Universal Bankers: 7 Pros & Cons (In 2023)

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(Last Updated On: January 2, 2023)

“Why train your employees to be great at apologizing when you can empower them to be great at solving problems?”

Joe Winn

There’s a New Banker in Town

The age of the teller might be coming to an end. We’re not the only one to say it.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, cited by the public policy think tank American Enterprise Institute, in the 40 years between 1970 and 2010, bank teller positions doubled from an estimated 300,000 to 600,000.

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Then came the mergers. And the technology. And some thing called COVID-19.

That trend of growth has reversed, and the numbers are down dramatically. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that they expect the number to drop to 480,550 by 2024.

That’s a loss of nearly 120,000 positions. We believe this trend will continue.

With the fall of one category comes the rise of another: The Universal Banker. While this “jack of all trades” position has been around for years, it only became a formalized name in 2015.

The Universal Banker position now enjoys massive popularity within the industry. There’s a good chance your institution has universal bankers, or made the effort to promote and train tellers and MSR’s into such positions.

Of course, the million (or more) dollar question is: Are you getting the expected results?

Can a Universal Banker help you move forward into a changing future?

This webinar was right up your alley. Consider getting the recording.

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Here’s What You’ll Learn

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This article will dive into the history and role of a universal banker. Then you will have the chance to assess both the pros and cons of such a position, from the perspective of your institution and account holders.

We’ll also share a real-world example to see these concepts in action. The article concludes with a brief look at how AI may further evolve this role.

At the end of the day, it’s about better serving your account holders. Regardless of how they seek to connect:

  • Branch
  • Mobile banking
  • Phone call on the go
  • Online banking using a traditional computer

Ready to learn how Universal Bankers may (or may not) be the future of your financial institution? Great. Let’s go.

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What’s a Universal Banker?

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In search of a phone booth…

It sounds almost like a new superhero origin story…without the comic book, or the big-budget film. Based on their multifaceted job description and responsibilities, it seems like one of the job requirements would be “applicant must have super powers”.

Of course, we get that a lot of your existing staff already have super powers. In this role, they wear the cape for a lot of roles.

The Pros

In practice, the universal banker position is a cross between a teller and a personal banker. I get what you’re thinking: That’s a broad job description. The universal banker is your “jack of all trades” (and instead of “master of none”, they’re “fully competent with all”). Here’s what you can expect them to handle:

  1. Traditional banking roles:
    • Managing transactions
    • Identifying product needs
    • Opening new accounts
    • Assisting with loan applications
    • Resolving issues  
  2. Reducing overhead:
    • As digital banking grows (and your ATMs become “smarter”), branch transactional traffic falls. Having fewer public-facing staff with more individual capabilities reduces budgets and simplifies HR management. This can be on a temporary or permanent basis.
  3. Improving customer experience:
    • Universal bankers help provide a frictionless customer/member experience. No more clunky hand-offs from tellers and MSR’s. Your account holders deal with one person. Plus, with sales training and a focus on discovering product opportunities, they can help protect customers while growing your retail sales.
  4. Ambassadors of the Mission:
    • Helping members is built in to your culture. Finding opportunities is key to this role. Connecting these efforts makes them the face and drivers of your mission.

If you only have a portion of your staff trained as Universal Bankers, then the model works best for smaller branches with lower traffic, or for those embracing tellerless features. Otherwise, it’s easy for them to be overwhelmed. At busier branches, ensure more of your staff has Universal Banker capabilities!

Another option is to rotate the universal bankers’ schedules across your branches. In a sense, this is the “trial run” format, with only a portion of staff using the new system.

The Cons

Here at the GreenProfit Learning Library, we believe you deserve an honest perspective. That means sharing what we consider the downsides to a concept as well. As with most changes, incorporating a universal banker comes with its own set of challenges. Here’s a few:

  1. Employee Buy-in: A universal banker role raises concerns amongst your existing staff. They wonder if their position will continue to exist. Even after providing reassurance, it can be a challenge reassigning responsibilities and goals. They need to believe this new role is a benefit to both the account holder, the institution, and them personally.
  2. Training: The universal banker requires a large investment in time and resources. Additionally, your tellers, MSRs, and branch managers should undergo team training for everyone to work together seamlessly.
  3. Branch traffic: No matter how good your universal bankers, they won’t directly increase feet in the door (more in-person activity due to their awesomeness is possible, though not likely).
  4. ROI: It’s an important question without a great answer. Kiran Analytics (now Verint) looked into the new universal banker role. They found some challenges:
Universal Banker Deployment Issues

Where Do We Go from Here?

Experts in the field agree that the universal banker role will continue to grow…and evolve. Taking into account the challenges shown above, you may see this position change dramatically. The biggest shift? It won’t be a single person, but rather a team approach.

Real-World Example – University of Iowa Community Credit Union (UICCU)

UICCU took the idea of a team approach to the next level. Their universal banker wasn’t one person, but all persons! Here’s how they made it happen:

In this credit union, the universal banker idea resonated. Helping the member, no matter who they engage? Definitely! Thus, it became a shared mindset of the entire branch staff.

Their strategy began with the tellers. They didn’t replace any, rather helped them become more effective member ambassadors. Here’s some of the roles they gained:

  • Member onboarding
  • Retention calls
  • Relationship expansion (product introduction and cross-selling)
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A true team

It might appear that they simply put more “hats” on their tellers. However, that’s not really the case. In reality, everyone operates as a team. Thus, each employee is empowered to help members in more ways, without putting all the work on a single role (or person).

As a result, most branches still have dedicated lenders, personal bankers, and tellers. For UICCU, the universal banker wasn’t a single person, but a shared commitment to members in all requests.

Of course, as you now understand, that is the key to the universal banker concept: Ensuring the account holder gets a seamless experience.

Universal Banker Primary Goals

  1. Emphasis on coaching, team coordination, training, and marketing support.
  2. Move administration and operations activities away from the customer-facing areas. Enable all staff to directly serve customers at any time.

“Take 5”

UICCU also built a program called “Take 5” to improve their member service. What did it involve? Simply put, if any branch staff is not currently serving a member, they should do some type of member/customer outreach—even if they only have five minutes.

This empowered staff to discuss potential challenges, opportunities, and more with members on the fly. And management at UICCU believed in their team. A challenge with the universal banker concept is concern about a staff member saying the wrong thing. Not an issue here.

Why? Because training! UICCU coaches all branch staff on accurate talking points and empowers them with key roles in the sales and service process.

The payoff? UICCU’s sales are four to five times that of a typical bank branch.

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Artificial Intelligence & The Universal Banker

Thus far, we experienced the universal banker as an individual person, a rotating group of staff, and an integrated team. There’s another possibility for handling face-to-face services amidst growing automation needs: Your Universal Banker isn’t at the branch at all!

Financial institutions like yours already have kiosks and modular booths within your branches. At some of these, consumers may connect with a universal banker (if needed), who is working at a remote, centralized office.

Here’s the kicker: Does it matter if that banker is a real person or a digital avatar? As “chatbots” and other automated assistants gain acceptance and capabilities, you may see the universal banker become your friendly neighborhood computer!

For the best service, however, we still believe in the power of the person, especially when they can take steps which exude the mission mindset.

Are Universal Bankers Right For Your Institution?

The branch experience is changing. With a goal of enhancing the customer journey and supplementing the online/mobile experience, branches have a variety of new designs. Some of the changes we’ve seen:

  • Reducing/deleting teller windows
  • Transitioning to teller “pods”
  • Adding walkaround staff using tablets (sound like a universal banker?)
  • Building coffee shops
  • Setting up a concierge area
  • Offering private meeting rooms for discussing sensitive financial matters
  • Online appointments for in-person or phone/video conversations

In a sense, these are all different ways of approaching the universal banker goals. And, creating a place where your members/customers want to go. As you’ve seen with the Capital One Cafes, expanding the idea of universal banking beyond traditional expectations holds large value.

Is this strategy right for your institution? Maybe. It’s about sharing the information you need to make the most educated decisions.

However, there’s one thing all financial institutions need to achieve:

Change the banking experience from transactional to personal and experiential.

Helping your members/customers feel like they belong is how you thrive in a changing world. Through technology, human engagement, and even AI platforms. At its core, that’s your mission.

So how will you become the universal banker of the future?

Feature image credits: Photos by Fabian Blank & Neil Soni on Unsplash.

Joe Winn - CU Geek

Blogger. Speaker. Part-time Jedi.

Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.