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One credit union trend I love is the “All Staff Training Day” Taking an obscure holiday like Columbus Day – remaining closed – and going off-site to a fun place for the entire staff to learn, laugh, bond, eat and receive logo SWAG.

I have had the honor to be the guest speaker at many of these events. I’ve seen CEOs dress up like bikers, HR Directors in a Pickle Costume tossing rubber pickles into the crowd, amazing and funny videos, but most of all I get to see tellers smile.

You see, I started my career as a teller. And I loved being a teller. I loved the validation that comes at the end of every day that is the balancing of the cash drawer.  Tangible evidence of your greatness. And a sense of completion that you rarely get once you move into management.

I also remember just how much control I had over the Credit Union’s reputation.  Which is to say I had the ultimate control. And I used my powers for good – always.

Most credit union’s travel budgets look like this:


So, I’m available for your next staff training day.  I’m holding Columbus Day, Veteran’s Day and MLK Day for whomever contacts me first.

Email me for more information

And if you don’t need me this year – tell your friends. Seriously, if you know someone that has access to the CUNA Training List Serv thingy – love to get a shout out.

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!”

Why do we call “shadowing” training? On my second day in the credit union movement, I was allowed to leave the empty desk by the door, come behind teller row and shadow Patty. Which meant, I watched her work all day.
Patty could take in a deposit in her sleep. With cigarette pursed in her lips I watched a flurry of writing, typing, stamping, and then the one thing I already knew how to do – cash handling.

After about an hour of standing there like an idiot, Patty turned around and said “Do you have any questions?” I had plenty. “What fresh hell is this?” was right there on the top of my list. Patty was not a trainer, she was an experienced teller and a prolific smoker. I asked her if she could walk me through a deposit. She couldn’t believe that I hadn’t picked that up in an hour. Her solution was to slow down a tiny bit when the next member came in – NOW did I get it?

I don’t learn by watching, I learn by doing. I also don’t like to be told WHAT to do I like to be told WHY we do things. When someone begins a training instruction with “You have to…” my brain starts frying. WHY do we have to? Needless to say – Patty and I, not a good fit.

At the end of my 90 day probationary period I sat down with Judy the HR lady again and got to sign up for my medical program. I also finally got the “rule” book that included such things as dress code, calling in sick procedures, what to do if it snows, all the really important stuff.

Then she turned to the organizational chart. I wasn’t on it. I know this because I asked. She held up the paper, pointed to the box that Mean Jean occupied and said, “Oh, you’re down here.” as she waved her hand below the page.

I’m a very goal oriented person, so my first GOAL was to get on the bloody org. chart.

So let’s review. I was admonished in my interview for NOT having previous teller experience, but an exception was made because of my almost 4 years of making change at ‘Enry Beazely’s. My first day I spent at an empty desk sorting through signature cards, looking for strays, then on my second day, I endured constant second-hand smoke while I watched Patty work.

So why did I stay? The members. Once I got my own teller window, I got to start building MY brand. I loved the members. I had a following. Members that would wait for me. I saw pictures of their kids, their last vacation, their dogs.

Mean Jean became suspicious.

Why would members wait for ME? She conducted surprise cash counts on my drawer. You see she didn’t value service. To her, being a teller meant taking in money, accurately punching it into the computer, and handing the correct change with the receipt. That’s it. To me it was about building relationships. The only service training we ever got was this statement: “Ladies, when a member comes to your window, you need to put your cigarette DOWN while you help them.” (referring to Patty’s skills of multi-tasking)

Corporations don’t have values, people do. Was I on the wrong bus? Or was Jean? Actually the answer came the day after Halloween. Four months after I started Dick was “let go.” He was the CEO and I never did find out what happened. He was just gone. There were closed door meetings all day and the tellers were left in a pall of cigarette smoke to figure it out and take care of the members.

But a few weeks later we were introduced to Tom Sargent, first time CEO from St. Helens, Oregon. He was young, and fun and decided we were going to take this bus in a new direction. Shortly after he started I was transferred out of teller row (rhymes with death row) to a desk. A newly created position called “Member Service Representative!”

I had a desk with stuff in it, a name plate, business cards and a feeling like I could make a difference. I no longer reported to Mean Jean and I thrived.

SIDEBAR: Mean Jean ended up in accounting – where she also thrived. She was better with ledgers than with humans.

NEXT: The first ripple of the ripple effect……

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June 2023