RAPID CITY, S.D.-For the last 15 years, Kenneth Palmer has been an entrepreneur, running his own business out of a branch of Black Hills FCU.

At least that's the way Palmer sees it. "You have to look at the branch you are in charge of as your own personal business," said Palmer, who is the East North member service center manager for the $940-million BHFCU. "I look at this office, and all its results-good and bad-as a reflection of me. You have to have that kind of ownership to be a successful branch manager."

The approach has helped make Palmer's office the busiest among all of Black Hills' 11 branches. Located in the northern part of Rapid City in a lower-income neighborhood on the main drag, the seven-drive-up-lane branch-staffed by four loan officers and nine tellers-averages 13,000 transactions a month.

Palmer emphasized, too, that keeping up with change has been important over the 15 years he's run the office, which was expanded in the last ten years.

"You can't get comfortable with offering the same products or having the same procedures because that won't allow you to adapt to what is happening all around the branch, city and in the economy. I think the biggest change I have witnessed in my time here is the amount of new technology that has come into play and the credit union has adapted with that."

A change the CU instituted about three years ago, adding the "Welcome Home" program, has had a big impact on branch business. "I am the chairman of that program, which teaches employees how to treat members as if they were guests in their own home," said Palmer.

The training includes policies in keeping the branch spotless and feeling cozy, with lemonade in the lobby and members asked if they want coffee or water with they sit down with an MSR.

"Then it's about having employees greeting members with a smile and making eye contact, maybe a handshake. We make sure that everyone who comes in goes out feeling like we were focused on them and are serving their financial needs. The program has made a difference because we just got recognized as the best financial institution in the Black Hills by the Rapid City Journal."

Palmer added that his office has always benefitted from the overall size and reach of BHFCU, which helps build awareness. But that size does not change the fact branch managers have to get out and pound the pavement.


Staying 'Extremely Active'

"I stay extremely active in the community. I go to chamber mixers and other functions. I know a lot of people and am well connected in the business community," he said. "You get out of the office and make sure people know you are always approachable. You make friends and are the ambassador for the credit union. You never know, what makes someone choose your credit union over a bank might be as simple as the smile and handshake you gave them when you met them on the street."

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