Spotlight: Rachel Risberg

CU executive guides a successful bank-to-CU transition.

February 11, 2011
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Royal Credit Union in Eau Claire, Wis., wanted to expand its geographic footprint to provide more convenient service to its current members and attract new members.

AnchorBank, Wisconsin’s largest savings and loan, was bleeding millions of dollars and wanted sell some branches.

Thus consummated a marriage of convenience between the for-profit and not-for-profit worlds, says Rachel Risberg, executive vice president of operations for the $1.3 billion asset credit union.

“We decided that acquiring 11 of its branches was a way for us to profitably accelerate our plan,” she explains.

This move brought not only operational, but cultural, challenges as Royal took on new bank employees, many of whom had no idea how banks and credit unions differ.

“For the most part, the bank employees were excited because they knew they would have jobs and could take care of their customers,” Risberg says.

She tells Credit Union Magazine about the experience and how she helped guide a successful bank-to-credit union transition.

CU Mag: How did you reduce anxiety about the changes?

Risberg: We first needed to build trust. Our focus on members and employees created harmony.

We made any guarantees that we could—including reassuring staff that everyone would keep their jobs and salaries through the end of the year. We kept all staff informed and participating.

Training of new staff started with Royal Credit Union history, what credit unions are all about, and an overview of the change process. Beyond that, the key was communication—explaining progress on the acquisition, sharing decisions made on products and fees, and introducing staff who would be interacting with each other. We were open and available, and listened to employees’ questions and concerns.

Rachel Risberg

Who: Rachel Risberg
What: EVP-Operations, Royal CU
Where: Eau Claire, Wis.

Our formal acquisition kickoff was a welcome reception at our corporate center during the same week as the initial announcement. The initial training day followed a couple of months later.

After that, we answered follow-up questions while visiting the new offices. To explain how credit unions are different from banks, we explained about member-owners versus stockholders, member-centered decision making, and our tax-exempt status. This prepared new employees to answer customer/member questions.

We were thankful for the new employees’ strong concern for their customers. They helped us anticipate questions and give the new “members” information and tools to support them through the transition.

CU Mag: What steps did you take to help all staff feel connected to this project?

Risberg: We paired existing credit union staff with the new staff to bring our newest branches up to speed, with support and mentors at all levels.

We also:

  • Communicated specifics about the acquisition as much as possible.
  • Educated both sets of employees on the differences between the bank’s products and the credit union’s products to make it easier for them to explain [changes] to members.
  • Prepared for the acquisition based, in part, on what we’d learned from our previous merger.
  • Trained employees before the acquisition. This helped the new employees to be knowledgeable about our products and systems. Then they could assist members with questions both prior to and after the acquisition.
  • Created employee newsletters and marketing materials to inform staff about what to expect and what was happening during the transition.
  • Worked closely with other departments to inform everyone throughout the process, so there were no surprises.

We had mentoring staff and support staff in place to help us work through issues. Even though many of the new employees had several years of financial experience, they were still “new hires.” Because we had so much information to communicate, it was important to lay out a plan to prioritize the information from preacquisition through postacquisition.

This provided a sense of balance. New employees needed to know enough to feel good about working for us and communicating information to the members, but not so much information that they felt overloaded.

New employees have embraced our credit union’s culture and mission. They’re excited to be Royal employees and they show it every day in words and actions. They’re excited to focus on the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”

Next: Personal accomplishments & challenges

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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