UNFCU Expands Member-Service to Best Serve UN Community— Interview with Daniel Ptacek, Vice President of Branch Operations

Having launched a Representative Office in Rome, expanded its presence in Geneva, introduced an international travel service as well as added multi-lingual representatives in its Call Centre – and all of this last spring, United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU) is taking its service mission to new levels. DIVA recently interviewed Daniel Ptacek, vice president of Branch Operations and a 19-year veteran of the institution, to learn more about UNFCU’s overseas initiatives and upcoming plans for its 60th anniversary year.
Q: What is your business strategy in Europe?
We strive to provide members with outstanding service no matter where they are located and have developed different strategies to best serve their needs. For example, several thousand of our members are located across Europe. For this reason, we operate Representative Offices in Geneva, Vienna and are very pleased to have just opened an office in Rome. Responding to members’ requests for greater convenience, we opened a third office in Geneva at Palais des Nations last spring. We develop a physical presence when there are large concentrations of UN staff at the duty station. Additionally, our volunteer-liaison representative in Bonn and The Hague serve as key points of contact for members there and we are exploring possible additions to the liaison team in Europe. UNFCU Liaison Representatives are based in various UN and UN agency offices.
Our overall approach is to continually request member feedback, implement programs as they are possible, and enhance members’ overall experience – whether it be accessing your accounts via our website, using Telephone Banking or making travel plans through UNFCU Travel Services.
In terms of the big picture, we expect to offer accounts in Swiss francs and euros – and this is in direct response to member surveys. We want to continue to grow our international membership and fill a need with multiple currency accounts and are working to achieve this end.
Q: How did the new office in Rome come about?
We have more than 2,000 members in Rome and many expressed strong interest in our having a face-to-face presence. UNFCU recruited and trained staff and they are ready to operate as a Representative Office.
Q: How do you reach out to other members directly and know what they want?
We continually request members’ feedback through surveys, during educational workshops, via our newsletters and online communications because we want to stay attuned to their needs. Volunteer-liaison representatives located in 15 diverse locations including Bonn, Bangkok, Santiago, Cairo, Montreal, Harare, Dar es Salaam and Arusha also provide us with insight on particular questions and what members want — product and service offerings, new Internet Banking features, you name it.
Additionally, to create a direct link to our board of directors, UNFCU recently named six member-volunteer Regional Advisors, two each from Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. In Geneva, our Regional Advisors are Armands Cakss, Program and Budget Officer, Financial Resources Management Services, UNOG, and Michael J. Dudley, Head, Investigations Unit, UNHCR. Their email addresses are acakss@unog.ch and Dudley@unhcr.org, respectively. Regional Advisors are responsible for providing an open, two-way flow of communication between the Board and the membership. Based on their feedback, the Board will be better positioned to develop responsive policies and guidance for Management to translate into appropriate financial products and levels of service.
Q: What are your long-range plans in Geneva?
Above all, we want to become the primary financial institution for our members in Geneva and to that end are developing plans to offer full-service banking. We also have an experienced team in place led by Khalid Gherzeddine, Manager of the Geneva Representative Offices.
Q: How do you determine where to expand next?
We look to where large concentrations of our members are located, conduct extensive research and determine cost, support and resources for the new facility. We recruit staff from the area. When we seek to open an office, we work closely with our sponsor, the UN, as well as with local government and banking authorities.
While we have no immediate plans to open additional offices in new locations, we are constantly striving to reach members at outlying duty stations. From our bases of operations in Vienna, Geneva, Nairobi and Rome, we made visits last year to duty stations in London, Bonn, The Hague, Arusha, Kampala, Kigali, as well as Copenhagen, Brindisi and Trieste. We provided members with an opportunity to obtain updates and educational information on a range of financial topics, open new accounts and ask questions during office hours. As a result, we have added French and Spanish speaking Member Service Representa tives to our Call Centre.
In the near and far term, our focus is providing outstanding member-service and products to help members young and old reach their financial goals. Members are the lifeblood of UNFCU and as the institution approaches its 60th anniversary in 2007 we are focusing all of our collective energies on service. The opening of new offices and our visits to diverse locations are extensions of the UNFCU mission: Serving the people who serve the world by enriching the lives of its members.
Q: What are your plans for 2007?
We are upgrading our computer systems which we call Systems Advantage™ to offer our members new products, services, special offers and promotions in the near future. When complete, Systems Advantage will enhance our existing Internet and Telephone Banking platforms, as well as our credit card offerings. In fact, UNFCU will soon be introducing a new European gift cards program with major retailers. Also debuting is a double-reward point special offer this October. In New York, we are moving our back office staff located in multiple locations in New York to a new building across the river from the UN in Long Island City, Queens. This will allow us to enhance operational efficiencies globally.
Our plans also include continued educational efforts to inform members about current events in the financial news, such as the need to save for retirement and how to safeguard against identity theft.
Q: You state that you offer flexible programs. How is UNFCU able to do this?
While we are considered a large credit union with more than $2.3 billion in assets and 270 staff members, we are nimble— that is we can take member suggestions into consideration and then offer flexible programs to help simplify their busy lives and meet the needs of a unique and transient community. For this reason, we conducted extensive market research in-house of our membership and results included the launch of a new, discounted travel program — UNFCU Travel Services™, an online travel search engine with discounted rates that can be up to 30% as a result.
Q: As it is your mission, how do you ensure that Serving the People Who Serve the World® is your staff members’ focus?
Everyone who joins the staff of UNFCU knows the credit union difference – service — and our rigorous training programs help reinforce staffs’ commitment to service excellence. As a member-owned institution, we report directly to our members who are our number one priority. UNFCU has a customized training program called BEST which, stands for Bringing Excellence to Service and Teamwork and everyone across the entire organization is involved in the training program.
Q: What are your plans to provide other services?
A: We are working to provide investment advisory services in Switzerland in the near future. This way, we can provide our members with professional investment advice tailored for international staff and provide a broad range of investment options based on members’ short- and long-range goals.
Q: How do you respond to member queries from several time zones away?
We expanded our Call Centre hours to include Saturdays from 07:00-15:00 (7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST) and currently operate Monday – Friday from 04:00-22:00 (4:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. EST). Members can also reach us toll-free from 19 international locations.
I believe we were also ahead of several financial institutions in offering WebChat™, an online service that enables members to obtain answers to their questions in real-time from a Member Service Representative. WebChat has proven to be one of our most popular initiatives, saving members time and money. We were one of the first credit unions to introduce Internet Banking and the number of members who take advantage of online services like eStatementsTM continues to grow above industry averages, as does our international membership – now at 54%. Of course, our Representative Offices in Europe and Africa help us span time zones and our liaison representatives in 15 countries provide additional support.
Q: Is your board of directors international as well?
In 2005, UNFCU members elected Joyce Barbarich, Treasurer of IAEA in Vienna to our board of directors. Joyce is our first internationally-based board member and UNFCU has benefited from her overseas perspective. Our board members represent six different nationalities and also have had significant experience serving the UN and its specialized agencies globally.
Q: What has the institution learned (about the UN community) after 60 years?
Be flexible. Be responsive. And go above and beyond to serve members. We recognize that our members have special needs: many have transient posts and work in remote locations. Serving them to the best of our capability requires agility. In short, we strive to be partners with our members and the constant in their lives — being attuned to unique needs, having a strong-service orientation and continually seeking value-added business relationships to benefit our members- whether these are with Global Phone Corporation or leaders in technology working for us behind the scenes. At the same time, we have realized the importance of making a positive difference by supporting charitable giving programs in Geneva and around the world. We look forward to another 60 years of serving the UN community around the world!