Replace Fee Income — and Improve Service — With the Opposite of Disruptive Technology

By Patrick McElhenie

If you want to disrupt an industry, take control of a key part of its value chain. That’s what Apple did when iPods and iTunes redirected the flow of money between music sellers, music labels, and artists. One target of would-be disruptors of the financial services industry today—including major players like Google and PayPal—is payment processing.

Their disruptors are mobile devices, apps, and currencies that would bypass traditional financial institutions and interchange services.

Credit unions have come to rely on income tied to plastic cards and interchange fees to help maintain positive ROAs. To replace that income before it disappears, consider using the opposite of disruptive technology: cooperative people—your front-line employees, in particular.

Prove the Value of Human Interaction

Front-line employees can generate income by cooperating with your marketing and management team to help members save money and improve their financial futures.

Let’s be plain: this is partly about sales. But before you dismiss a pro-active role for front-line employees as “not our credit union’s style,” take a new look at this age-old debate in our industry. Consider that as more consumers make more financial decisions and transactions without engaging another living soul, your credit union can serve an important consultative role. And you can do it without intrusive hard-sell tactics.

Three Steps to Turning Transactions Into Relationships

Many credit unions invest in sales training and coaching only for loan officers and customer service reps, while tellers and call center employees (who may also handle online chats or emails) focus strictly on completing transactions. But front-line employees can make connections that serve members’ best financial interests and your bottom line with a few simple, coachable steps:

Step 1: Look and Listen

In the course of a face-to-face transaction, it’s not unusual for members to chat about something going on in their lives: a new baby, a child going off to college, car problems, home repairs, a retirement, etc. Or perhaps the transaction itself reveals such an event. Simple, thoughtful observation is all employees need to practice for this step.

Step 2: Ask and Share

To follow through on their observations, front-line employees should practice asking members follow-up questions. The goal is to show genuine concern, and make a sincere effort to help. Sometimes that starts with simple comment to show that the employee is listening and understands the situation. Without getting too personal, it’s natural to say, “Yeah, I’ve been car shopping lately, too,” or “Wow, Disney World’s expensive, isn’t it?”

Think about the people you meet during your own day-to-day transactions; it really doesn’t take more than a moment or two to establish a friendly rapport, does it?

Step 3: Inform and Refer

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. It can be uncomfortable for employees to transition from a conversation into a “pitch.” The problem is the image of an aggressive, fast-talking salesperson or the mindless retail upselling, a la “Would you like fries with that?”

So think of it this way instead: If you’re talking with friends about getting a driveway repaved and you happen to know a way they could do it better and less expensively, wouldn’t you say something? That’s all front-line employees need to do. If they see a way your credit union could save a member money or otherwise improve their circumstances—just say so. Offer a brochure. Refer the member to a loan officer or to your website.

The credit union brand of sales is a natural and friendly extension of our mission to provide the best personal service in the financial service industry.

Patrick McElhenie is a director for CUNA Mutual Group’s Lender Development Program. Reach him at

Strategic Link is the NWCUA’s wholly-owned service corporation, using the power of aggregation to provide the Association’s member credit unions with exclusive, high-quality, competitively-priced products and discounted services. Contact Director of Strategic Partnerships Craig Reed at today to find out how Strategic Link can help your credit union save money while meeting its goals in 2014 and beyond.

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