Premier Service Provider


By David Sapenaro, First Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

Dave Sapenaro

As with those of all organizations, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis' vision, goals and strategies have evolved over the past century to address changing times, key environmental factors and our own aspirations. However, one constant that hasn't changed (at least in the two decades I have worked at the Bank) is a commitment to provide valued services to our constituents and to be viewed by them as a premier service provider.

How do we turn this commitment into real results, rather than just management rhetoric? First, we listen to our customers. All Bank functions, regardless of whom they serve, have mechanisms in place to capture feedback, such as through formal surveys, social media and one-on-one interactions, whether in person or over the phone. For example, close to 550 financial institutions were visited by our Branch regional executives over the past three years as a part of our regional Financial Institution Touch program, which is designed to seek input on local economic conditions and to answer questions about services provided by our Bank. Second, we systematically use that feedback to assess customer satisfaction and to identify needs that could lead to new products and services. An example comes from a survey of users of Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED), our signature online economic database. They wanted enhanced graphing functionality, and we delivered one-step graph downloading, mouse-sensitive plot displays and other interactive capabilities. Third, we closely monitor our performance against targets that represent a "stretch" for us to achieve. At the executive level, we monitor more than 50 quality and constituent-satisfaction metrics to ensure that we meet or exceed targets, as well as to identify and resolve problems in a timely manner. And fourth, we assess our performance against external benchmarks to provide additional insight into potential opportunities to strengthen the value of our services.

Following these processes isn't complicated or obscure. They are pretty much straight out of a textbook for a business 101 class. But they work because we are committed to making them work and because we are disciplined enough to methodically follow them, refine them and assess their effectiveness. We didn't achieve 100 percent of our targets right out of the gate. We still don't have it perfect. But the journey continues.

Although listening to our customers is key to being a premier service provider, equally important are employees who have a relentless desire to innovate and a positive work environment. We have both.

Innovation is the engine that drives ongoing constituent satisfaction. Although the core responsibilities of the Bank have remained largely unchanged over the past century, how we meet the needs of the people we serve has evolved. Listening to and leveraging feedback from customers has led to innovative services. Recent examples include:

  • Dialogue with the Fed and its Spanish version, Diàlogo con la Fed: These discussions with Bank economists and other experts are held periodically at the Bank and its branches, providing information on the key economic and financial issues of the day. The sessions are free and open to the public; questions from the audience are always encouraged so that there is a true dialogue. All discussions are archived in one form or another and are available to be viewed at any time on the Bank's website.

  • Ask the Fed: This monthly call-in program provides an additional communication channel between Fed officials and leaders of state member banks and bank holding companies throughout the nation on emerging and important financial and supervisory topics.

  • Go Direct: This education and marketing campaign, conducted on behalf of the U.S. Treasury, was designed to encourage recipients of federal benefit checks (such as Social Security) to switch to electronic payments, such as direct deposit. The campaign has resulted in an estimated $1.15 billion savings for the Treasury and, therefore, the American taxpayer.

  • FRED: This is an online database of more than 236,000 time series of economic data from more than 60 sources. At no charge, users can download, graph and track data. FRED and other products in the FRED family, such as ALFRED, GeoFRED and FRASER, are used worldwide, and their value is recognized externally by distinguished economists and columnists.

  • Econ Lowdown: For teachers at all levels, as well as the general public, we've got the lowdown on the basics of economics, personal finance and the Fed itself. We've got videos, podcasts, lesson plans, newsletters and more for teaching in the classroom and for teaching yourself.

The final ingredient in our journey to be a premier service provider is a positive work environment. The Bank's management believes an organization's culture must be managed on an ongoing basis, because it can either be an asset or a detriment to achieving organizational excellence. The Bank makes ongoing investments in personal learning for employees; examples include individual development plans, lunch 'n' learn sessions and similar educational programs, on-site training on timely topics, and tuition reimbursement programs. The work environment is also enhanced through employee contributions, including volunteers serving on a wide range of internal groups, such as the Diversity Council, the Green Team, the Activities Committee and the Safety Committee.

We also believe that a positive culture is the most powerful, long-term employee motivator. As such, no organization can be a premier service provider without a sustained positive culture. We are proud that Bank employees have consistently viewed the work environment positively. In a national business and industry ranking, the Bank's workforce commitment score placed in the 93rd percentile among the more than 900 organizations participating in the survey. As with our process-improvement efforts and our innovative spirit, we are committed to providing an outstanding work environment for our employees—it's the right thing to do for them, and it's the right thing to do to serve our constituents.

The Bank has received several awards over the past few years that speak to the quality of our services and operations. Among other honors, we received the Missouri Quality Award and were named one of the St. Louis Regional Chamber's "Top 50 Businesses." We view these awards as indicators that we are on the right track when it comes to being a premier service provider. But this is a journey that has no end, because we are always pushing ourselves to improve and to exceed our constituents' expectations.