Rod Staatz | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rod Staatz


Founded in Baltimore in 1951, SECU is Maryland’s largest credit union. Headquartered in Linthicum, Md., SECU has 22 branches and thousands of free ATMs. Rod Staatz was recently named by Gov. Larry Hogan to serve on the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Commission, where he will represent the interests of the 1.8 million Marylanders who are credit union members.

The Mistake:

It’s a mistake to implement technology without working with customer members to educate them or get them used to the change, or follow up with them after the change.

We watched another institution implement video tellers that way, and we used their mistake so we could avoid making the same missteps.

If you walk into our branches, we don't have physical, real people tellers—there’s a video screen with a video link to tellers that are in our headquarters building.

Before we implemented the video tellers, we asked the question, “Why are we doing this?” Well, we wanted to improve member services. You might be thinking, “You’re taking the tellers out of branches, how will you do that?” The tellers are all in one location, so they’re trained in one place. We wanted to be able to offer teller services in a more cost-effective manner, so now they’re all in one place instead of 22 different places. When planning this, we also asked ourselves, “How will the members react?”

That’s why we watched how another institution implemented video tellers.

You can’t just throw in a technological change—you have to work with customers prior to the change.

Asking why and working with people to show how this is really going to work from a member perspective led us to an approach that we believe was very successful.

We were one of the first in the market to implement video tellers. We knew the technology worked—more than anything we were piloting how to train our tellers and our members. We had to ask ourselves, “How will the members react? How can we overcome objections and make the members comfortable with a different form of teller services delivery?”

We got some strong reactions from the first branch. Some members said, “I don’t like this, I don’t want to be a part of it.” After learning about those reactions and before we moved into subsequent branches, we trained our tellers on how to respond to customer reactions.

With the video tellers, people now have to walk up, press a button, and the teller comes on the screen and instructs them on the next step for their transaction. People will follow instructions, but they also continued to say, “I’m not dealing with a real person.” We trained our people in the teller center to respond, “I am a real person. I may be on a video screen, but I’m a real person.”

Once you overcome those sorts of things, typically those members you dealt with end up liking the experience, then they go and talk about it with their friends.

You can’t just throw in a technological change—you have to work with customers prior to the change.

The Lesson:

Think about changes from the user end. What benefit are you providing to them? Can you provide it at a price the market will bear?

In our business we’re trying to help people with their financial lives. Products and services for those things aren’t going to be free—we can’t just give away free loans. But we can think about what we can charge and pay. We ask, “What’s the value in the marketplace? Does it really help customers? Why are you trying to do it?”

We’re still trying to figure out what members need and what’s very useful to them, and every business should be doing that.

SECU is on Twitter at @secuMD.

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