The Workforce Challenge

hand holding large horseshoe magnet to attract metal people figures
Felicia Hudson Hannafan Photo
Contributing Writer
Hudson Creative Copy

14 minutes

Transform your CU’s approach to talent acquisition and retention in the new year.

In the ever-evolving landscape of financial services and a competitive labor market, credit unions are grappling with talent management challenges. Whether job growth slows or unemployment rates change in early 2024 remain to be seen, but one thing is certain: Credit unions need to stay focused on attracting and retaining top talent and minimizing turnover to build a resilient workforce.

“It’s an interesting environment right now, and organizations have to be flexible,” says CUES member John Holt, president/CEO of $570 million Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union, Rocky Hill, Connecticut. “[Credit unions] have to be more compassionate than ever before with their employees. I think that they have to be more trusting of their employees and certainly they have to collaborate more with them. 

“What I’m seeing in the workforce now is the need for good solid communication, collaboration and being able to give people a forum where they can talk, be heard and know that they’re being listened to because the landscape is so competitive,” he adds. “You have to obviously have good compensation plans and a good culture and work environment.”

Recruiting & Retaining Right

Remote work has obliterated geographical boundaries, allowing credit unions to tap into a global talent pool. However, attracting and retaining top talent in this environment requires a reevaluation of traditional recruitment strategies. 

Keather Snyder, president/CEO of CUES Supplier member The Omnia Group, St. Petersburg, Florida, a firm specializing in behavioral assessments, says the goal should be not only to hire top talent but to keep them. She advises hiring managers to keep retention in mind during the recruitment process and to look at internal talent before going outside the credit union.

“Everyone is hungry for a new opportunity and the ability to grow,” Snyder says. “Oftentimes leaders overlook the people inside. Starting there is key.” Current employees may leave if they are passed over for advancement—a missed opportunity, since generally they are already a good fit for the culture.

“I’m also a big believer in fit, of course, because when it comes to finding people, there are all sorts of ways to recruit now,” she continues. “The key is making sure you have the right people. If you get up every day and get to do the things that you enjoy doing most, you are going to do a phenomenal job in that role. And you’re more likely to enjoy it and stay longer. Making sure they’re a fit is key.”

Snyder adds, “It is a very competitive market; the more you can make the job and benefits specific to the candidate is important.” She notes that appealing to the right job candidates comes down to the basics of writing job descriptions, putting them in the places where you’re most likely to find the people you seek and capturing what a day in the life in that role looks like. 

Janice Shisler, CEO of CUES Supplier member JSpire Recruiting, Montgomery, Texas, sees credit unions more frequently hiring from outside the movement today, so it is important to be creative and flexible when it comes to benefits and compensation. 

She says two of her recent CU placements came from CFO roles in banks: one from a $1 billion bank in Maryland, and another from a $3 billion bank in Virginia. “A lot of credit unions are looking at candidates with different profiles and different mixes,” she says. “They’re open to looking at people outside of credit unions, and I think it’s fantastic—but again, that must come with some creativity on the compensation side.”

One of Shisler’s suggested recruiting enticements are retention bonuses. The hire receives an offer of their base salary with one bonus in 90 days an additional bonus in 120 days—then again in six months and 12 months. “We tier it to the point where it is an actual incentive,” she says. “That has been very successful.”

Shisler does caution talent recruiters to be conscious about compensation questions when interviewing candidates; in certain states, it is illegal to ask candidates their current salary. They can, however, be asked about desired compensation.

Janice Shisler
JSpire Recruiting
Communication from the leadership on down to the potential new hire is critical; it will set the expectations up front to be part of a great organization and great leadership team. They feel that they’re going to be valued coming in as a new leader into the organization.

Showcasing Culture & Values

How can credit unions leverage their unique value propositions and community-oriented missions to further attract workers who might not have considered credit unions?

When recruiting, Snyder says, equally important to defining what a day in the job looks like is factoring in the culture and what differentiates the credit union from other companies. 

“Culture is so important to the workforce today,” she says. “Make your workplace and your workforce seen as compelling, engaging and enticing—more than just the work itself. What is it like to be there? That is critical; it’s what appeals to talent today. People want to find purpose.”

Holt agrees. “We do our best to showcase our culture—through social media, our website, recruitment materials, things of that nature—so people can feel and understand the type of culture we have.” (You can find posts about employee honors, Hispanic Heritage month, community service and more on the credit union’s LinkedIn profile.)

Holt adds, “We are a very transparent organization that believes in open communication. We have regular town hall meetings once a month where we communicate what’s going on in the organization. When people see the values, propositions and the community focus that credit unions have, especially Nutmeg, I think they find that very attractive.”

Holt says credit unions need to consistently emphasize that they support local communities and contribute to meaningful change. “Workers looking for purpose-driven work, especially younger folks, may be attracted to credit unions,” he says. “We have found that they really want to work for an organization with a purpose with values that match their own.”

Furthermore, Holt notes, in today’s world, retention is about empowering employees. “They’re a partner versus being an employee,” he explains. “You hire people to support you, help you and to give you information to make the organization better. That’s what they want, and that’s how they want to be treated.”

Innovative Recruitment Techniques 

Snyder notes that since credit unions are so community-oriented, they should consider how they recruit on college campuses. Beyond standard recruiting at job fairs, for instance, she suggests sponsoring specific clubs. 

“Of course, college recruiting is a core,” she says. “But get involved … in the universities [by] sponsoring clubs that have the talent you’re looking for. Work with local university faculty to have classes to tackle your strategic projects. I think this is something that organizations overlook sometimes.” 

As an example, Snyder proposes getting creative by sponsoring sales, marketing and data science clubs and bringing interns into the credit union to assist on projects. Judging club competitions is another option for building engagement with tomorrow’s workforce. “Students will be exposed to opportunities that they may never have thought of. My team and I judge our city’s university sales collegiate sales competition. We’ve been doing it for years. It’s a phenomenal way to not only support students in your community but to also identify future talent.”

Snyder says credit unions should also take advantage of their best recruiting tool: current happy and engaged employees. If your credit union doesn’t already have a referral program, she suggests rewarding employees with bonuses for leveraging their own networks and bringing good people into the organizational culture. “Referrals are a great source of recruitment,” she notes, adding that word-of-mouth is also key. 

Snyder additionally explains that while some employees left their jobs during the Great Resignation, many have realized the grass wasn’t necessary greener elsewhere. “We’re seeing some rebounding,” she says. “Be open to accepting and bringing people back and not being bitter that they left.”

Keather Snyder
The Omnia Group
Everyone is hungry for a new opportunity and the ability to grow. Oftentimes leaders overlook the people inside. Starting there is key.

(Cautiously) Consider AI

A 2022 survey by Eightfold AI revealed that 92% of HR leaders plan to incorporate artificial intelligence in at least one major area of talent management. An SHRM survey that same year found that 79% of employers currently use AI or automation in recruitment or hiring.

While AI can streamline such recruitment processes as writing job descriptions, summarizing candidates’ qualifications, writing interview questions and onboarding, it’s important to understand how best to use it while minimizing risk. 

According to a study by Zhisheng Chen, published by’s “Humanities and Social Sciences Communications” in 2023, “AI-enabled recruitment has the potential to enhance recruitment quality, increase efficiency and reduce transactional work. However, algorithmic bias results in discriminatory hiring practices based on gender, race, color and personality traits. The study indicates that algorithmic bias stems from limited raw data sets and biased algorithm designers.

Because AI is known to be biased, talent managers leveraging AI could be scrutinized by regulatory bodies on the watch for discriminatory hiring practices. 

Holt says Nutmeg State Financial CU is not currently using AI for recruiting but acknowledges the potential advantages of cost-effectively automating such repetitive tasks as sorting through resumes, initial candidate screening and scheduling interviews. He also believes AI tools could provide an enhanced candidate experience. For example, conversational AI like ChatGPT can provide immediate response to candidates’ inquiries, improving engagement by keeping candidates informed throughout the process. 

Holt also sees potential drawbacks, such as removing the human component of interaction if AI or automation are used too much during the recruitment process. “There could be a bias in the algorithms, if it’s data-driven,” he says. “Candidates might feel uneasy about AI analyzing their information, leading to trust issues. AI is so new; will the tools be compliant with labor and privacy laws? You have all those things to consider. The tools we use with our third parties that help us to recruit will probably in the future have AI built into them, as everything will. There is going to have to be a balance there. “

Prioritize Onboarding and Orientation

Although it should be no surprise that onboarding is essential following the hiring of new staff, credit unions may not realize how essential it really is. Research by the Brandon Hall Group and distributed by Glassdoor has found that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

“We make sure that once our employees are hired, they understand the total benefits or rewards,” Holt says, “Oftentimes [an employee] gets a base salary, and they don’t understand what they are truly getting when you add in the benefits. [We provide] a summary of all their benefits so they can see the total compensation.”

Shisler says that in the later stages of recruitment, a leadership candidate might see themselves as a fit for the company but still question whether they are the right person for the specific role. Acting as facilitator, she often sets up virtual calls between candidates and the hiring manager to ensure a good fit.

“We talk through it,” she explains. “Communication from the leadership on down to the potential new hire is critical; it will set the expectations up front to be part of a great organization and great leadership team. They feel that they’re going to be valued coming in as a new leader into the organization.”

Shisler adds that these conversations also serve to welcome the candidate with open arms, and candidates are appreciative of this extra step. “It is important that, at the end of the recruitment process, the organization make them feel welcomed and part of the team before they even begin their first day,” she stresses.

Flexibility Boosts Retention

Employee engagement, a positive work environment and career advancement paths all contribute to job satisfaction and improve chances of an employee staying at an organization. 

“Employees are demanding flexible work,” Snyder says, pointing to a survey by FlexJobs that found employees are not just searching for remote jobs—24% of people are ready to sacrifice between 10% and 20% of their salaries to be able to work from wherever they want, as much as they want.

“Employees are expecting that when they go for a job, it is either remote or at least hybrid,” Snyder adds. “It’s a requirement today. It’s leveling the playing field; it’s like you aren’t even going to get a ticket to the game if you don’t offer some sort of flexibility. It’s just an expectation.”

For CUES member David Tuyo, CSME, CIE, CCE, president/CEO of $1.2 billion University Credit Union, Los Angeles, implementing a remote strategy was a no-brainer. 

Tuyo says he was intrigued after reading a Deloitte whitepaper about distributed workforces back in 2019. The report predicted gig work would account for 70% of all jobs by 2030. This model made him think about his own workforce. University CU headquarters, sandwiched between Santa Monica and Beverly Hills, is in an area with extremely high, often unaffordable rent, he explains. The credit union provided van pools to pick up employees beginning at 5:30 a.m. for a two- to three- hour commute, depending on traffic. Employees would then board the van at 5 p.m. for the same lengthy return home. He says the commute to and from the credit union made it hard to recruit and retain employees.

That year, he and his team built policies around what remote work would look like for employees based on those experiences. When the pandemic hit in 2020, the credit union already had a plan in place, and all employees began working from home. Not only did this flexible work environment help University CU in terms of convenience, but Tuyo says productivity skyrocketed.

Ninety percent of Tuyo’s staff now work remotely nationwide, and his policies have proven instrumental to retention. He says before remote work, the furthest distance an employee was traveling to the credit union was 52 miles. “If another employer offered a job that was that was closer to the employee’s house, they would often take it,” he says. “It was a difficult environment. Our turnover was very high, but now it’s down into the single digits. We continue to have great success, and we’re not turning back.”

John Holt
Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union
They’re a partner versus being an employee. You hire people to support you, help you and to give you information to make the organization better. That’s what they want, and that’s how they want to be treated.

Upgrade Virtual Company Culture

Sustaining a cohesive company culture becomes more challenging in a remote setting. As such, organizations need to invest in virtual team-building activities, clear communication channels and innovative ways to foster a sense of belonging among employees working from diverse locations. 

“Hybrid and remote teams love cultures that care, and they love to be involved in it,” Snyder says. “Create cross-functional events and activities for your credit union to give back and to spotlight them.

“Not only are you marketing your brand that you are a community-minded, social-oriented organization, but it also allows you to provide leadership skills maybe to front-line staff who haven’t yet had any leadership experience,” she adds. “Now they’re leading the next Habitat for Humanity build or managing the food drive and donations for the holidays. They’re building symbols that are making them better employees for you to promote and develop.”

Tuyo notes that University CU has a regular “Day of Champions” celebration of all employees, which can help foster engagement among remote team members. He says it’s a “tremendous environment” where many employees can participate in celebrating each other virtually. 

Mitigating Turnover 

Creating an effective retention strategy requires identifying the reasons employees leave. People leave organizations for many reasons, including a noncompetitive benefits package, limited career advancement, lack of support or to attain a better work-life balance. A credit union’s retention strategy should include feedback from staff and a plan to address concerns.

When it comes to reducing turnover, Holt says that knowing what employees value is essential. “Three things have come up in our employee surveys: collaboration, communication and upward potential,” Holt says. “People want to know what the path is to grow. Then they obviously want to have a good, flexible working environment. When we conduct employee surveys, these are the big words that stick out for us. We know that we’re not perfect. I don’t know if you can be for everyone, but we certainly try. I think we’re doing a good job, and we have a solid team now. I’m amazed by them.”

Tuyo says that, with a remote workforce, University CU can source higher quality talent living in various states at more cost-effective wages than by hiring only people who live in the Los Angeles area. By having remote staff, the credit union minimizes location-related turnover while managing its expenses from a salary perspective.

“People are staying longer, and their engagement levels are higher as well because they get to live their best lives,” he says. “As measured by our quarterly annual surveys, we went from 55% engagement… to 78% today. We continue to go up every time we do a survey.”

Successfully tackling the challenges of recruitment, retention and turnover in the new year and beyond will require a comprehensive and agile approach. By optimizing recruitment, developing proactive retention strategies and understanding turnover triggers, credit unions can build resilient and innovative workforces.  cues icon 

Formerly a member of the CUES marketing staff, Felicia Hudson Hannafan is a writer based in Chicago.

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