Digital won't cost bankers their jobs. It'll make them better bankers.
I’ve been reminded in recent weeks of some of the ways that improved tools and technology have always enhanced productivity.
No, I haven’t been experimenting with new mobile apps. I’ve been sorting through old boxes of carpentry tools.
We’ve recently moved my parents from a home they lived in for several decades. In the process of setting up their new home, I’ve been sorting through boxes from my dad’s work shed.
The task has been akin to opening time capsules. Sure, some of the tools were simply older versions of things folks use regularly today.
Old hammers and screwdrivers would likely still be useful. The assortment of decades-old power tools likely would not.
Some items left me puzzled. I found myself fumbling around with various wooden and metal implements trying to figure out what folks did with them. Even my dad was stumped by a few that had been handed down to him.
At one time, I’m sure many of these mysterious items were vital to doing important jobs and even state of the art. They made the tasks they were designed for easier and more efficient.
But over time, most were made inefficient or obsolete by new tools and improved technology.
I remembered a conversation I had years ago with the elderly carpenter who built my parents’ previous home. He was considered a master carpenter in our area.
He talked about how many more homes they could build in a year compared to “the old days” due to the advent of power saws.
Items now taken for granted like power tools helped make even the best carpenters more prolific. Their occupation did not change, but the tools of it did.
When speaking to bankers about their teams’ hesitations and struggles to embrace a digital-first banking model, I suggest that many folks seem to feel that changes are happening to them, and not for them.
They aren’t looking at the changes and digital banking tools as empowering their jobs as much as threatening the existence of those same jobs.
I remind bankers that these trade tools are simply getting better and more effective. This isn’t a new phenomenon. One day, a checkbook will be akin to some of those mystery tools in my father’s work shed.
I remind (or inform) some that when ATMs began proliferating, many branch bankers were against it. Those magical money boxes were going to be the end of branches.
ATMs turned out to be an incredible asset for both bankers and customers. And they greatly expanded the service areas of most branches and banks.
Later, the widespread utilization of direct deposits fostered similar anxiety in bankers across the land. What would happen now that customers no longer needed to deposit their paychecks at a branch? Clearly, the end was drawing nigh for branches!
Similarly, this improved tool made banking easier for customers and effectively expanded the service areas of individual branches.
Sure, some like to argue that new digital banking tools make it exponentially easier for customers to avoid using branches or interacting face-to-face with a banker.
However, if that is a driving desire of customers, most could and would have been avoiding branches for some time already.
To be fair, there are challenges to evolving how and where to engage with customers. But modern digital banking technology is allowing talented bankers to become more productive than ever.
As customers are able to handle most routine banking tasks themselves, bankers are able to spend their time and energies on greater value-adding activities for customers.
That said, the tools of a trade are not the trade. Putting a modern pneumatic nail gun in the hands of an inexperienced person doesn’t make him or her a carpenter anyone would want to hire.
Likewise, putting state-of-the-art digital banking tools into the hands of inexperienced or untrained employees won’t make them a banker whom customers would choose to do business with.
Bankers need to regularly remind their teams that even as the digital tools of the trade become more powerful, they're still only tools.
Talented and engaged bankers remain the core of successful banks.