RUTLAND, Vt.-One credit union boosted cross-sales 60% by sending staff to the races.

An incentive program modeled after a horse race has had a big impact on Heritage Family CU's ability to create deeper relationships with members. Called the Heritage Thoroughbred Racing Series, the program has been running for the last five years and has increased cross-sales every time it has been run.

"It gets employees more excited about promoting a product or service, and it produces results," said Mark Grossarth, AVP-marketing. "People have more fun and work harder."

The Rules of the Race

Six races-a mix of one- and two-week events-are held from July through mid-August. The staff of 118 are divided into five teams and receive points for their finish in each race if they win (4), place (2), or show (1).

The team with the most points at the end of the "racing season" wins the overall race and receives a free trip to Saratoga Racetrack, complete with a limousine ride and dinner. "Pony Pennies" are also handed out based on each race result, and can be traded in at the end of the season for gift cards.

Teams appoint one employee as the jockey, and horses advance by furlongs in each race according to how well the team cross sells. Heritage Family CU awards furlongs for each product cross sold. Products that are harder to cross sell or are a focus for the CU return more furlongs. For example, a mortgage delivers four furlongs and a debit card or e-statement one.

Comparing cross sales in July 2009 to results from the previous month in which there was no racing incentive, the $250-million Heritage Family CU saw debit cards increase by 36%, e-statements improve 153%; consumer loans jump 157%; and credit cards increase 400%. The racing incentives come on top of the standard cross-sales incentives.

The top five products cross sold during the race were, respectively, non-capture consumer loans, E-statements, debit cards, standard debt protection policies, and share drafts. Overall, during the 2009 contest, Heritage Family Credit Union saw a 60% increase in cross-sales activity over non-race months.

Standings are e-mailed to employees each week, and weekly and biweekly races keep everyone involved even if their horse is slipping behind in the overall standings, Grossarth said. "We have the shorter races to make sure no one gets discouraged, otherwise this could be de-motivating."

That is certainly not happening, according to Grossarth, whose office is in the call center. He hears all the "good-natured trash taking. The competition can get heated, in a friendly way."

Fringe Benefit

A side benefit is that employees interact with each other more. Teams are comprised of employees from different departments. "Teams meet each week to discuss strategy," Grossarth said.

As an added bonus, each time operations staff members cross-sell a service, they get their name thrown into the "bag o' oats," from which one name is drawn at the end of the racing season to join the winning team on the Saratoga trip.

"It's a lot of fun for the whole credit union, not only the tellers," Grossarth said. "And we get results."

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