“When you’re ready to be the best, we’re here to show you how,” boasts the Web site of the Georgetown Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union.

But behind the confident slogan and transparent glass walls of the Credit Union office lie some not-so-visible problems, say a number of interns in different positions within the Credit Union. Although the management has taken steps to address many of the difficulties in the past year, a certain degree of frustration appears to linger with some of the interns.

From the outsider’s perspective, the Georgetown Credit Union certainly looks impressive. The GUASFCU, which opened in 1983, is a $10.5 million company with $750,000 in loan portfolios and nearly 7,000 account holders. And in 2001, the National Credit Union Association awarded it a CAMEL1 rating.

“Credit unions in this group are resistant to external economic and financial disturbances and capable of withstanding the unexpected actions of business conditions more ably than credit unions with a lower composite rating,” says the NCUA Web site. This honor marked the first time that a student-run financial institution had achieved such an accomplishment.

But in terms of the Credit Union’s internal operations, a number of interns suggest that the picture is not quite as rosy as it may appear. “There are no checks and balances,” says one Credit Union intern. (All the Credit Union workers, from the tellers to the CEO, are called “interns,” since none of them are paid). “This year the board has gotten rid of the internal auditing system, so there would be no way to check up on any [transactions] that carried over to this year.”

The internal auditing system, also called the supervisory committee, consisted of experienced members of the Credit Union who would perform internal audits and provide the Board of Directors with objective assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of the Credit Union’s financial statements, records and departments. This year’s Board of Directors cut the internal auditing system during their transition period last February.

Although Credit Union CEO Chris Petrilli (MSB ’03) claims that the elimination of the internal auditing system was not significant because of more external auditing instated this year, other Credit Union interns are more skeptical. “Even if nothing has been going on, it is mind-boggling how possible it would be to embezzle funds without the internal auditing system,” one intern notes. No external auditing system, the intern continues, could run with the accuracy needed to check up on the Credit Union’s roughly 7,000 accounts.

Another problem, say the interns, is a lack of teller training. If you’ve ever wondered why you never seem to get the same teller twice, it might be because the Credit Union continually accepts applications for new tellers throughout the year. Many, however, lack even rudimentary knowledge about the workings of a bank. “Most of them ask how they should go about becoming CEO within the first few weeks,” laughs one intern.

Corina Bogaciu (COL ’06) explains the training she received when she was accepted as a teller at the beginning of the 2002 academic year. “They give you a manual, you read through it, and a person from Human Resources walks you through [various teller operations] . such as sample transactions,” she says. The whole process, she estimates, took about a half an hour. Then she was put on the job as a teller under the supervision of an operations manager. Other interns recall very similar training sessions, with the instruction time by the H.R. officer lasting no more than an hour.

Petrilli says that the process was changed this year so that tellers-in-training “shadow” another teller and conduct transactions themselves during this time when they feel comfortable doing so. But he also maintains that the training always included “four to five hours” of training during a “hands-on training day,” and that tellers were given a Power Point presentation in addition to the training manual. None of the tellers interviewed who had trained before the “shadowing” change was implemented remember receiving so many hours of training or viewing a Power Point presentation.

Such a small amount of training can lead to significant problems, note a number of interns. “At the end of the day, the operations managers check to make sure all the numbers match up,” says one intern. “If we notice a problem, such as an undeposited check, we can fix it right there. But if the teller has made a mistake like depositing a check in the wrong account, which sometimes happens, that’s really hard to detect.”

The intern, however, also notes that, “For a lot of our customers, the Credit Union is their first banking experience. The clientele make a lot of mistakes, like mislabeling check envelopes, which the Credit Union members get the blame for.”

Part of the reason for the high number of new tellers is that volunteering at the Georgetown Credit Union is generally considered an excellent resume booster for those students interested in the field. “Interning at the Credit Union is the reason that I ended up with a good job when I graduated from Georgetown,” states Henry Howe (COL ’00), quoted on the Credit Union Web site.

But because tellers don’t get paid, note other interns, most of them are in the Credit Union for the resume reference, and “none of them have any pride or personal investment in the Credit Union itself.”

Chris Petrilli acknowledges that, often, new members in the Credit Union do not have the enthusiasm that he would like to see. But, he adds, “at least five or six of our employees put in over 40 hours a week. For those members, the Credit Union is their life.” Furthermore, those interns who are motivated solely by the prospect of an impressive resume qualification aren’t as successful as those with a “dedication to learning more about business,” he says. “Anyone who wants to work here does it because they love it. If you just want to put it on your resume, you won’t get very far.”

Many interns, however, allege that even for dedicated interns, promotions at the Credit Union seem to be awarded more according to favoritism than merit.

Every week, the Credit Union initiates casual football, soccer or softball games (depending on the season) with the other interns. But the games are apparently not quite as casual as they might appear.

“For quick upward mobility, shmooze [sic] with the upper management in our weekly football game-this Saturday at 3 PM,” says a Sept. 2002 e-mail sent by one of the board members to the Credit Union staff.

“A number of people have told me that they felt that only reason that they moved up was because of those silly C.U. games and all the socializing,” one intern says.

“I wouldn’t say that’s true,” Petrilli says about the sports games. He notes that he didn’t attend that many games before he was promoted and has attended “one or two” since. “There aren’t that many board members [participating] actually,” he says.

But whatever the effects of the games, some interns say they have witnessed promotions that they believe cannot be explained in any way other than favoritism. “One new teller was promoted to the head of two departments [almost immediately] after becoming a teller,” says one intern. The teller finished his required 10 shifts in about two months and was apparently directly promoted to the unusually high positions the month after.

The freshman teller was “pulled up” by a two-time member of the Board of Directors who was a good friend of his, the source says. Other interns confirm this story. “When a kid goes from being a teller one month and is suddenly the head of two departments, people notice,” says one. “Credit union’s small; everybody knows who’s moving up.”

Petrilli firmly denies that a new teller would be promoted this way. “That would never happen-never,” he asserts, adding that new tellers should only be promoted to regular staff positions. He denies that any inappropriate promotions have occurred. No extenuating circumstances.

Addressing more general allegations of favoritism, Petrilli states, “I think that’s completely unfounded. The people who were promoted were the people who deserved it . because of their hard work and dedication.”

He also notes that recent meetings to address certain problems have been held with the entire Credit Union staff. Interns present at those meetings said the first one was held in December and addressed staff members’ frustrations with the ATMs and problems of low morale.

“A lot of the board members weren’t physically seen working around the Credit Union at all,” says one intern. “And that was discouraging for the interns below them, not to see the board members dedicating themselves.”

There were also communication problems between the different departments, says the source. “There wasn’t very high morale . Everyone would come in, do their job and then leave,” the intern says. “The meetings were held so that everyone would know what was going on.”

Petrilli acknowledges that many of the interns were frustrated with the broken ATMs and that that was one of the issues raised at the meetings. About other concerns expressed by the interns, he says, “Most of the issues are unfounded.”

The interns present at the meeting said the board members were generally receptive to suggestions that they be a more visible presence at the bank. “They said they were surprised, and they were going to try to come in more,” one intern says. “They acknowledged that they lost focus and might not have put in the effort they should have . There has been a definite change in attitude from the top since the meetings were held,” adds the source.

Petrilli admits that the student body in general might have “misperceptions about the Credit Union.” If the bank seems to be known for its elaborate parties, Petrilli notes that they are generally for “morale and recruiting,” since none of the workers are paid. Only a fraction of last year’s nearly $100,000 dollar income goes into the party fund, he says: “We’re not drinking Cristal or anything!”

Petrilli is also aware of student complaints about the Credit Union’s often-broken ATMs in the Leavey Center and New South. He says the Credit Union bought a brand-new ATM machine in January and expects it to arrive in March.

He also maintains that “2001 was our best year ever at the Credit Union, with an income of roughly $150,000 dollars, while 2002 brought in around $40,000.” Despite the challenges the institution has had to overcome this year, Petrilli maintains that the Credit Union is still a “highly competitive” banking institution for students and a “wonderful place to work.”

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