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SACRAMENTO, Calif. – It’s a simple idea, but more difficult than it sounds. In order to improve the branch experience for your members, change your operational processes first, then build supporting technology around it. SAFE Credit Union did just that, and through its new Better Branches CUSO, the $1.2-billion institution is marketing the idea to its peers. Better Branches is actually a collaborative effort between SAFE, operational guru Rick Poulton, and software development company Performance Systems International (PSI). The venture began back in 2002, when Richard Healy, SAFE’s Vice President of Operations, read an article in the Wall Street Journal, which described the new accounts process from the account holder’s perspective. It revealed that account holders often perceive standard operational practice as poor service. “It prompted us to think about our own new accounts process from the members’ standpoint,” Healy said. Changing operational processes is one tall order for a community-based credit union with 14 branches serving 113,000 members. SAFE decided to call in San Francisco-based Poulton, known for his work in helping businesses re-engineer their operational processes. Poulton observed that the credit union had a very manual and labor-intensive new accounts process, Healy said. For example, member service representatives were required to manually enter personal information several times in SAFE’s Summit core system. And the bottom line, Healy said, was that members were waiting an average of eight to 10 minutes in SAFE’s branches before being served, and new members required 45 minutes to open an account. SAFE prioritized Poulton’s recommendations and first developed a queue system for members waiting for teller service. The electronic sign-in system is similar to call center technology and not only keeps track of who should be served next, but allows management to observe wait times from the credit union’s headquarters facility. “Now, our average wait time is only about two minutes,” Healy said. “Just by monitoring it, we were able to reduce wait time significantly.” Meanwhile, PSI was developing a Web-based new accounts software program that would allow credit unions to streamline the Summit system process. PSI President Grant Parry was Summit’s Vice President of Technology for six years. Poulton contacted PSI to see if the company could provide software for SAFE, “and it became quickly apparent there were lots of convergences in what we were both doing,” Parry said. The team set out to develop software to assist in Poulton’s four steps of the new accounts process: identify, consult, fulfill and follow up. During the identify step, members are screened for membership qualification. Based on Poulton’s idea to make use of lobby wait time, PSI developed software that gathers the member’s information from an ATM card or California driver’s license, and runs automated background checks with bureaus such as Equifax and Chex Systems. Once the background checks are complete, the potential member is assigned a green, yellow or red code based on a SAFE’s loss prevention tolerance matrix. “It’s a quick indicator to the MSR if there are any issues we need to pay attention to,” Healy said, “plus, we have something ready for the member when they sit down with the MSR.” Upon approval, the consultation process begins. SAFE wanted to provide its members with a true consultative selling experience, which wasn’t bogged down with data entry, Parry said. To achieve this, PSI developed a Web-based product catalog, which the member views on screen along with the representative. Members are given the choice of whether or not they are interested products and services immediately, at a later date, or not at all. Each decision is transferred to the member’s shopping cart, which works much like an Internet shopping site. Once the catalog has been reviewed, the new account moves into the fulfillment stage. Based primarily on member information gathered from the initial swiping of the ID card, and the member’s choices of products and services, the record is created automatically on Summit, including all sub accounts, loans, overdraft commands, flags and memos. SAFE reps can also follow up on new members by acting upon ticklers created during the consultation process. Thanks to the consultation and follow up processes, SAFE has increased its products per member from 1.97 to 2.35 since the first roll out one year ago, Healy said. SAFE’s products per member figures only include deposit and loan accounts, allowing the institution to compare against peers on 5300 reports. The credit union will implement a consultative enhancement this month, which shows the member how much he or she would save by transferring outside loans to SAFE. Although Better Branches was developed to assist Summit clients, the CUSO has also developed a Symitar interface. With a six-figure price tag, the software is geared toward mid- to large-sized credit unions with high branch volume. -

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