For years I worked as a bank teller, listening to people tell me my job would one day be obsolete.
As a young mother, I chose to be a teller as an alternative to continuing a college education. Banks offered stable pay and excellent benefits. I decided that going to a job to increase my skills while making a living seemed a better alternative than the huge expense of going to school.
That experience was valuable, but I began to see the limited growth potential that the banking industry offered to tellers. I saw many tellers come and go; some colleagues had already worked for several banks by the time they were 30. I myself had worked for two banks before the age of 23. And the upward path for those who had started out as tellers had a clear ceiling. I decided that spending 10 years trying to get to a back-office position wasn't for me. So I went back to college.
There were other reasons at the time to feel uncertain about continuing a career as a branch teller. The rapid advance of internet and mobile banking technology has long caused upheaval in the branch model, reducing physical branch locations and requiring a smaller staff to do more. Onet Online projects a 2% decline in the need for bank tellers by 2024. What was once a somewhat clerical position has evolved into the "universal teller" model; low-level bankers no longer just process transactions but also must be able to educate customers and be involved in the sales process.
This uncertainty is perhaps why banks over the years have battled with well-documented teller turnover problems.
And yet the position of teller today is anything but obsolete. Quite the contrary, the universal banker model has forced institutions to seek to recruit a higher-skilled workforce to manage and operate fewer branches, that are efficient, make better use of technology and can ultimately be a bridge between a customer's in-person and digital banking experience. Bank customers require a tremendous amount of help with their banking services, requiring more teller knowledge and customer service than ever.
Banking experts such as David L. Peterson have compared the need for bank branches to be like that of Apple stores. All of Apple's products can be purchased online, customers still flock to Apple stores to touch, talk about and see their products. Even though most banking transactions can be done online, customers still prefer the option to go to their local branches for help from in-person tellers.
But the need for banks to recruit higher-skilled tellers for this evolving role makes me wonder why the institutions I worked for previously didn't do more to try to keep me on board, and help me acquire the skills I would need to confront the industry's changing landscape. Almost 10 years later I have completed my college degree in organizational management, and am finishing graduate degrees in business and human resource management.
If the banks I worked for had realized my potential and encouraged me to move up within the bank – spending the time to develop my skills – I may very well still be at one of them, perhaps helping to manage branch strategy. Now that I am finishing up a double master's degree, will I soon be working for a competitor?
As the industry continues to move into a new age of banking, institutions need to be able to identify talented employees and motivate them to reach their potential within the bank, rather than seeking to recruit a different kind of skill set from outside the organization.
And the redefinition of branch management suggests that the teller role may get a second look as a position from which to climb to higher executive levels within the banking organization. By re-recruiting employees, banks can identify which employees they want to retain, and give them ample opportunities to move up within the bank, increasing the chances of retention.
Succession management more commonly focuses on executive level positions. But by focusing on entry-level positions (tellers), banks would be able to fulfill executive-level positions through internal promotions, and reduce the turnover problem with their front-line employees. Tellers identified as having growth potential should receive training and development to further their careers and get them ready for move advanced promotions.
Shifting the focus of succession management from executives to entry-level teller positions can help banks adapt to the new banking environment and retain their talented employees.
Mia Mistina worked as a teller at both Suffolk County National Bank in Riverhead, N.Y., and Bridgehampton National Bank in Bridgehampton, N.Y. She will soon complete a double master's program in business and human resource management at St. Joseph's College in Patchogue, N.Y.