Fast-Track Universal Banking

By Walt Albro

When Triumph Bank introduced the universal banker concept at one of its branches earlier this year, the financial institution faced several daunting challenges.

For one thing, about 85 percent of the bank’s business was commercial; in the past, retail banking had been viewed only as a by-product. For another, the transition needed to be made fast. The bank planned within a few months to open a new branch featuring universal banking—without any previous experience with the approach.

The bank’s experience has a message of hope, says Traci Strickland, vice president of marketing at the Memphis bank, which has assets of $517 million. “It shows that you can make change happen—as long as you get your people to embrace it.” Strickland spoke about her bank’s entry into universal banking at the ABA Bank Marketing Conference in Denver.

The bank is almost 10 years old and has about 100 employees—but only 18 work in retail. About two years ago, the bank rebranded. Its old logo was very traditional—with red, white and blue and stars. The bank wanted to grow and change, so it adopted a new logo that looked more progressive by using the color green. The bank purchased a branch from a regional bank in an upscale suburb and decided to gut the interior and rebuild it as a completely innovative facility that featured universal banking. Once this branch was up and running, the bank planned to expand the universal banking approach to its other three locations.

Introducing universal banking was a major risk and a huge lead of faith, notes Strickland. The bank picked eight people to undergo training: four regulars and four backups. The employees were selected for their motivation and comfort with the idea. For training, the bank selected ABA’s universal banker training, for which the employees received certificates when they completed the course. The employees were extremely proud of their certificates, Stickland recalls. “It was as if they had received special gifts.”

The universal bankers met frequently before the branch opening to discuss their new roles. The new branch opened in March of this year. The major change was that all the employees would walk around the bank lobby, rather than sitting in a teller area or at a desk. When customers entered the lobby, the universal banker would approach them, greet them, and then ask if they could help them. If customers had financial transaction, the universal banker would bring them to one of two lobby kiosks, where cash dispensers were located. The machines cut transaction time in half, compared with a similar transaction involving a traditional teller.

The bank also features “hotel” offices, that is, offices that are not permanently assigned to any one employee. There’s also a gourmet coffee station, a community room and a video wall that displays branded educational videos.

Strickland says the key takeaways from the bank’s experience are:

  • Be patient. “Change takes time.”
  • Be willing to spend more time than anticipated.
  • Work with local media to create buzz. “When employees are excited, it helps to create a buzz in the community.”
  • Positive team morale and culture is crucial. “Without this, universal banking is not going to work.”
  • Have an action plan for customer/team members who resist change.
  • Create a visual experience in the branch.
  • Focus on creating a better customer environment—making banking simpler. “People are not coming to the branch as much. But with a better customer environment, they may actually come back.”

Concerning universal banking and the better branch environment, Stickland says, “This is where all banks are going to be in 10 years.”