Revival: How Investing in Education is Transforming Business for One Credit Union


Capturing the attention of today’s member is demanding. Members expect quality and a sense of immediate gratification no matter where they are. Today’s credit unions are competing with traditional bank offerings and the mainstream accessibility of using a smartphone to pay your friends for the pizza you just shared.

We know that building business strategy around creating member loyalty is key to generating growth and income. And a big part of that strategy is an engaged employee. One that isn’t just a salesperson, but that acts as a trusted advisor to the member—that’s what builds affinity for your organization with members.

Yet many CEOs will tell me their employees are anxious at the thought of selling. Through training though, you can help employees reframe how they see the sales process; away from a traditional transactional model to one of developing a relationship and trust with the member.

To accomplish this, credit unions work to develop the skills and behaviors necessary to create value beyond simply facilitating the transaction of product or service. I recall a time over twenty-three years ago when my branch manager was educating the staff on selling as a service and ways to use communication, negotiating, and storytelling to improve our scorecard. Thanks to those lessons, members became more engaged in their own financial well-being and my relationships with them more meaningful.

Since then, I’ve developed a passion for quality member service through the art of education. Although the idea of sales in an advisory role is not new, innovative approaches to excellence in member services are necessary. Recently I sat down with Arthur Hart, CEO of 1st Street Credit Union located in Sarasota, Florida, to discuss how innovation in training has transformed his credit union.

JULIE GESSNER: What drives your passion for training?

1st Street Credit Union CEO Arthur Hart


When I first started my career in the credit union industry, I worked at 7 17 Credit Union in Warren, Ohio. I was impressed with my onboarding experience. Our onboarding program lasted for three weeks. It consisted of a mix of classroom and teller line training. Every employee, regardless of position, had to go through the training course.

Training didn’t stop with our onboarding. On Wednesdays, 7 17 Credit Union was closed in the morning. Those weekly sessions incorporated different types of training: all staff meetings, department meetings, lending updates, general sessions, etc. I am so thankful for the 9 years of training that I participated in and/or led during my time at 7 17 Credit Union. It impacted me immensely and I incorporated those training sessions at all the other credit unions that I had an opportunity to serve at.

GESSNER: What are your goals specially related to training?

HART: At my current credit union, Wednesday mornings are set aside for training.  Our members expect our team members to be the expert when they call, email, or come in.  They don’t want to come into our credit union and be waited on by a team member who lacks confidence or knowledge. How many times have you been at a business and you immediately recognized that the associate had no clue how to assist you or how to respond to your questions? If you experience this a couple of times, you will quit going to that associate and gravitate to an associate who you view as being an “expert.” Or you stop going there altogether and find a place where they know what they’re doing.

The success of our training investment is simple: has the member gained the information or advice that they requested on their first interaction with our team member? If so, we have accomplished our goal.

GESSNER: What specific investments have you made?

HART: Our credit union has a mix of training: training is conducted by the management team, train the trainer, webinars, online training courses, and on-site/virtual training by vendors including the League of Southeastern Credit Unions, CUNA, CU*Answers, etc. Every team member receives specific training geared to their position as well as overall training to support the objectives of the credit union.

We are currently in the process of transforming our credit union from a transactional to a consultative environment. To accomplish this goal, our credit union is investing in our team members by paying for them to attend CUNA’s Certified Financial Counselor program. By the end of 2021, all of our employees will receive the financial counselor certification and be able to assist our members in achieving their dreams and goals.

GESSNER: Did the board automatically buy in to the idea? What was the tipping point?

HART: My predecessor, Elaine Karins, had implemented the Wednesday morning training initiative in conjunction with the board of directors prior to my arrival. In my monthly management report to the board, I keep them abreast of the training received during the month by our team members. I also let them know what upcoming training events employees are scheduled for.

It has been well received by the board. I must commend the board at 1st Street Credit Union for never wavering in its support of our training program and allotting the necessary funds to accomplish our training goals year over year.

GESSNER: What advice would you give to other credit unions launching a similar program?

HART: For those credit unions that do not have a formal training program, it is never too late to invest in your employees. I have never met an employee who didn’t want to improve their skills. When you invest in them, they invest in your credit union through retention and providing excellent member service!

Have open and frank conversations with your board as to the need for training. If you can’t afford a large training budget, start small. You can look for opportunities to provide meaningful training at reduced prices with the League. In our case, CU*Answers has a lot of free training courses and webinars for their Credit Union clients. Also, look for scholarships or partnering with other credit unions to share expenses. Don’t reinvent the wheel.


  • Julie Gessner

    A 17-year veteran of CU*Answers, Julie has dedicated her career to advocating for financial services that benefit credit unions and their members. At CU*Answers, Julie leads business development and marketing initiatives in support of a variety of management service offerings. Julie spends her days working with credit union executives and managers to establish strategies that maximize the opportunity to succeed in both credit union operations and member service.

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