How Security Service Slashed Delinquency by 33 BPs

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Pancakes, '50s wigs, and a lot of team spirit have helped Security Service FCU cut its delinquency rate.

The $5.3-billion credit union went from 1.6% delinquencies to 1.27% thanks to "Super Saturdays," when the collections team works overtime, senior leadership serves them breakfast, and everyone dresses up according to the theme of the day.

"Right now it's about football," said SVP John Worthington. "We let each collections group decide which team they are supporting - high school, college and pro - and they decorate their areas and wear jerseys."

While it's a lot of fun, the purpose is all business. When the delinquency ratio began rising more than a year ago, SSFCU knew it would have to ask its collections staff of 60 to volunteer to work Saturdays. "Because of the economy we knew we were going to be in this for the long haul," Worthington said. "So we have to get staff revved up and keep them motivated for extended periods of time."

Those efforts have included a '50s Super Saturday, complete with beehive wigs and poodle skirts donned by some of the managers. On all Super Saturdays, many of the credit union's leadership team are present, including Nancy O'Malley, VP of asset recovery.

"Since we're asking staff to make sacrifices and work more Saturday hours, we need to be in there with them shoulder to shoulder," she explained. "All of these Super Saturdays don't accomplish anything unless they are credible and believable - and that starts from the top," O'Malley said. "You can say we will have these events and have supervisors there, but if you don't have the VP, EVP, or CEO actively involved, the day will not come off well."

Informal metrics prove Super Saturdays work, O'Malley said, noting there is no way to formally measure their impact. "We know, though, that we get about three times the number of volunteers to work Saturdays when it's Super Saturday - 35 to 40 instead of 10 to 12."

SSFCU could have taken a different tack and hired a large number of additional staff. "We have hired some," O'Malley said. "But to hire employees to handle the extra load is not the answer. It takes a while for those folks to get up to speed and perform at a high level, and you are dealing with a problem that needs immediate attention."

The events, which often cost about $50 a Saturday, have helped the credit union meet its daily goal of collecting $1 million in balances, O'Malley said. "They add positive energy to the work atmosphere, and that helps collectors radiate a positive attitude even though their jobs are obviously very difficult and often stressful. After we serve them breakfast, we usually conduct some sort of game to wake up the team and get them fully charged before we put them on the phones."

What's been the biggest hit during the Super Saturdays?

"The CFO's pancakes," O'Malley said. "His culinary skills have played a big part in the success."