Creating Training Organization Efficiency

The CUNA Mutual Group Builds its center of expertise around learning and performance

In January 2005, the new CEO of CUNA Mutual Group brought in a seasoned senior executive team to make a host of fundamental changes within a short time. Their mission was to find ways to cut costs by eliminating redundancies in the training function, as well as improve employee talent, knowledge and skills. The strategy was to first build world-class training and, at the same time, introduce human performance solutions that achieve business results.

CUNA Mutual Group is a provider of financial services to credit unions, their members and valued customers worldwide. It also offers services, such as asset management, to grow long-term relationships and manage risk. CUNA Mutual is a Fortune 1000 company, ranking 566th on the list for 2008.

The company offers a wide range of insurance and financial products and services to its customers. There is significant complexity due to the number and diversity of these products. This complexity permeates all aspects of the business (including
technology), as well as the knowledge and skills of employees. Due to the complexity of regulation and compliance that surrounds the insurance and asset management industries, training and development needs to be highly customized while also being efficient.

CUNA Mutual operates across more than 30 different state jurisdictions and licensing boards, which can have different continuing education (CE) requirements for licensed professionals, such as insurance agents and investment advisors.


For decades, CUNA Mutual had a nearly exclusive relationship with its credit unions and their members, enjoying more than 90 percent market share in its core products. Starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the financial services industry
underwent dramatic changes, which resulted in more competition for CUNA Mutual’s traditional customer base. Additionally, credit unions were consolidating through mergers, reducing CUNA Mutual’s customer base. More recently, the economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009 negatively impacted CUNA Mutual’s profitability.

For many years, CUNA Mutual had an insular company culture, so it required outside forces to initiate changes across the organization, including in learning and development (L&D). Prior to 2006, organizational L&D activities at CUNA were fragmented and needed better coordination from an enterprise perspective.


The mandate of organization capability goes far beyond functional training to encompass performance improvement at all levels of the organization, driven by customer needs. It provides a continuum of human performance solutions in the following approximate proportions: structured on-the-job training and knowledge transfer (70 percent), coaching (20 percent) and formal training (10 percent).

In fulfilling its mission and vision, the L&D organization is guided by four strategic imperatives: alignment, process, people and marketing.

A governance board helps organization capability align its goals and resources across the principle business lines of the company—product, services, sales and distribution, operations, and claims. The strategic imperative of process is driven
by a holistic view of talent and performance. Decisions about learning are made within the context of the total talent strategy. The people component of the strategy focuses on building competence, execution and learning within organization capability. The marketing component of the strategy is to let the entire enterprise know what organization capability does.

One interesting feature of the business model is that organization capability designs, develops and delivers leadership programs at three levels: front line, executive and high-potentials. HR incorporates the learning into an integrated talent management process that includes sourcing and recruiting the right talent, defining leadership competencies, succession planning, performance management, and more. The staff of organization capability is structured to support vertical lines of business, while establishing several communities of practice that span multiple client groups, and look to leverage synergies and expertise across the enterprise.

CUNA Mutual has a clearly documented assessment process, supported by templates, tools and worksheets, which are applied to all performance problems. The majority of solutions do not involve formal training, but rather informal learning or better human performance management. Another in-depth consulting tool is the performance analysis checklist, which is organized by performance issue, such as motivations/incentives,measurement, knowledge and skills, and capacity. It provides consultants with data collection ideas and specific questions to ask themselves or the audience.


The selection and implementation of a configurable on-demand learning management system (LMS) was central to the overall transformation of the learning function at CUNA Mutual. In early 2007, the learning organization’s team of technologists began researching both traditionally installed LMS software and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) LMS platforms. However, as the technology team came to understand that learning and development is often given a low priority for IT support (as compared with P&L business lines or mission-critical functions), the
field of candidates was narrowed to software that could be delivered on-demand as a service. Organization capability wanted a configurable solution that leverages collaborative technology for easy customization without waiting in the IT queue. The LMS team utilized industry research from Bersin & Associates and then conducted a thorough assessment of the software providers using request for proposal (RFP) documents. After evaluating the RFPs, a small number of vendors were called in for product demonstrations and interviews. At the end of the process, CUNA Mutual selected for its extreme adaptability.

CUNA Mutual launched in late 2007. There are currently 7,200 user licenses (4,000 employees and 3,200 non-employees / contractors). The LMS tracks 1,200-plus elearning courses and nearly 500 instructor-led training sessions. Additionally, a significant amount of data was migrated from the legacy LMS to the new LearnCenter implementation.


The increased use of e-learning is a result of having amodern LMS and a centralized shared services training function has brought measurable benefits to CUNA Mutual, mainly through increased efficiency from reduced class time, travel time and expense and instructor time. As a result, the 2009 budget is nearly $2.5million less than the combined training budget in 2005 due to skill and productivity efficiencies – a reduction of approximately 25 percent across all L&D expenses over four years.

CUNA Mutual presents a classic example of how Fortune 1,000-size companies continue to consolidate and rationalize disparate training groups into centers of expertise that offer shared services across the enterprise. The net result is a learning and organizational development group that is more productive and effective with fewer people, saving the company millions of dollars annually. CUNA Mutual stands out from the average company because of the significant number of best practices it has put into place with regard to organization, governance, instructional design, performance consulting, funding, strategic alignment and more. The company has truly created a high-impact learning organization
that is noteworthy for its best practices.

—The author is a principal analyst with Bersin & Associates. For access to the
complete Bersin & Associates case study including Best Practices, please visit

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