Teller-less Staffing

By Jay Speidell

4 minutes

Verity CU is aligning its branch employees with its vision and mission.

Editor’s note: This article stems from a recent visit the Momentum team made to Verity CU, in which a branch manager described the CU’s core values and how staff delivers on them so eloquently that it dominated the day’s conversation.

Verity Credit Union decided to move away from designing its branches around the teller line. “When we eliminated the teller line, we had to ask the question, ‘How do we staff?’” says CUES member John Zmolek, president/CEO of the $528 million CU in Seattle.

He explains that many credit unions have staff who handle transactions and others who help members at desks. Some branches also have a greeter. “The greeter has a function, so do the member service reps and tellers. We’re getting rid of all those, so whoever is at the desk is the greeter and the transaction person, and the salesperson.”

To start on this transition, the Verity CU team taped a layout of the new branch design on the floor of a conference room. They used this space to act out the roles of members and staff to better understand their interactions and how the new branch would support them. 

“We taped the branch on the floor and went through every scenario possible to ensure it would work for the member and us,” says Stephen Chandler, facility manager for Verity CU. “It was a good process; we took our time.”

“This is very different from what we’ve done in the past,” adds Zmolek. The team thought: “If we’re going to do this, we’ve got to run through it and imagine it.”

Engaging the Staff

Verity CU partnered with design-build firm Momentum, a CUES Supplier member also based in Seattle, on its new Ballard neighborhood branch.

Momentum Co-Founder and President Jim Haack underscores that it’s one thing to talk about universal associates—branch employees who do everything—and it’s another to land that plane.

When the Ballard branch opened, everyone was ready to go. Implementing the new staffing model went smoothly, and branch staff are now integrated into the planning process for new branches.

Zmolek believes his CU’s branch staffing model can present a challenge for finding new talent, but it also offers unique opportunities in the form of hiring and onboarding processes that engage and invest in new hires. 

“We promote from within,” he explains. “We look for someone who has been working as a teller in a branch and shows they have the skills to acclimate and embrace the (expanded) role – because ultimately, the employee must know everything from mortgages to performing transactions.”

From the employee’s very first day, the focus is on teaching that person the CU’s mission, vision and values, and how they can be delivered on. This goes beyond the branch, too. The CU’s mission, vision and values are seen as supporting employees at every level in making independent decisions. 

Focusing on Team Success 

“Today, we hire community branch managers with the expectation that at least 50 percent of their time is spent out in the community,” continues Zmolek. “If we’re out in the community, we’re going to bring more people in. Our (previous) structure got in the way, so we’re re-examining and evolving the way we staff our branches.”

Zmolek also notes that some staff were reluctant to leave the branch for community work, at least during business hours, because if they weren’t at their desk, they weren’t selling. As a result, the CU is transitioning from individual sales commissions to commissions based on overall team performance. 

“It’s our vision to build strong and viable in the communities, and you can’t do that by just assuming that the community is going to come to you. So, we’re taking away the barriers to going out and leaving the walls of the branch,” Zmolek says. “Some people are great community ambassadors; others are better one-on-one. The solution? Leave one in the office and have the other go out. And they both get rewarded.”

Verity CU looks forward to integrating its mission of community service and engagement into all its branch locations. 

“If everyone truly knows our values and mission and embodies them, we build momentum and strength,” explains Zmolek. “A lot of places have a mission statement, and it’s ‘sort of there,’ but they don’t make decisions from it.”

Jay Speidell is sales and marketing coordinator for CUES Supplier member Momentum, a design-build firm in Seattle. 

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