It’s 1980 and I’m a teller at a credit union in Portland, Oregon. I’m driving a 1973 Volkswagen Super Beetle named Howard. I have to pay for parking. Which makes me rethink driving Howard to work and entices me to take the bus.

Bus pass = $12.00 a month. Parking Howard = $25.00 a month.


I bought a book on How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive because I had to make this car last. You see, to get a new car loan in 1980, the interest rate was around 18%. The prime loan rate hit its peak in July of 1981 at 20.5%. They called this inflation. Not to be confused with recession or depression.

I was making $650.00 a month (before taxes) and paying $175.00 a month in rent. Howard was paid for and the insurance was around $25.00 a month.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Yup, that’s right. Back to school we go.


Our basic needs are physiological. Food and water. Then we move up to our safety needs. Housing. Mobility. (Howard) Insurance. Once those are in tact we can evolve to Social needs – a sense of belonging – love (the water cooler). The next rung up the ladder is what ALL HR research shows us – it’s not PAY that motivates it’s “recognition, status, self-esteem.” And finally, at the very top – we becomes self-motivated – or in my case, self-employed.

I took a night class in college when I was a teller and learned about Maslow. I remember thinking – didn’t anyone at the credit union read this?

If they had, and they believed it, how many things would have to change?

1. Using an employment agency where the applicant pays for a teller job was a bad choice. (physiological needs not met because I had to pay one month’s wage to get the job).
2. Putting a new employee on “probation” for 90 days breeds fear and resentment (no sense of security and no clear direction as to how you PASS probation).All “team” gear was withheld. Business cards, name plate, and a file that said “hired.”
3. My training consisted of me “shadowing” an employee that clearly resented me (sense of belonging? hell no – sense of “getting in the way” big time).
4. Doing surprise “cash counts” on my teller drawer because of my member following was the complete opposite of recognition. It was pure suspicion.

I’m the Norma Rae of tellers. I’m the gal standing in the lunch room with a sign that says “You CAN’T be SERIOUS!”

It’s 2009.

29 years later and nothing much has changed. Not only must they dress appropriately, they need to be personable, detail oriented, accurate, compliant, AND cross-sell our 58 different products and services WHILE standing for 8 hours a day. All for about $10.00 an hour. Wow.

Think about it. Tellers have more control over your credit union’s brand than anyone in management. Think of how many “moments of truth” there are in the business we are in – which is “the errand” business.

That’s all I’m sayin’……..

NEXT UP: Ronald Reagan and the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 – aka “Denise Becomes a Marketer!”