What Travis CU Learned In Going Community

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With more credit unions moving toward community charters, are select employee groups a thing of the past?

Not according to one expert, who suggested during The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development Conference here that credit unions lose touch with their SEGs at their peril.

"We went from serving a single sponsor and a number of SEGs in one primary location to serving nine counties," related Steve Langley, VP-sales and service at Travis Credit Union in California. "When the credit union converted to a community charter, they figured there was no need to focus on SEGs any more. We stopped having our business development officers work the SEGs. There was no point, right? But then we realized we lost some very valuable relationship opportunities."

One of the problems, Langley noted, was the fact that even though the credit union had changed its membership requirements, its name, which still bears witness to the CU's origins in serving the Air Force base of the same name, and its reputation for serving the military lived on.

"Five years later, and we still can't lose that stigma," Langley related. "We've got billboards proclaiming that 'you can join,' but people still think they have to be in the military to join."

What TCU came to realize was the importance of continuing to reach out to its SEGs (which Travis calls PEGs, for Partnership Employee Groups) and completely revamped its SEG and business development approach.

The first step: business development is not just the purview of marketing-getting branch managers involved in the process is vital. Of course, not all branch managers are up to the task. Langley said he's heard all the excuses: they're too busy with operations to get involved in SEG and business development being among the most common. Indeed, one audience member related that the branch managers at her credit union are really nothing more than "glorified loan officers."

"Yes, we often give them the title, but not the responsibility. Credit union branch managers historically haven't been sales oriented," he observed. "But then again, 10 years ago, 'sales' was a dirty word in our industry, and now everyone's looking to develop a sales and service culture. If you've got branch managers who've been there forever and they never had to get into sales before, you can't get them out of the office to chamber events and it's not in their job description and they're not evaluated on it, you're going to have trouble."

One of the most important steps, then, is to rewrite the job description and start evaluating their performance on this, tying raises and even their continued employment to some of these key factors.

"Banks always do this, and they always have," Langley said. "We have got to get our branch managers out there."

One member of the audience who came to credit unions after a career at a bank said it never fails: when she goes to a Chamber of Commerce event, she's out there networking with as many people as she can, while the rest of the credit union people who are present all huddle together, losing the opportunity to get some important face time in with potential members or partners.

"Whenever I hear someone say they've got branch managers who aren't interested in selling and say things like, 'selling's just not my thing,' I say, 'and what would you do if a teller was good at every other aspect of the job but came to you and said, "balancing's just not my thing.'" Asked Langley. "That teller would be fired, period."

When Travis CU started requiring its branch managers to be an integral part of the business development focus, they told those managers the issue wasn't negotiable. If they weren't up to the new task, then they would be offered another job within the credit union. They either adapted to the new job description or took a different position.

In one case, the person "self eliminated," choosing to leave Travis rather than embrace the new culture. And that, Langley said, is not a bad thing.

Although Travis CU has about 250 SEGs, when the credit union decided to rededicate itself to what it now calls PEGs, it decided to really just focus on the top 20. "There are some groups that even if we penetrate them fully, they're still not profitable, so we looked for the Top 20 to make sure that we were chasing something worth chasing."

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