Adrenaline is excited to unveil our new white paper, "Creating a Universal Experience: Empowering the Universal Banker in the Branch Environment."
Today, people can have same-day packages delivered at the doorstep, crowd-source information from restaurant reviews to traffic conditions, unlock the car from a phone, track burned calories while sleeping or instantly stream favorite shows on cable-less TVs in a single click. While this level of user convenience and customization is unparalleled in human history, the new landscape has brought many distinct challenges to all of the service industries, especially those in the financial space.
While the concept of the Universal Banker is not new, it has taken a long time for the banking industry to catch up to their customers’ demands for a high-touch, high-tech experience. Gone are the days when we set aside a lunch hour to “go to the bank.” We conduct our financial tasks around the clock from nearly anywhere — at a restaurant, in line at the movies, in the comfort of our homes — and we expect our transactions to go through securely and seamlessly.
In short, the days of going to a brick-and-mortar bank and waiting in line to deposit a check or transfer funds are headed the way of the Dodo, but we still need a professional financial expert we can talk to face-to-face when we have complex questions or want to open a loan or new account. What has become clear is that inside the branch, we want a knowledgeable expert to provide the same level of convenience and customization we experience in the outside world. In short, we want it all.
The good news for most financial institutions: branch banking isn’t dead…it’s just different. Branch location, hours and the level of service provided are still major selection factors, and 34% of customers actually still prefer the branch for most of their banking activity. When it comes to the most sensitive, valuable transactions — opening an account, applying for a loan or receiving financial advice — the branch is by far the preferred channel. And not least of all, consumers rate people just as importantly as technology, with competent branch personnel being the most important factor in selecting a primary financial institution.
The modern generation of banking consumers are comfortable using mobile devices to conduct the majority of their banking transactions, with 94% of people under 35 as active users of online banking. While they want the ease of banking on-the-go, they still demand high-quality, customized service along with that convenience. They have the luxury of brands furiously competing for their money and attention, so they expect and demand far more than previous generations of bank consumers.
So, how can banks and the new breed of consumers both win? Enter the Universal Banker — sometimes called a universal associate, universal agent or customer care representative. The universal banker is a cross-trained, “Swiss Army knife” employee who can act as a teller, process loans, open and close accounts, and perform most of the other functions customers want from their local bank branches. Since she has access to all of the customer’s data — assets, income, credit score, financial history — often, she is the only employee we need to interact with during our visit.
Another critical function that the Universal Banker serves is as the first impression a customer gets from a bank and as the key influencer — and even curator — of the customer experience. When a customer thinks about her bank, she sees the face of the friendly, knowledgeable person who assisted her, she should feel less like a number and more like a valued customer. More importantly, she should leave the branch more informed, empowered, perhaps even delighted, and ultimately glad she went in. In short, the Universal Banker is the key to creating value in the physical branch channel.
It’s no secret that branch transactions are declining, now by a rate of 6-7% per year. FSMI (a Financial Branch Performance Optimization Company) reports that transactions have declined by over 45% since 1992, while salaries and benefits have simultaneously increased by over 84%. Thus, labor cost per transaction has increased by 124%, and productivity, as defined by transactions processed, has decreased by nearly 18%, all resulting in the average cost per transaction doubling from $0.48 to $1.08 . In this challenging environment, the need to enhance employees’ ability to sell and provide valuable advice has never been more critical.
Would you rather pay four employees to do the work of five, six or even seven? Cross-trained employees with expanded skillsets reduce the need for extemporaneous headcount. By training one individual for multiple roles, bank branches are able to reduce staff by as much as a third and streamline expenses with a leaner staff that is more productive and efficient. Employees are able to cross-sell and engage customers in valuable conversations, while servicing complex transactions and ultimately improving overall customer satisfaction.
Outlined below, a description of the Universal Banker position reveals its complex expectations. Capabilities range from multiple banking roles — opening new accounts, processing loans, solving issues — to cross-selling, upholding compliance and even initiating marketing programs. Responsibilities include needs-based selling and relationship management. Most important may be the character traits requiring compassion, openness and spirit.
One of the greatest challenges in Universal Banker deployment is getting the employees themselves on board, but few factors are more convincing than the potential for greater earning. Universal Bankers earn an average of about $14/hour, or $31,000 annually, which is 34.7% more than a traditional branch employee who makes $23,000 annually. As a traditional banker, experience is the primary method for achieving significant financial growth, with experienced and late-career employees increasing earning potential by as much as 14-20%. Although experience still positively affects a Universal Banker’s salary potential, it is less than half as important in this position.
Beyond experience, certain skills can also significantly affect earning potential. In the traditional banker role, skills like data entry, cash handling and accounting can only slightly increase salary. The ability to handle banking tasks and sell can have a more noticeable impact on earning potential at 4-5% respectively, but the number one skill for earning potential could be speaking Spanish, which would bump salaries as much as 7%. Above that however, the Universal Banker’s already higher salary can increase as much as 11% with the ability to originate consumer loans.
Ultimately, the greatest challenge of the Universal Banker role versus a traditional banking one is juggling multiple skill sets. The lion’s share of the Universal Banker’s day is an equal balance of customer service and sales on top of handling cash. Creating an environment in which the Universal Banker can be successful at these tasks, supported by the right tools, technology and training is pivotal to their success. In Part 2 of this white paper, we shall outline the steps to create and deploy a successful universal experience in the branch environment.
“The lion’s share of the Universal Banker’s day is an equal balance of customer service & sales on top of handling cash.”
In Part 1 we explored the who, what and why of Universal Banker. In Part 2, we focus on how to create the Universal Experience in the branch environment. Step One: Plan the branch design using a customer journey as a guiding beacon. Step Two: Select and deploy cash automation technology. Step Three: Train the staff on the organization’s new vision and how to employ it within the universally-enabled branch environment. The remainder of this paper is dedicated to outlining the systematic deployment of these three steps.
A carefully planned customer “journey” should be the strategic starting point in creating an environmental experience. The diagram below illustrates three consumer engagement zones in a branch environment—Engage, Transact, and Consult—outlining their function and purpose.
When creating an environmental experience, mapping a “journey” that outlines how customers and staff should utilize the space is the ideal strategic starting point. A journey map provides a framework from which to plan everything in the environment, from architecture to communications to intended staff behavior. A helpful way to approach this journey mapping process is by diagramming the space into Zones of experience, Paths of experience and Points of experience.
Zones subdivide the space into designated areas based on function, purpose and a clearly defined intended experience for the customer. This customer experience should be weighted as heavily as the function and purpose. For example, a Transact zone represents the area where transactions occur, but the desired experience may be to make customers feel comfortable, secure and efficiently but thoughtfully served. All elements touching this zone — technology, furniture, millwork, merchandising, and staff behavior — should consider that experience objective.
Paths of experience outline traffic flow, both for staff and customers. In considering these paths of travel throughout a branch environment, sight lines and natural pause-points are key. A person should intuitively know where to go and where to stop. The most successful paths will have clear but focused visibility from one intended journey step to another, carefully controlling what the customer sees — and does not see — at specific points. Fundamental traffic flow principles also apply, so ingress, egress and ergonomics dictate space programming, furniture size, etc.
Points are physical elements within the environment, serving as destinations along the paths that contribute to the overall experience of each zone. Points include both larger infrastructure components (like, a Tablet Bar) as well as items within those components (like the Tablets and their content). Most importantly, the points should be designed and planned around serving the intended experience of each zone.
While the customer journey framework can — and should — vary based on organizational needs, most financial branch environments have a similar mix of zones to fulfill common purposes. In our example, the Engage zone designates the area where customers enter the branch and wait to be served. It is named after its intended zone purpose — to actually engage customers during this process. This engagement can come in the form of education, entertainment, infotainment or even enjoyment via hospitality.
In the Universal Experience model in the Engage zone, a Universal Banker serves as a greeter that triages customer needs and then either (a) immediately assists to serve those needs or (b) leads the customer to wait for another staff member. The paths should be intuitively clear so a customer immediately knows where to be greeted, and the Universal Banker has an natural pause point to sit or stand where they can easily engage the customer. If the customer does have to wait, the environment should support engagement with points like digital signage communications, printed or e-collateral displays and comfortable seating.
The Transact zone is the most transformed area of the Universal model. The most critical shift is from traditional teller lines to cash automation technology, (illustrated in Step 2). Paths to this zone should be highly accessible to facilitate heavier traffic flow, and points include infrastructure supporting cash handling that range from pods to cash or concierge bars. The experience intent for this zone should center on servicing the customer efficiently and effectively, while engaging them in conversation with an eye toward cross-selling. The Universal Bankers should establish themselves as a consultative expert, even potentially leading into further conversation beyond the transaction.
Shifting from the Transact zone, the Consult zone is the new heart of the branch. Here the Universal Banker establishes himself as a financial advisor and provides value to the customer that is unique to the physical bank branch environment. Consultative spaces can be formal or informal, with many branch experiences having both. The paths to these areas should be unencumbered, but the experience should yield a sense of perceived privacy, so office walls, half-walls, furniture, and fixturing should facilitate a sense of security.
Transaction technology exists in Self-Service, Staff-Assisted service and Full Service forms. All types have specific advantages when correctly deployed, but only Staff-Assisted and Full Service Teller Cash Recycler’s (TCR’s) can truly enhance the customer experience. Available as seated or standing units and a variety of capacities, TCR’s increase branch security, efficiency and enhance the customer experience.
The second step in Universal Experience deployment focuses on the historic core purpose of the bank branch: handling cash. As the branch purpose shifts to sales and service, being able to seamlessly handle cash transactions becomes of paramount importance. Enter Cash Automation: the catalyst of the Universal Experience. With this technology, former and would-be tellers can transform into Universal Bankers by being freed from traditional cash counting duties.
Cash-handling technology is one of the largest branch-related expenses financial institutions face, and frequently emerging new options make it a daunting task to decide which to invest in and how to deploy them. Self-Service cash technology options range from ATMs to more advanced ITMs and VTMs. With VTMs & ITMs, two-way video allows a bank teller from a remote location to assist a customer.
Virtual teller technology increases the breadth of services a customer can do themselves and the hours in which to do them. Machines that boast virtual tellers are ideal for remote areas like drive-throughs and extended or 24-hour areas like vestibules, but banks should be careful when deploying in branch lobbies. Unless the branch has high transaction volumes that are expected to sustain their levels, these machines could turn customers off even though they create staffing efficiencies. Walk-in customers want service from a human, not a machine. After all, the branch’s greatest value is customer interaction.
Staff-Assisted technology is a new option that provides an advantageous compromise between Self-Help and Full Service. TellerInfinity™ by Glory Global Solutions is the first of this kind.. Unlike virtual and interactive teller machines that sit on the ATM platform, this machine integrates with the bank’s core system. That integration supports nearly all transactions currently offered in the branch, allows for CRM informed assistance and doesn’t require costly video cabling or a remote contact center. This technology expands self-service transaction capabilities, but is assisted by branch staff — not remote staff — to still allow interaction opportunities between bankers and customers.
For optimizing in-branch transactions, Full Service Cash Automation technology dominates via the Cash Recycler, often called a Teller Cash Recycler or TCR. These machines facilitate more efficient and accurate withdrawals and cash deposits by dispensing cash as well as accepting cash, authenticating cash and sorting it by denomination. The industry leading provider in TCRs is Glory, with the RBG-100 as their most popular machine. Other ATM-based companies such as Diebold, NCR, and ARCA have competing technologies.
TCRs can increase banking transaction productivity by speeding up transactions as much as 40%. Further, bankers don’t have to cash in and out as frequently, managers are relieved of vault responsibilities, and end-of-day book-balancing is more automated and precise, with real-time syncing with the bank’s core processing system. With less time and focus on manually handling cash, employees can dedicate more time and focus on servicing customers and selling products. And because the TCRs house cash in secure safes versus exposed cash drawers, counterfeiting and theft are dramatically reduced. Many institutions use their TCRs in place of traditional vaults to lower costs and risks.
As freestanding units in the branch environment, TCRs allow banks and credit unions to remove traditional teller lines and instead create an open floor plan. The next decision is how to integrate them. When architecturally planning for TCRs, traffic flow is the most important consideration (“Paths” from Step 1), but is contingent upon the design of the infrastructure or “housing” for the unit(s). The most seamless solution is housing that hides the technology, presents a clean front-facing experience to customers and provides bankers with a fully-functioning workspace on the back side.
Often called “Pods,” these are the most common type of counter housing solution for cash recyclers. These are freestanding furniture units built to house one TCR unit and serve two employees handing simultaneous customer transactions. Important considerations include deciding between seated and standing versions (including complying with ADA standards), privacy panels for separating between concurrently-occurring transactions, surface work space, under-counter storage, and general ergonomics for both employees and customers.
Cash Bars are extended Pods, often designed into the environment like a concierge counter. Bars create a more significant singular visual destination, especially when paired with a branded backdrop. The bar can accommodate standing or seating counter height or both and deploy one or more TCRs. Some cash bars can be curved, servicing two simultaneous bankers like a Pod, but the radius provides more space and privacy between interacting customers and increased counter and storage space. Counter heights can vary to accommodate seated and standing heights.
Using Cash Automation machines in Consult areas and offices is less commonly deployed, but provides great opportunity for supporting the Universal Banker. At seated height, these units are designed to provide secondary transactional support to a banker having a more in-depth conversation in both formal or informal consulting spaces.
As the super-charged employee, the Universal Banker must be educated and empowered to service the customer in numerous ways across most areas of a branch environment. Training UBs to have fundamental skills, understand organizational objectives and operate successfully in the new branch environment is critical to successful universal experience deployment.
Once the new, universally-enabled branch environment is created, the final yet vital step is to train the Universal Banker to successfully operate within it. Many Universal Banker candidates have previously been tellers. They must not only have fundamental skills training to support more robust job functions, but also understand the organization’s vision for transformation and how to use their new skills to deliver on this vision in the Universal Branch environment.
Skills training options and requirements range from cash automation equipment training to courses on cross-selling and relationship-building to organizationally-specific account opening and loan origination training. Equipment training provided by the technology manufacturers is also important. Third-party course training can cover a wide range of topics. Both the ABA and ICBA offer Universal Banker Certificates through multi-course training programs.
The adoption of a universal experience model requires at least some amount of organizational transformation. Educating front-line staff on the transformational strategy helps them embrace the universal concept and more effectively deliver on the intended customer experience. Communications should include introduction of the new roles, job descriptions, tiers of career advancement opportunity, and plans for onboarding new universal employees. This culture training empowers employees to manifest the brand’s promise in their direct interactions with today’s customer.
Following skills training and organizational cultural transformation training, employees need to be trained on — and within — the branch environment itself. This training will be specific to the new retail space and focus on helping employees understand the business intent behind every aspect of the design and all points within. Employees should learn how to confidently engage customers within the new environment, building relationships and ultimately cross-selling to deliver enhanced customer experience.
As critical as new tools and modern environments are, it’s important to remember the Universal Banker himself is at the core of the model. New technologies and physical infrastructure alone won’t impact experience. Only 15 percent of customers interact with their banks exclusively through in-person visits to the branch. When these infrequent face-to-face meetings do occur, it’s because the bank customer has not found what he needed on his own, and seeks assistance from another human being. This makes the branch visit a rare and valuable opportunity for the bank.
The Universal Banker is this new, versatile bank employee herself, more than apps or machines. She empathizes with customers’ issues and financial matters because she has such issues herself. Until the day when an iPad has to pay rent or set up a retirement fund, humans will always have the edge over technology for advising customers about their money. After all, there is very little more personal than personal finance, and the Universal Experience is rooted in human experience.