Some credit unions are turning to automation to meet the challenge. One example is Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union in Palo Alto, Calif., which has been using BeneTrac benefits management system for five years.
Teresa Wackerly, compensation and benefits manager, has seen the economy pose new HR challenges.
"I think every organization at this point is struggling to keep the ship afloat, retain good employees and hire good employees when they can," she said. "They're more conservative in the current economy."
At Addison Avenue, "We're going back to our fundamentals. That means member experience, corporate values and trying to do a couple things very effectively. We spend a lot of time enhancing and understanding our culture-what really matters to our employees, what they're looking for and what their needs are."
Wackerly said BeneTrac plays a key role.
"The real value-add of BeneTrac is the time saving it creates in my world, putting new hires and terminations into the system and updating my carriers on a regular basis. It's also user-friendly for employees to get onto their benefits in a much more timely fashion. They can submit data to carriers and carriers can get back to the employee and provide enrollment material, ID cards and that kind of thing," she noted.
She praised the ability of BeneTrac to move data to and from benefit carriers quickly, easily and accurately. She likes the idea of not spending her time chasing down information about who has enrolled in or left each benefit program. She also likes that BeneTrac pulls information directly from carriers, instead of relying on input from the credit union. Instead, she said, she can spend her time actually helping employees.
At the same time, she continued, BeneTrac is playing a key role in the heightened attention to cost control. How much is the credit union spending on benefits? Which benefits is that money going toward? Is there any fat?
"When you're spending multimillions of dollars in benefits, that is important, especially right now," Wackerly said. "There are a lot of tools on the system that can help educate employees about total compensation. It's simplistic in nature, but it helps the employee comprehend what their total paycheck looks like."
Art Brooks at BeneTrac agreed that credit union HR departments are feeling the impact of the economic slowdown.
"The economy affects just about every business in some way, especially in HR," he said. "HR departments have always run pretty lean, and they often don't have too many people. That's even truer now as they try to keep track of all the changes the economy is driving. The urgent question is, 'What's the most we can get for the least money?'"
"A lot more decision goes into merit increases and whether to expand the employee population. They're trying to hang on, because everybody knows the economy will come back and everybody wants to be ready."
Brooks cited Addison Avenue as an example of what HR departments face. With an employee count of some 400, plus family members who may qualify for certain benefits, the credit union has to be very aware of what employees are electing. Technology is essential to provide real-time information.
At the same time, employees are supposed to be concentrating on their jobs, not spending a lot of time struggling to find their benefits information in what has often been a three-foot stack of paper.
His advice to credit unions trying to improve their employee benefits administration?
"Use technology so you have information at your fingertips. Find a technology that will handle your most common paper process. If you can save half the time and have twice the information, I would say that's a pretty good move."