Universal Associates Model Produces Gains and Challenges



What are the plusses and minuses of implementing and optimizing a universal associates model in staffing CU branches? Although the perks are many, a few trials do exist. Read on to discover the benefits and challenges one credit union is facing one year after deploying such a model.

In its first year of implementing the universal associates model in staffing branches, Community First Credit Union of Florida is already reaping benefits. In the process, however, the CU is uncovering a few challenges in optimizing this approach as well.

On the plus side, training frontline staff to deliver on a full range of member service needs dovetails nicely with the design and technology transformations planned for the credit union’s 18 branches. In addition, scheduling is becoming much more efficient. Even in these early stages, the universal associates model has enhanced retention and widened the hiring field, says Jimmy Lovelace, VP/Branches for the $1.3 billion credit union ( With 302 employees, Community First serves 112,000 members.

Community First did work through a “learning curve” before settling on the best approach for retraining existing branch staff as universal associates. And the credit union continues to study how best to evaluate member service and sales performance.

The decision to implement this model grew out of the work of the Member Experience Committee, which includes representatives from across the organization. More specifically, it arose out of response to member feedback calling for quicker assist times and wider service availability in all branches.

“We were looking for a solution that matched up with the data on declining branch traffic and what members were saying in terms of changing service preferences, and the universal staffing model seemed to make the most sense,” Lovelace says.

The first step in that direction involved training tellers as universal associates, but issues associated with upgrading skillsets, finding candidates willing to make the leap and arriving at an appropriate pay and benefits structure were complicated, he notes. “What we did find is that if you cross-train member service reps in teller functions, you get more lift and a better service experience for members.”

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