Universal Banker: Essentials

11 November 2014

United Kingdom

Joe Gnorski

Glory Global


In August of 2014, the American Bankers Association [ABA] announced its new ABA Universal Banker [UB] Certificate, “which is designed to prepare frontline branch staff to serve as the single point of contact for satisfying the diverse needs of walk-in customers.”
“Universal bankers have multifaceted job responsibilities that range from basic transaction processing to product and service sales and referrals. The certificate’s curriculum focuses on key product knowledge, relationship building, customer service, and expert referral skills.”   In order to be ABA certified as a UB, a person must complete an eleven course curriculum, which requires about 23 hours in total, according to the ABA website.

The financial industry has been talking about the need for UBs now for several years.  This makes perfect sense at a time where branches are being down-sized and staffing reduced.  It also resonates with the larger transition of branches from transaction centers to financial services centers.   But now the concept has some definition thanks both to the financial institutions who have shared their experiences as well as the industry thought leaders who have also weighted-in. An ABA UB certificate is certainly a good start, but the collective experience of those who started the transition from tellers to universal bankers defines four other key elements to a successful transition.

1. The right expectations – While it could be that universal bankers might coexist with traditional tellers in a given branch where transaction volumes so justify, the new normal is to staff branches with UB instead of tellers.  Financial institutions need to understand that this change requires a different sort of individual with ‘soft skills.’  Not all of your current teller staff will be able to make this transition.  It is also a sure bet that you still need to adjust recruiting and hiring practices.

2. Proper training - Even with the availability of the ABA Certification, banks and credit unions will need to aggressively re-train staff.  UBs earn higher incomes as compared to tellers.  The change to UBs, therefore must be more than nominal.  They need to be more productive on a wider variety of tasks and duties.

3. Branch configurations – Universal bankers cannot be “tethered” to a traditional teller line.  According to Bancography, “…the teller line must be redesigned to allow an employee to easily migrate from a paying and receiving station to a sales and service workstation.  Others call for a total branch redesign to an open plan concept or ‘dialog banking.’

4. Enabling technology – the consensus is that the transition to universal bankers must be supported by technology that make the more mundane transaction processing simpler, faster, and more customer-focused. 

According to an American Banker article entitled Channel Changers: the Rise of the Universal Banker, “Another piece of equipment proving key to the universal banker model is the cash recycler, which automates transactions, stores and dispenses money and lets multiple employees work out of the same drawer.” 

We also see the emerging technology of expanded function lobby kiosks being important to the UB staffing model.  These kiosks can provide virtually all of the transactions that are traditionally performed by a teller either in a full self-service mode or in an assisted service mode.  Those customers who want to ‘go it alone’ can and those that ether request or need personal assistance can engage directly with a universal banker.  This gives any customer visiting the branch a choice as to how to transact business.

Ultimately, UB will be successful because it is focused on your people and they are your most valuable asset.  The success of any UB initiative hinges on changing the daily behavior of the branch staff by empowering them to engage your customers. Because it is your customers that truly determine whether your branch has been transformed.

1.  Quotations taken from: ABA Press Release, August 21, 2014
2.  Bancology Newsletter, Bancography, June 2009
3.  “Channel Changers: the Rise of the Universal Banker”, American Banker, Heather Landy and Mary Wisniewski, May, 2014)

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