation is that they will talk to the member about what's good for me."

O'Mara said the first 18 months he was at the credit union he spent 30-45 minutes every day on sales training and product knowledge training with every employee.

"And I wish I had had the time to do more," he said. "I pushed them a lot about their attitude, the attitude to become successful sales people. Over those 18 months several of the people went away. We didn't fire them. They saw this change was going to stick."

When it comes to product knowledge O'Mara said most credit unions believe that all their employees know all there is to know about products, and "it just isn't so." He noted many CUs give training on day one and assume three years later that employee still has the information at top of mind.

The First Question To Ask

The first question he asks, he said, is what is the difference between a bank and a credit union.

O'Mara urged CEOs and senior management who are also technicians not to train staff in sales, but rather to bring in someone who can "train employees in being sales people and product knowledge experts."

Confronting new SEGs and sponsor companies also means confronting the reality the credit union doesn't offer some of the services demanded, said O'Mara. Most recently, that has meant financial counseling services and materials translated into Spanish.

O'Mara, who belongs to one Chamber of Commerce in an area of Chicago the credit union has targeted for a branch, has also joined several groups for human resources professionals, including the Society for Human Resources Professionals (SHARP). The reason, of course, was to meet companies the credit union can take on as a SEG.

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