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Keesler Federal Banking On New Concept in Training

Thursday, January 2, 2020  
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Mississippi Credit Union Believes Approach Paying Big Dividends


At Keesler Federal Credit Union, each teller is equipped with a monitor, teller software, money for transactions, calculator, phone, signature documentation pad and all the other essentials.

This not only describes the teller line at any of the Keesler Federal’s 38 branches, but also the Teller Training Class Room inside the credit union’s innovative Keesler Federal University Training Center. And what is a branch without a vault? Even the Teller Training Classroom has a vault that consists of simulated money – much like that used on television shows and movies. The money is so realistic that it must undergo an audit every day as it could easily be considered authentic if in circulation.

The Teller Room, a rarity for financial institutions, allows trainees to experience the everyday functions of a teller including training in Symitar™ (the credit union’s core system), cash handling and balancing, using calculator tape and learning how to interact with various members they may encounter in their new jobs. This mock teller line mirrors actual working conditions the trainees will eventually experience.

Sixteen trainees each have their own “window.” The Teller Room is also equipped with three 80-inch flat screen TVs that allow live online training through WebEx from any branch, including Keesler Federal’s three locations in England.

It is a definite leap forward from the days of trainees learning by sitting behind a teller in a branch. And a far cry from Keesler Federal’s days of using a table in a spare conference room.

“This is a fairly new concept in branch training, and I am really proud of what we are accomplishing here at Keesler Federal,” said Felicia Augustine, Keesler Federal’s Director of Training and a 30-year veteran in the financial industry. “This is a first-class operation. I cannot say we are the only training center like this, but if there are others, there are not many.”

Augustine said the idea for the Keesler Federal University came from her observation of how they train nurses at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

When she saw that the college’s training area was a replica of an actual hospital she was impressed.  She observed just how realistic and engaging the training was and thought, “Why can’t we do that for our trainees?” That began a challenge to provide the most realistic credit union team member training experience and her search for improvements to the system is ceaseless.

“What we provide mimics a real-life environment at a branch. You are going to learn every process of that job from A to Z,” Augustine said. “When Keesler Federal University trains a teller it is a whole and integrated approach.  Many institutions teach technology, member service, product knowledge, and accounting functions in separate often-unrelated sessions.  At Keesler Federal University, we train all functions together so that the trainee experience flows efficiently and consistently regardless of branch location. This real life experience provides you a foundation. And if you do not have a foundation then you struggle. At Keesler Federal we are a family and a family does everything they can to ensure each other’s success.

“Team Members don’t leave here until they are ready to report to a branch, go to a window, and start working. The branch managers thank me every day for the quality training. “

The “main campus” Teller Training Room is actually one of three utilized by Keesler Federal University.  This same approach of “whole job training” is carried into other key branch and call center positions.

In the additional rooms, Keesler  Federal conducts branch new accounts and lending training for all incoming Financial Services Representatives. Inside that operation are 15 workstations equipped with double monitor computers, phones, calculators, and signature pads. Trainees learn many of the same processes as tellers and additionally how to qualify non-members, build an application in Opening Act and complete transactions in Symitar. They also are trained on other duties such as opening certification, retirement accounts, business accounts, etc. This is accomplished through real life scenarios.

“Keesler Federal believes in ensuring that our employees have the best training possible,” said Andy Swoger, CEO, and President. “The importance of our associates in the branches cannot be overstated. They are the front line, and who our members deal with and trust. It is imperative that they are trained extensively and have the needed knowledge.”

Quality training is essential as Keesler Federal continues its strong growth and expands its network. Mississippi’s largest credit union has expanded its branch network by 45 percent in less than three years and recently added its first two branches in Alabama.

The third and final training component is the Member Contact Center tailored to meet the needs of call center employees. Eight workstations offer double monitors, telephones with headsets and other necessary tools of the trade. The first training is two weeks, and another three days for level two. Member Contact Specialist III also allows a two-week course on compliance, application building, and the ability to tap into live calls and hear firsthand how to properly address member needs. Given the complexity of call center jobs, they move from the classroom environment to a “nesting team” within the call center and continue live training for several weeks before reporting to their permanent team.

The Keesler Federal University Training Center opened in 2018 and has conducted more than 400 classes to meet the needs of new team members. The training requirements and classes continue to expand to meet the ongoing growth in services, products, and compliance training.

“It is an expense, but Keesler Federal management and in particular COO George Mitchell have been so supportive,” said Augustine. “If you have an idea that will benefit the organization, the executive team will listen. That is paying dividends for the entire credit union.

Augustine added, “My goal is that when a trainee leaves here, they are pretty much ready to roll.”

With assets of $2.9 billion, Keesler Federal is a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative, the largest credit union in the state. Founded in 1947 to provide banking service to Keesler Air Force Base employees, it now has 38 locations, including branches in the Jackson, Hattiesburg, Mobile and New Orleans markets as well as the Coast. Membership exceeds 240,000. 

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