WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – If tellers truly are the face of the financial institution, should more credit unions be asking what have they done for their tellers lately? "People think that a teller's job is easy and it is so not true," said People's Alliance Federal Credit Union Senior Teller Silvia Palas who has been doing the job for 10 years. "It is not just counting money, there is a lot of work and more responsibility than many think." They are usually one of the first to arrive at the credit union and depending on whether a drawer balances or not they can be one of the last to leave. Barring the busiest days which are Mondays, Fridays, the first (pensions and military paydays), third (social security deposited), 15th and 30th (payroll deposits) of the month, a typical teller day can involve serving up to 300 members at the drive-through and an average of 50-70 members inside, helping members understand their accounts, filing, processing mail payments, gathering checks to encode, setting up and balancing the ATMs, processing money orders and wire transfers, answering phones and of course identifying cross selling opportunities. It is a wonder anyone would even apply for the job. "I find it exciting," said Community One Credit Union Teller Katrina Troyer. "I've only been doing it for a few months, but I love working with the public and there are so many new things to learn." According to 15-year Member Service Representative Karen Furman, also from the N. Canton, Ohio-based Community One CU, it is the variety of people she sees everyday that keeps her from feeling overly stressed or burnt-out. "I get to talk to different people everyday and have been lucky enough to get to know the families and see the children grow up and building those relationships is what I think makes the job easier," said Furman. "It helps that I really am a `people' person and that what we do helps make the credit union a better place." A recent D. Hilton Associates Inc. 2003 Employee Hiring and Turnover Survey finds that tellers accounted for more than half of the total replacement employees hired in 2002. The initial benchmarking survey also found that teller salary levels were significantly lower than the average salary for other positions in credit unions with tellers earning a median salary of $21,495. "Although we don't mind some turnover because sometimes new blood bring fresh new ideas, we prefer to have a managed turnover," said MountainAmerica Credit Union vice president of training/development Suzanne Oliver. "We have a philosophy of promoting from within. That way we are able to build on skills they have rather than starting from scratch so we invest a lot in training." Oliver says in addition to competitive pay the credit union focuses on educating the member service representatives to make decisions and providing a support system including online reference guides to help reinforce the idea of empowerment. "We work with human resources to be sure member service representatives have a strong start. Once they are at the branch, together we coach managers to continue the momentum and build job confidence," said Oliver. "We have some referral incentive programs in place but it is always based on a decision hierarchy developed by our CEO. Every employee before making any decision must ask is it what's best for the member, credit union, my team and then me. It is empowering because the member service representative has no fear that this decision will `get me in trouble' because with that direction they won't stray from the right thing to do and they feel free to make decisions and that helps them feel valued." Education also proved helpful at another credit union. When Tucson Federal Credit Union was faced with a 38% teller turnover last year it revamped its "Teller Certification" program and boosted retention. After completing a two-week basic teller training program and working as a teller, employees are strongly encouraged to begin a six-month certification program. The modules cover the following topics: products and services; sales techniques; check fraud; identifying counterfeit currency; member service technique, government regulations for financial institutions; and robbery training. The self-study courses can be completed during work hours and employees earn $25 for each of the six modules they successfully complete. In addition, formally certified tellers receive an 8% raise. "Then six months down the road they receive their cost of living and merit annual raise of about 4 to 5%. So after being here only a year they can make 13% more base wage," said TFCU HR Director Eddice Cornelius. "The training makes them more valuable to us and we reward that with the raises. The employees are doing it for themselves, yet they wind up becoming better employees for us." Since compressing the program from 10 months to six, turnover has dropped to 21% at the $180-million credit union. Cornelius says the reason why this program works is because it not only gives new tellers in-depth training in a variety of credit union disciplines but it also demonstrates how much the credit union appreciates its tellers. Plans are underway to also offer credit union university online courses through a partnership with Business Training Library. The University of Phoenix gives credit for the over 690 business related courses and it has been made available to employees at no cost. Employees that meet 60 credit hours and earn their first degree are handed a $250 bonus at the graduation ceremony. "Our president started out as a teller and we remind everyone of that." said Cornelius. "We still think the turnover rate is too high and we are working on it. There has been such a positive response to the program and it has even sparked some friendly competition, yet everyone is working together to see if we can have every teller at every branch be 100% certified." [email protected]

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