Quantifying and Justifying Frontline Pay Raises
My June 25 column, “Pay Disparity Violates Credit Union Philosophy,” accomplished exactly what I had hoped. It started a dialogue about employee wages.
For the most part, feedback was positive. Almost all the emails and calls I received started like this: “For the most part, I agree with you, but …”
The most frequent comment was that increasing the minimum wage is unlikely to solve the larger wage disparity problem. And there is merit to that argument. As one technology manager pointed out, it's simple economics. Raising wages without raising prices creates unemployment, which exacerbates the problem.
But are we really putting tellers and call center reps in the same category as fast food workers? If your credit union cross-selling skills are on par with the stereotypical drive-thru lane “you want fries with that” pitch, it might explain why you didn't make your growth numbers last year.
I actually received a few McDonald's analogies. One reader pointed out that talent is a huge shortcoming in many credit unions, especially when it comes to frontline employees. Those jobs are kind of like working at Mickey D's, but without the greasy smell.
“Working the drive-up window is not a career,” he said. “The economics of the situation just don't allow for much of a career wage for most.”
That's too bad, because credit unions (and banks and insurance carriers and many other financial services providers) expect frontline employees to deliver products and services while complying with increasingly complex regulations, and do so while achieving sales goals.
Now, as a few commenters pointed out, $13 an hour isn't bad scratch for a part-time employee or someone working a second job. Yes, plenty of frontline employees are part-timers, often college students who are living at home or receiving additional income from financial aid. But aren't they worth more than their fellow students who shuffle off to less demanding jobs that don't even require business casual dress or a background check?
The outlook for frontline employees working full-time and attempting to support families on $13 an hour is a much graver concern. And it was with these folks that almost everyone sympathized.
I was so pleased to hear about the programs some credit unions provide to employees to help them improve their own financial situations while helping members do the same. Tuition reimbursement plans are popular; I recall some co-workers finishing bachelor's degrees and earning MBAs thanks to such a benefit.
As one reader pointed out, a couple of basis points, waived fees and shared organizational expertise subtract little from the bottom line and reap larger dividends in the long term.
There is another thing credit unions can do.
Just increase the ding dang wages.
But only if your call center employees produce enough revenue to justify it.
At $13 an hour with another 20% added on for benefits, payroll taxes and other expenses, the average call center rep costs about $32,500 annually. Add on another 20% to maintain an 80% efficiency ratio, and you’re looking at $40,600.
Now, let's assume this call center employee is trained to cross sell auto loans, take applications over the phone and give some basic loan approvals. Maybe the employee even does some loan processing.
Let's assume the average auto loan earns a spread of 1.25%, which includes cost of funds, loan loss reserves and other variable underwriting expenses.
At a 1.25% spread, the call center rep would need to book $3.25 million in new average outstanding loan balances annually to break even on his or her employment expenses. That breaks down to about $25,000 per day.
I don't know how busy your call center is, but $25,000 per day might be a stretch, especially at credit unions with low loan demand.
Double that call center wage to $26 an hour, where an employee could start qualifying for products like a mortgage loan, and you’re looking at a daily goal of $50,000.
If your call center reps book $50,000 in new loans every day for just $13 an hour, it's time to give them a raise.
If they book less than $25,000 a day, you should probably consider restructuring your operations. Forget about the call center; you might soon find yourself in the unemployment line.
Heather Anderson is executive editor of CU Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.