GARDNER, Mass.–GFA FCU has seen increased efficiencies and savings of more than $54,000 since shifting to a “Lean” culture.

Kelli Mason, VP of sales & service at the $353-million, 20,000-member credit union, explained that the move to a Lean culture was rooted in the idea of creating a foundation for future growth without expanding current resources–particularly in human capital. Additionally, it served as a team-building experience, getting staff involved at all levels looking for ways to identify waste and redundancy to save money and improve the member experience.

GFA’s shift to a Lean culture and the results from that have earned it a Best Practices award from Credit Union Journal.  It said it developed its Lean culture internally and did not use a consultant to guide it in the process.

Mason explained that a major part of the shift involved process mapping, in which employees went through a process step-by-step and mapped out how members were served during various experiences, such as when a new member joins.

“On a 20-foot sheet of paper, everybody would go through and label every step, from greet the person, do this, do that, and we labeled all of the steps involved in opening an account for a new member,” said Mason.From there, staff examined the process and looked for ways to shorten it and cut waste, such as transporting paper or causing delays to members. The focus was not only to streamline processes but also to look for ways to eliminate the possibility for human error. Employees were also challenged to increase their own efficiency on the job by 10%.

Despite rethinking countless tasks and establishing credit union-wide best practices, Mason said there was very little pushback from staff. She explained that employees drove much of the process, and senior staff regularly met with employees at all levels to get suggestions and input.

“It was key to keep communications open … and it was important to us that employees didn’t feel like it just went live; that they understood that there was a process happening” that they could prepare for and be a part of.



Managers as ‘Lean Champions’

Branch managers and corporate officers also served as Lean Champions to help map out procedures and drive changes more quickly. They also participated in several four-hour workshops designed to provide an overview of Lean culture and identify areas for process improvement.

The move to Lean coincided with a shift to paperless processes at GFA FCU, which worked with Mount Wachusett Community College to help secure the grant that was used both for shifting more to e-services (including e-signatures) and training for Lean culture.

Focusing on electronic service delivery–including completing rates in truth-in-lending disclosures electronically rather than manually, e-mailing forms to members and more–has saved the CU more than $15,000 in time, paper and toner costs. Total savings thus far are more than $54,000.

GFA’s direct auto lending has increased by 12% this year (more than 22% in dollars), while mortgage originations grew 34% in unites (46% in dollars). The credit union is forecasting to grow total originations by 50% for 2013 as compared to 2012. It is projecting deposit growth of 10% in 2013.

GFA’s most recent Call Report lists more than $141 million in loans and leases, most of which is concentrated in used car lending and unsecured lines of credit. It is well capitalized with a net worth ratio of 12.12.

Mason said that the CU’s projected growth is not necessarily tied to these changes, but an improved member experience should result in more referrals and increased word of mouth.


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