By Monica C. MeinertMobile and online banking may be becoming more prevalent, but especially for community banks, having a physical presence is still something that consumers value. As banks seek to streamline their in-branch operations, many are turning to automated and tech solutions to do so, according to a recent American Bankers Association Community Bankers Council survey of bank CEOs.
In the Chicago area, for example, American Bank & Trust decided to close its traditional drive-up windows and replace them with kiosks and two-way video. Cash recyclers in the lobbies will automate cash handling processes, and the traditional teller lines were replaced by pods.
CEO Charie Zanck admits that some of her bankers were skeptical about the drive-through technology, concerned that customers wouldn’t respond well to it. “But the literature is showing that clients like it better because they are able to actually see the teller they are speaking with,” Zanck says. The video technology enables the client to see the teller in the video monitor, and she says the feedback has been largely positive.
“The transformation will bring substantial efficiencies, but the real driver is client experience,” she adds. “The teller’s job has changed… it is becoming increasingly more difficult to find candidates with the varied skill sets to accurately count cash, prevent fraud, manage all of the compliance requirements and engage in meaningful conversations simultaneously. We don’t want our tellers to have to maneuver heavy coin, and they don’t want to have to deliver large sums of cash to and from an ATM module in the drive-up. We are making changes to leverage technology and to create a better, safer experience for our tellers.”
Enter the universal teller
As Zanck notes, the role of the teller has been evolving over the past several years to a more “universal banker” model, where tellers serve as a financial “concierge” of sorts, assisting not just with basic cash handling needs, but with a range of other duties including account opening and taking loan applications.
Rolling out a universal teller program is on the list of 2018 priorities for Fort Morgan, Colo.-based FMS Bank, says president and CEO John Sneed. “Our front line will be trained to be able to take deposits, open accounts, accept or give out loan applications and answer basic questions that customers have about their accounts. We’re actively trying to create a one-stop shopping experience for our customers. The other benefit is that our staff will be cross-trained, where every front-line person has more in-depth skills.”
This concept empowers tellers to have a more active role in cultivating customer relationships. “We’ve trained everyone to service the client in front of them from soup to nuts,” says Rheo Brouillard, president and CEO of Savings Institute Bank and Trust Willimantic, Conn. “The teller can say, ‘I see here you have a CD but you don’t have a checking account. Would you like to consider opening an account?’”
He adds: “the transformation to the universal banker—and the emphasis on using the customer information we have in front of us—has really moved our sales process a lot.”
Tellers go virtual
Another hallmark of modern banking is the increasing expectation of round-the-clock service, which requires banks to have solutions in place for serving their customers beyond the traditional “banker’s hours” of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
One way that FirstCapital Bank of Texas in Midland, Texas, chose to meet that expectation was by offering extended access to tellers through its “TellerConnect” kiosks. Through the kiosk, customers can speak with a teller via a live video screen almost every day of the year from 6 a.m. until midnight to make deposits, withdrawals, account inquiries and more.
Virtual tellers are a way for community banks to centralize teller talent to serve existing branch locations, or to expand the bank’s presence without investing in additional staff or a new building. According to the ABA survey findings, this technology is still in the early stages of adoption; overall, 13 percent of bank CEOs said they plan to use virtual technology.
“We want to give our customers access to a lot of self-service capabilities, because as they are working longer and harder—and maybe not banking during normal banking ours—we want to have as much available for them as possible, whenever and wherever they are,” says Bryan Luke, president and COO of Hawaii National Bank in Honolulu.
He cautions, however, that bankers shouldn’t view technology as the answer in every instance. “Using technology to modernize what we currently do helps, but the danger is you might use too much technology and lose that face-to-face, customer-building relationship. We have to make sure that we have a balance between these two.”