Webster’s Universal Banker Playbook

By Deb Stewart

In 2012 Webster Bank felt change in the air. Banking center transaction volumes were dropping, and profitability was squeezed by rates, regulation, and the economy. In the face of declining foot traffic, bank management wanted to focus on meeting the needs of an evolving, less transaction-focused customer population. Webster saw this as an opportunity to reduce the square footage of some of its banking centers and to change its staffing model.

This staffing transition centered on implementing a universal banker pilot in 11 banking centers.

Today, Webster’s universal banker program has been rolled out bank wide. Here are some highlights of how they did it, what they learned, and how the model is evolving today.

How did they begin?

“Our initial step was to establish a cross-functional team, including operations, training, HR, compliance, sales, and marketing to develop the program and ensure buy-in and a shared vision across disciplines. We had studied and talked to many banks that had already implemented the program and used those lessons in our initial design,” said Kelly Haskins, senior vice president and director of Community Banking Administration at Webster Bank.

  • Then: Pilot and Training – Rather than focusing the pilot in only one market, Webster opted to spread participation across the franchise. And because a primary element in this phase was to test the training approach, a comprehensive training playbook was developed. Managers from the 11 participating banking centers went through a two-day in-class training program. These managers then returned to their banking centers and led training and coaching of their own teams. Following training, the managers made weekly conference calls with sales support staff and other team members. Managers shared both the successes and the challenges of implementation with each other and with support staff.
  • Then: Staffing – The original staffing plan called for all banking center associates except the manager and assistant manager to be trained as universal bankers (UBs). Banking center staffing levels were determined by transaction volume and a measure of sales opportunity. “Change can be a challenge,” said Rick Lionhood, senior vice president and director of Banking Center Administration. “We expected the transition to be harder for tellers, but found some bankers who were used to living on teller referrals—and were very uncomfortable sourcing their own business. All of this experience fed into our current training and coaching methodologies,” he added.
  • Then: Technology and Design – Technology support was limited, and no design modifications were made to banking centers. Cash recyclers were added to select banking centers. Advanced function ATMs had already been rolled out, and training included how these devices should be utilized and leveraged in the new banking center choreography.

How have things changed?

  • Now: Rollout and Training – Rollout of the program continued with 11 banking centers at a time, again spread across the footprint rather than any single market. This allowed banking center managers across the bank to learn about the program from their peers. The general mood went from reticence about the change to banking centers volunteering to be in the next pilot wave. “We learned a lot about how long it takes for someone to become a competent universal banker,” Haskins said. “If you look at our training today you see a three-step progression. The first step focuses on the consolidation of teller and sales operations processes. Step two takes a deeper dive into various product categories, and step three focuses on sales approach. We have a well documented coaching approach, including online testing and in-person coaching to ensure that each banker is fully qualified to fulfill the role.”
  • Now: Staffing – Webster has established a progression of universal banker positions. Associate UBs have gone through training but have not “passed” the full training evaluation. Full-fledged UBs are those who have demonstrated their knowledge through testing and success. Additionally, senior universal bankers have developed a specialty beyond the standard requirements (lending or investments, for example). Banking center managers and assistant managers do not operate in the UB role. Management roles focus on coaching, business development, business banking, and operations. “Many of our managers have career pathed through the universal banker roles,” Lionhood said. “UB has changed the banking center choreography to some degree with bankers in those positions now stepping into universal functions when needed.”
  • Now: Technology and Design – Advanced function ATMs are now available in all banking centers, and cash recyclers are deployed as needed. Teller lines are still in place in most banking centers, with associates moving freely between the line and the platform area. As banking centers are remodeled, the teller lines are being removed and replaced by general purpose “pods” placed throughout the lobby. These support both traditional teller and service functions, as well as simple sales.

What is the best advice Webster has for you?

Lionhood offered these words of advice: “First, implementing universal banker will take longer than you think because of the human component. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to create a fully-engaged UB staffing complement. You must be thoughtful as to how you introduce the program and how you will keep momentum after that introduction. And you need to go all in. There will be growing pains, but it’s the only approach.”

Haskins added these thoughts: “You need to be very mindful of your training progression. This transition touches every area of everyone’s job and you can only learn so much at a time. Developing the right training cadence is key. The right roll-out cadence is also important, ensuring that the right level of support is available to each banking center as they join the program.”

Would they do it again? “Absolutely,” concluded Lionhood.

Deb Stewart of Charlotte, N.C., is an independent consultant working for the financial services industry. Email: [email protected].

The ABA Universal Banker Certificate provides banking knowledge and skills needed for the newest and fastest growing role in retail banking. The coursework in the certificate ranges from key product knowledge to relationship building, customer service, and expert referral skills. This certificate is designed to help new universal bankers cater to a changing customer mindset by being the single point of contact for walk-in customers and fulfilling sales, service and referral needs. This provides a seamless experience and adds value to new and existing customer relationships.