Tell-Tale Tests For Tellers

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What good is a teller who struggles to operate a computer or handle money?

As Steven Dahlstrom, CEO of Spokane Teachers CU put it, "When you ask someone about their credit union, they talk about their teller. That is why it is so important to have quality people. If a teller makes a mistake with a member's account, it can damage a relationship that took 15 years to build."

When several prospective tellers washed out of their training classes last year due to poor computer and cash skills, Melissa Johnson, Spokane Teachers CU's assistant manager of human resources, began looking for a way to weed out poor candidates before they were hired. After a lengthy search, STCU settled on two tests. The first was a web-based personality appraisal from the DeGarmo Group; the second, a software program known as Teller Vision Simulation by Employment Technologies.

Johnson first heard about the DeGarmo Group, a Bloomington, Ill.-based company, through a human resources listserve to which she subscribes. A DeGarmo Group representative referred her to Florida-based Employment Technologies' teller simulation.

"The first test is for job fit," Johnson explained. "It lets us make sure the teller position is good for the applicant. The second lets the prospective employee test drive the job in a simulation."

The teller simulator features "virtual members" who verbalize their requests, which can include cashing a check, taking a withdrawal and making a deposit with cash back. Johnson said the test-taker must use a mouse to click on the denominations of money to fulfill the transaction.

Because both the simulator and the personality test are done on a computer, applicants cannot hide a lack of technology skills. "The tests measure applicants' abilities to perform procedures, read and apply what they just read," she said.

STCU began using the tests on new hires in April. Since then, Johnson reported, no new tellers have had any problems.

"Before we put the tests in place, we had our current tellers take them as a benchmark. Since every credit union is different, we wanted to have a good idea of how our tellers felt about the job and how they answered these questions," she said. "Since then, we have seen an overall improvement in tellers we have hired. Every one has made it through training."

Added Dahlstrom: "We had some failures: people who were struggling. It often is overlooked today that people are educated, but not in an applicable way. People have math skills, but not applied skills. As a company, we struggled to find and train good people, and it costs us when they wash out in training."

"The tests do not guarantee success, but they give us a better chance," he continued. "Our tellers are asked to do a lot of things, and some of them struggle to work at a fast pace."

The ability to master computers is vital to tellers and future tellers at STCU, because the member-service technology on the front lines will be upgraded in years to come, said Robyn Stengle, the credit union's training manager.

"One focus of the credit union is we do a very good job of relating to members on a one-to-one basis," she said. "It is very important tellers are comfortable with technology. If they are not comfortable using a computer, it affects them and the service they give."

Stengle said a long-term goal for STCU is to have tellers view cross-sell opportunities on their screens that are targeted to individual members - a skill the teller simulator tests for. The virtual member gives verbal clues as to which products the teller should offer.

Dahlstrom said the bottom line is "to provide good member service. That is the result I look at. I am happy we have migrated our entire training program to Web-based and technology based. These tests are verifiable; they are non-discriminatory, benchmarked against thousands of people nationwide. That is why I'm comfortable with them."

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