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Universal Banker: 5 Tips for a Successful Implementation

Bank customers are increasingly turning to their phones and tablets, rather than a physical bank branch, to manage their finances. So banks are re-evaluating the way they do business. The ability to do everything from depositing a check to sending cash using a website or mobile app has shifted the way people do their banking. The universal banker model is one way banks are adapting to changing customer behavior.

These days, customers visit a branch when they need to open an account, apply for a loan or get help resolving a problem. Customer service-oriented bankers are in higher demand than traditional tellers.  Universal bankers can do it all — not only are they tellers, but they're also trained for other activities like opening new accounts and performing lending duties. Implementing the universal banker model does have its share of challenges. Here are some things to keep in mind when considering the transition to universal bankers. 

1. Know your traffic.

While the universal banker model can be adapted to any branch environment, it's perfectly suited for branches with steady volume and traffic flow. Managing waiting customers without a teller line will be a bigger logistical challenge for locations with heavy peak-time traffic. Mid or high-volume branches may need a combination of traditional tellers and universal bankers versus branches with low transaction volumes who may be able to have an entire staff of universal bankers. It's important to understand the patterns of your location.

Consider your transaction profile. Customers with a variety of needs will have a better experience from universal bankers who can assist with specific questions or requests and also handle cash transactions. On the other hand, if most customers are visiting your branch for simple cash transactions, you may benefit from fewer universal bankers trained at different levels

2. Ensure branch technology and design support the concept.

Typically, the first recommendation to accommodate the universal bankers model is to open up the teller line. Ideally, universal bankers should move throughout the branch and utilize different work areas. If you are completely removing the teller line, plan for how to manage waiting customers without it.

A primary benefit of universal bankers is increased customer-facing activity. Cash automation technologies like teller cash recyclers help realize that benefit by streamlining cash handling so tellers can focus on customers instead of cash. Cash automation also provides the control and security necessary to conduct transactions in an open office environment.

Whether you're planning a complete redesign to an open branch with teller pods or just adding a few teller workstations to the lobby, make the universal banker a positive experience for your customers. New layouts can be confusing if customers aren't sure where to go or who to talk to first. Educate your customers with visual cues like colored paths, clear signage or an employee to direct them when they arrive.

3. Get employee buy-in.

Any time you introduce a new system, you can expect some pushback from employees. Of course, you could just impose this change on your employees but you'll get a lot more cooperation (and an easier transition) if you include them in the process.

Communicate early and often. You're asking tellers to learn new skills and take on additional responsibilities. Explain the why - it's a customer-driven change that will make it easier to deliver better service.  And perhaps even more importantly, highlight employee benefits like higher salary, the opportunity for career growth and skills development. 

Encourage your staff to ask questions, submit ideas and provide feedback. For those resistant to the idea, try to understand their reasons and address any concerns. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be eager participants in the transition.   

4. Figure out what works for you.

The good thing is — you don't have to follow a textbook method for implementing universal bankers.  The bad thing is — you don't have a textbook method to follow when implementing universal bankers.  There isn't a standard method but there many examples of successful implementations at banks of all types and sizes. You'll need to figure out what works for your bank.

Look at what other banks have done. For example, some banks have found success using a pilot project. A small pilot group allows you to test new roles and procedures and responsively adapt and refine them into a working model. You can involve the pilot staff in developing the model and training curriculum. According to Raja Bose, vice president of branch transformation and advisory services at Diebold, employee training will be the biggest influencer of success when transitioning to a universal banker model.

Then, you must continuously evaluate technologies, systems and processes to help employees seamlessly move from one role to another. Doing this properly takes time (typically about a year) and requires ongoing support.

5. Budget appropriately.

Moving to a universal teller model is a significant investment but so is the ROI. Remodeling costs, technology additions and training expenses all need to be factored into your budget. Cross training current employees means additional time and materials to get them up to speed. If you plan to hire new employees, you should plan to budget more for their salaries than a traditional teller. On average, this type of employee commands about $15,000 more annually than a teller. When you deliver more efficient and personalized service and your customers turn to you for all their financial needs, the investment is worth it.

There's no doubt universal bankers are popping up in banks all over the country with positive results. Knowing the challenges can help you make an informed decision about whether or not universal bankers are the right choice to help your bank meet changing customer demands.