Lenders Get in the Zone to Help Fix Members' Woes, Operational Issues
For some time, the $321 million Granite Credit Union struggled with its payment protection service, unsure of how it could make the offering more attractive to its members.
Mary Woodard, vice president of branch administration at the Salt Lake City cooperative, brainstormed ways of promoting payment protection before checking into an online lending forum with the hope of finding some inspiration or, better yet, some specific ideas.
"One of the things I found is that it's so easy to get caught up on the idea of how things should run," Woodard said. "With things like payment protection, it's important to keep things fresh."
Offered by CUNA Mutual Group nearly a year ago, the LDP Zone is an online extension of the company's lender development program. The goal was to provide additional information to credit unions through best practices, polls and surveys, a resource library, articles and a discussion board, according to Maripat Blankenheim, media relations manager. More than 60 CUs are active participants.
"Although we, of course, hoped credit unions would find the information useful for their lending programs, we were pleasantly surprised by how they embraced the site as their own," Blankenheim said. "The site quickly evolved into a place where credit union lenders and staff engage with each other for problem solving through the discussion board, sharing their own best practices and posting questions for their peers."
The outlet proved to be the resource Woodard needed to improve Granite CU's payment protection activity. At a December managers' meeting, they perused ideas and discovered a contest that rewards employees. After a few custom tweaks, the CU is gearing up to launch its version of March Madness, a quarterly challenge that taps high-performing staffers as coaches of teams. Each teammate earns points for selling payment protection. If they aren't able to sell, they have to explain to the "referee" why they didn't, Woodard explained. Even before the contest kicks off, payment protection sales are already up.
"One of the things I'm hearing [in the LDP zone] is figuring out why some members say they don't need certain products and services and sharing ideas [on how to get them to reconsider]," Woodward said.
Over the past year, some of the discussions have changed partly as a result of the slow economy and members losing their jobs, said Jake Hillman, training administrator at the $290 million SOFCU Community Credit Union in Grants Pass, Ore. Where many conversations were once about behavioral issues or team performance, now it's more economic problems.
"It's been a good outlet for people to confess their concerns," said Hillman, who regularly participates in the online discussion board and has submitted several articles for other CUs. "On the flip side, people are posting success stories. It helps to have examples of 'here's how we've done it.'"
Hillman works closely with SOFCU's managers on leadership and coaching. He often turns to the LDP Zone for answers when questions arise about lenders who are not doing what's expected of them. Hillman recently came across a query from someone who wondered what to do with an employee that used to be a top performer, was moved to another area and became an underperformer. Peers also upload coaching and training PowerPoint presentations for others to see. And, then there are always questions about how to make the somewhat dry subject of lending more appealing. It can be a challenge as many credit unions focus more on being compliant.
"The issues with things like Regulation Z and open-ended language-people freak out about all of this. But I think we have to remember why we're doing it and that's to help the member," Hillman explained. "We're trying to take them to a better financial place."
Both Hillman and Woodward like the ability to post anonymously. Hillman said some might get intimidated if they knew a question or answer was coming from a billion dollar CU. Or a smaller cooperative's inquiry might not be taken as seriously. In the beginning, Hillman was concerned that the online forum "would be just another social networking site," mimicking other outlets that have "turned into big complaining sessions."
"We haven't had those issues," Hillman said, adding 80% of the Granite's lending staff use the site and 30% of those are active users. "This is more of a roundtable. You find people who have similar issues."