Family: That’s the word that best describes the team at Farm Credit Foundations. The Minnesota-based co-operative is comprised of Farm Credit organizations – employers of agricultural lenders who help farmers finance and grow their businesses – from across the United States that joined together to share HR services.
“We are a big, collective family,” says Suzanne Smith, Benefits Manager. “We eat together, we close the office and go bowling or golfing, and we work really hard. But working hard together with a group of folks you really appreciate and where everyone loves what they do makes a big difference.”
Farm Credit Foundations’ unique co-operative model means its customers are also its owners, so decisions are made based on what will benefit the group – just like a family. The organization became federally chartered in 2012 with a goal of collectively sourcing HR services so that they could afford to offer better benefits to their people.
But for the team at Farm Credit Foundations, providing a seamless benefits experience to the nearly 9,000 employees they service at 37 entities across the country is much bigger than cost savings: “When you think about not just the employee, but their families – it’s 23,000 lives that we impact. So, the importance of benefits to people, it really impacts their entire life. If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything,” says Teresa Heath-Alva, CEO.
Like with any family, finding one solution that meets everyone’s needs is a serious challenge. Farm Credit Foundations services 37 separate legal entities, all with different needs. The team was seeking a solution that would be flexible enough to work within each employer’s specific context, all while providing the value and consistency of a single, centralized system.
As Michelle Meyer, Manager of Technology and Innovation puts it: “When you look at the unique requirements that we have for operating in a platform or an application, we have to have scalability and versatility. We need to be flexible in our configuration to meet the individual requirements of each of those organizations that we support.”
How the team handled benefits in the past was reminiscent of a scene from The Wizard of Oz: employees had what seemed like an online experience, but when you pulled back the curtain it was a different story. The Farm Credit Foundations team was printing out the election forms, manually entering the data, scanning documentation, and then checking entries for accuracy. The system required a lot of administrative effort, and also introduced a high risk of errors.
The team was looking for a system that would minimize the risk of error and alleviate the administrative burden they faced handling benefits enrollment. The system also needed to be able to handle the complex structure of retirement plans Farm Credit Foundations administers for its constituents, while accurately managing intricate pay calculations with over 360 vacation and sick leave entitlement plans.
Finding the right solution to provide great benefits and HR services to Farm Credit employers meant conducting a thorough vetting process to test how different vendor solutions would work in the real world.
“We did scripted demonstrations with all of our evaluations, and our team rated those evaluations. And by the end of the day, we had over 13,000 data points that told us Dayforce was able to meet our functional requirements,” Meyer says.
The Dayforce modules offered a number of features to help Farm Credit Foundations reach their goals. For one, the team could set up 37 different configurations in one platform, supporting each organization’s individual business requirements. The Dayforce environment could also handle Farm Credit Foundations’ need for more than 250 different security roles, allowing each organization to customize data access as needed and ensure organizations can only see data for their own employees.
Another appealing feature was the Dayforce self-service tools for employees, including a mobile app that suited employees’ work lives on the road. “We’re in a finance industry within agriculture, so most loan officers aren’t necessarily sitting at their desk typing away,” Meyer explains. “They might be on a farm with no access to a [computer], so it gives that employee the ability to submit time-away-from-work requests and see their paycheck.”
After implementing the Dayforce modules, the Farm Credit Foundations team started seeing benefits immediately. For one, they were saving a significant amount of time on administrative work. The biggest win was with their benefits program, which had previously involved a lot of behind-the-scenes manual work.
“When we look at how much time Dayforce saved our team related to benefits interactions, it saved over a month of keying in transactions related to life events and health savings accounts,” says Meyer.
The time saved on administration opened up an opportunity to focus more on education, a move that made employees happy. “We have, on average, 100 people attend each webinar – we hold several a month – and our on-site visits sometimes have 80 people with their spouses in the room to hear about how to use benefits appropriately,” Smith explains.
It’s no surprise that the Farm Credit Foundations team brought it all back to family:
“I’m thinking of a time when we had an employee call in absolutely distraught. Their child was traveling abroad and had been in a very critical accident, and needed surgery and assistance getting there from a remote location. To be able to get those medical services, knowing it’s not going to destroy you financially is really critical to that employee’s wellbeing,” says Heath-Alva.
Families are dynamic. They grow over time, and their needs change and evolve. Farm Credit Foundations sees that same evolution in their business and are constantly adapting to the needs of their constituents – so their technology solutions need to keep up.
“As our organization grows, we’re responsible for supporting our employers, so we need to have tools that will grow and evolve over time with our employers’ business needs, as well,” says Meyer. “And that was something we saw with Dayforce – just how quickly new functionality is being released and how we can apply it to our team and our processes to make things easier.”
The team at Farm Credit Foundations is focused on the impact on their people when it comes to making decisions about technology:
“If you get somebody’s benefits wrong, or you get somebody’s payroll wrong, or you get the reports that they rely on for their financial reporting wrong, that’s a really big deal,” says Heath-Alva. “You can’t afford any risk there. So, it’s really important that [your partners] understand that risk as well as the need for innovation.”