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Fill in the Gaps

Credit unions in isolated rural areas, such as Innovation in Saskatchewan, are coming up with creative ways to staff specialized areas of expertise, including IT and risk management.

Innovation Credit Union (50,000 members, $2.3 billion in assets) makes a significant footprint in each of the 22 communities it serves in western Saskatchewan. Like many rural areas, these branches are experiencing less walk-in traffic; Saskatchewanians are just as keen as the rest of Canada to bank online and via smart phone. With its largest advice centres in Swift Current and North Battleford, each populated by around 15,000 people, Innovation was finding it difficult to pull top-skilled technology candidates out of urban centres and convince them to build careers in these Prairie communities. While other credit unions are folding smaller branches, Innovation, true to its name, found a clever way to keep its advice centres open as well as fill gaps in personnel for customer service and IT support.

Finding IT staff and other skilled professionals is a problem across the country but the need is intensified in rural areas, says Korinne Collins, vice-president of professional development and education for the Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA). “We’re competing with employers who offer those very exible, work-from-home arrangements,” says Collins. “We can’t do that in a branch — an environment that’s really big on face-to-face interactions.”

Sekou Bermiss, a research fellow at the Wisconsin-based Filene Research Institute, a credit union and consumer-finance think tank, says American credit unions report obstacles in recruiting IT staff because candidates are turned off by outdated technology. “If you work for a credit union that doesn’t have that level of novelty and advancement, that’s less motivating,” Bermiss says.

Innovation tried some upside-down thinking to solve its personnel issues, both with urbanite IT staff and with locally rooted member service reps. For the latter, maintaining a local footprint in the community was important, as was serving members well. “Members are tending to use MemberDirect® our contact centre way more. At some branches, on a quiet day, a dozen people might walk through but we still need to maintain a certain complement of staff for the branch to run safely,” says Ian McArthur, chief people and development officer at Innovation.

Innovation Credit Union makes changes

To solve both issues, Innovation decided to reallocate some call volume to the less-busy branches and re-train member service representatives to take calls during idle periods. It’s working for two key reasons. “We’ve been able to provide more availability to people calling in without having to hire additional staff,” says McArthur. “Secondly, people within the smaller advice centres are very responsive.” Employees and members are also happy, McArthur adds, “because they know it’s keeping jobs in their community and their branch open.”

Some businesses have staff don wearable technology to track their whereabouts and behaviour throughout the day. How long do they spend checking email, on the phone, or in meetings?

To make recruitment easier, Innovation made two more big moves. Four years ago, it opened an administration office in Regina. This allowed the credit union to hire people who fit the skills requirement but who weren’t interested in relocating. McArthur works here, as do some call-centre, IT, business intelligence and risk management staff as well as some executives. Having a city base means it is easier staffing hard-to-fill evening and weekend shifts at the contact centre, he adds. (Some of these positions are still housed in the main branches at North Battleford and Swift Current.)

Finally, Innovation employs four tech support staff outside the province: one in Strathmore, Alta and three in Vancouver. “Our preference is always to have people working within our communities. But we weren’t finding the skill set within our traditional footprint,” says McArthur.

After the initial trial, Innovation discovered allowing remote-working arrangements was the best way to recruit the top-calibre staff it needed to expand its digital offering. All of these flexible, tech-dependent personnel decisions are good practice for Innovation’s next proposed move — obtaining a federal charter that would allow them to expand their mobile offering to members across Canada. “We are just trying to make the workforce as comfortable and as knowledgeable in an omni all-channel environment as we can,” McArthur adds.

Job postings used for analysis

The centre’s inaugural project will look at ways to find these mission-focused people. Bermiss notes that job boards like LinkedIn, and already provide HR with some important information about attraction, offering stats on click-throughs for online postings. Bermiss hopes to take this information further in a direction credit unions can make practical use of. “We’d look at who is attracted to your job posting. When people engage with your brand, what information is most heavily weighted or highlighted? Where do you put certain things on a website, or within an online application? What do you lead with versus what comes second and third? All those things, research says, play into the types of people you are going to attract. So we see if the types of people attracted by different pitches vary.”

Bermiss expects to have results ready to present at the centre’s first colloquia in September.

In Canada, research released by accounting firm KPMG supports the need for HR departments to focus more on people analytics to help a business succeed. This is because technology is disrupting the way businesses interact with customers, says Soula Courlas, partner and national leader, people and change services, KPMG. It is exacerbated by the disintegration of the traditional hierarchy of seniority, as workers are less likely to stay in one company throughout their careers, or even in the same department from quarter to quarter. “The machine has sped up,” Courlas says from Toronto. “Basically, HR needs to support the evolution of the business through all these changing conditions.”

Human Capital Management captures data

KPMG recommends that HR can better manage talent assets by observing it through the lens of big data. Where many resource departments used to rely on Human Resource Information Systems (HRIS), which housed basic employee data about payroll, benefits and attendance, companies can now use Human Capital Management (HCM). Cloud-based, this system can hold a lot more data about employees’ career cycles, from onboarding to retirement, potentially tracking bonuses, compensation increases, promotions, training and more. All this data could help businesses make more accurate predictions about which employees are likely to leave, which are likely to succeed in certain roles and even which recruitment sources have yielded the most productive workers.

Large organizations are even turning some decisions over to artificial intelligence (AI) systems such as IBM Watson, says Silvia Gonzalez-Zamora, financial services consultant for KPMG. “Financial services companies can have hundreds of millions of client records. AI systems can screen them to make predictions about customers. They already use it a lot for marketing.”

On top of answering employees’ common HR questions about benefits or time off, IBM Watson could begin to predict productivity based on factors like a new cohort of interns, end-of-the-month report time, or which employees tend to work well together.

ATB Financial, the financial Crown corporation owned by the Province of Alberta, is using a version of IBM’s artificial intelligence system, called IBM Kenexa, to make some business decisions. “We have teams that are highly successful with customer experience. We know who they are but we don’t know why they are successful,” states Michelle Beck, vice-president people and culture at ATB Financial, in a promotional video for IBM Kenexa.

Beck explains how this cognitive database looks at details like the age of staff, their tenure as well as previous projects, then correlates this information with customer feedback and account balances, as well as employee engagement surveys. It’s a huge amount of data – too much for a handful of HR assistants to wade through. But an artificial intelligence program easily detects patterns that can help make decisions about future teams, development needs and which candidates to recruit initially.

The next step is even more fascinating — or worrying, depending upon your view of privacy. Some businesses have staff don wearable technology to track their whereabouts and behaviour throughout the day. How long do they spend checking email, on the phone, or in meetings?

Employees given tracking chips

Christopher Stevenson, the senior vice-president and chief learning of cer at the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES), points to recent headlines in business publications about a company implanting tracking chips under willing employees’ skin. The devices replace staff key fobs and cafeteria cards and alert managers to employees’ locations throughout the workday. Not surprisingly, some employees are excited by the convenience, while others are fearful of privacy infringement.

While Stevenson doesn’t necessarily welcome that level of monitoring, he believes it signals where HR is headed. Collecting enormous amounts of data on individuals shouldn’t be used in ways that threaten workers’ personal autonomy, he says, but as aids to improving a business’s collective productivity. “People analytics needs to be more about improving the performance of an entire organization than singling out under-performers. It’s being used left and right for sales. We’ll see it applied more to productivity and putting strategies in place to retain high- potential employees.”

Credit unions have several talent gaps that are only going to get bigger. Commercial lenders, IT, leaders with change-management skills and mission-focused, relocation-willing types are urgently needed at many credit unions. The guideposts for arriving at solutions may come from data, purposefully collected and thoughtfully analyzed. While some may view it as an Orwellian example of micromanagement, employee behavioural research will inevitably be as common to personnel decisions as consumer research is to marketing and product development. ◊

Big Data and Artificial Intelligence Aid Staff Assessment

Filene Research Institute research fellow Sekou Bermiss’s students in HR People Analytics at the University of Texas at Austin are often surprised by the curriculum. They expect to learn what people are thinking when they act the way they do. “I say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll talk about that. But we’re also going to talk about knowing whether or not something is working well or not,’ ” says Bermiss, who is also an assistant professor at UT’s McCombs School of Business. “The way you do that is by looking at the numbers — doing analytics.”

Bermiss heads the Center of Excellence for War for Talent, one of seven research hubs Filene launched this past February. Filene conducts research on behalf of credit unions in all areas but decided the topic of attracting, retaining and developing staff was important enough to warrant focused investigation.

After gathering information from credit unions all over the country, Bermiss is getting a handle on the common gaps in credit union talent management. It’s a familiar list for Canadian credit unionists and includes executives, IT support, real estate and commercial lenders. Another is mission-centric people. Recruiters are much more concerned about finding people whose values align with credit unions than with finding specific skills.