How one of America’s best places to work is navigating an uncertain, high-tech future

Navy
Federal Credit Union has a simple strategy for navigating an uncertain future
of artificial intelligence: it’s all hands on deck.

The Vienna,
Va.-based credit union, which provides financial services to those connected to
the U.S. armed forces, Department of Defense or Coast Guard, invites all its
employees to share ideas for improving the business. It also is actively
upskilling its people, preparing front-line member service representatives to
offer higher-value guidance to credit union members as computer systems take on
basic tasks like providing bank balances.

There’s a
final, critical way Navy Federal creates a sense of solidarity as it sails into
the uncharted waters of an ever-more high-tech financial services industry.
Navy Federal leaders make it clear that even if things get rough and some jobs
disappear because of automation, no one should expect to walk the plank. The
87-year-old organization has never laid anyone off. And it has no plans to
change that informal policy, says Stacy Keller Williams, vice president of
enterprise change at Navy Federal.

“I hear
executives at every level of the organization who continue to talk about it,”
Keller Williams says. “I’m very confident we will continue to go down that road
of finding a place for our people.”

Employees
share that confidence. Fully 93 percent of Navy Federal’s 21,500 employees say
they believe that “management would lay people off only as a last resort.”

With that
sense of financial security, Navy Federal’s employees feel free and motivated
to generate ideas. Eighty-four percent employees say the organization
celebrates people who try new and better ways of doing things, “regardless of
the outcome.” Last year, 44 employee-generated ideas from the contact center
department alone were implemented at Navy Federal. Some of them were small
shifts with a big impact. For example, one employee suggested putting Navy
Federal’s bank routing number directly on the home page—all but eliminating the
need for the credit union’s nine million members to have to ask a customer
service representative for the digits.

No wonder
Navy Federal has ranked No. 1 among U.S. companies in KPMG’s U.S. Customer
Experience Excellence Report for two straight years. Or that it is the largest
retail credit union in the world, having seen its assets grow from $63 billion
in 2015 to nearly $113 billion in early 2020. Or that it earned a spot on this
year’s list of the Fortune Best Workplaces in Financial Services &
Insurance. Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, just
published this ranking in partnership with Fortune

For the
second straight year, Edward Jones ranked #1 in the category of financial
services and insurance companies with 1,000 or more employees. Rounding out the
top five in the large-company group were American Express, Baird, Pinnacle
Financial Partners and Veterans United Home Loans. Navy Federal Credit Union
ranked sixth among large firms.

In the
small and medium-size category, WestPac Wealth Partners ranked first, followed
by First American Equipment Finance, Bankers Healthcare Group, Network Capital
and Promontory Interfinancial Network.

To create
the ranking of the Fortune Best Workplaces in Financial Services &
Insurance, Great Place to Work analyzed anonymous
survey feedback representing nearly 780,000 employees working in the financial
services and insurance industry in the United States. Employees responded to
over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization
creates a Great Place to Work For All. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation
is based on what employees say about their experiences of trust and reaching
their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they
are or what they do. Great Place to Work analyzes these experiences relative to
each organization’s size, workforce make up, and what’s typical relative to
their peers in the industry.

The
remaining 15 percent of the rank is based on an assessment of all employees’
daily experiences of innovation, the company’s values, and the effectiveness of
their leaders, to ensure they’re consistently experienced. To be considered,
companies had to meet the Great Place to Work-Certified standard.

Great Place
to Work has found that in the average U.S. workplace, only two employees
experience a lot of meaningful innovation opportunities for every six who say
they have just a few or no chances to innovate. Navy Federal Credit Union turns
this discouraging ratio on its head. At the credit union, there are roughly six
employees who report many meaningful chances to contribute new and better ways
of doing things for every two who have just a few or no such opportunities.

Consider
the experience of Navy Federal employee Doug Thomas. A five-year veteran at the
credit union, Thomas is a training instructor for new hires. Last year, he
participated in Navy Federal’s program for generating and collecting ideas from
staffers. Called “Employee Voice,” the initiative is what sparked the 44
changes from the contact center alone, and it goes well beyond a traditional suggestion
box. Ideas are visible to all employees, who vote on them. Those proposing
ideas also get support from departments affected by the suggestion.

Thomas, for
example, proposed streamlining the process for announcing training classes and
their location. Instead of having to spend a couple of hours each week
hand-writing information on a white board with dry-erase markers, Thomas
suggested displaying the information on a digital monitor. Within a day, he
received a response and help from the I.T. department to figure out the budget
for the initiative.

When his
idea won, Thomas not only saw the monitor installed but saw his name
highlighted in internal communications as creator of the “Idea of the Quarter.”

“It was
really cool, not only to be able to do it, but be recognized,” he says.

Navy
Federal Credit Union is a family affair for Thomas. His wife also works at the
company. Even though the financial services industry is undergoing dramatic
shifts and A.I. may well eliminate whole classes of jobs in the industry,
Thomas sleeps easy at night. He is grateful for the opportunity the company
gave him to upgrade his skills—Thomas has advanced from a customer service position
to his current training role. And he doesn’t worry about being laid off in the
future. 

“I don’t
have any fear,” he says. “Navy Federal’s reputation precedes it.”

Keller
Williams says this same confidence is allowing customer contact center staffers
in general to embrace upskilling. They are learning to become more like
financial advisors, addressing more complex questions for members like what
steps to take to create a savings plan even when funds are tight or how to
prepare for home ownership.  

As those
jobs become less robotic, Navy Federal is seeking to deepen the human
connections its employees have with credit union members. Indeed, market
research by Navy Federal discovered that its members appreciate interaction
with an actual human being more than the typical civilian consumer. This might
have to do with the way military families relocate so often, and it helps
explain why Navy Federal has 343 brick-and-mortar branches worldwide and is
adding more.

For another
example of Navy Federal working to provide an empathetic customer experience,
consider a museum exhibit of sorts created by a team led by Keller Williams.
The exhibit helps Navy Federal team members better understand military life,
beginning with basic training to deployments to reintegrating into civilian
society.

It’s all
part of the way Navy Federal is tapping the power of everyone to move into the
future. In fact, it’s not just all hands on deck. It’s all hearts, heads and
hands. And while the organization might have had strategies in the past for
moving from point A to point B, things are more fluid now.

“There
really isn’t a point B anymore,” Keller Williams says. “Change is the only
thing that is constant and we are embracing the endless possibilities that come
with it.”

View the Best Large Workplaces in Financial Services & Insurance and the Best Small and Medium Workplaces in Financial Services & Insurance. To Read Great Place to Work’s report on the Future of Work, including the impact of artificial intelligence on workplace culture, click here.

Ed Frauenheim is the senior director of content at Great Place to Work. He is co-author of A Great Place to Work For All.