Improving Branch Productivity with Part-time Tellers

Increasingly, banks seeking to optimize branch staffing are using qualified part-time tellers to supplement full-time staff during peak volume periods. This strategy is frequently touted as an effective approach to lowering branch labor cost and our recent research proves that belief to be true. After analyzing more than 17 million transactions in 2,500 plus branches, we found that part-time tellers had lower average labor cost per-teller transaction and higher productivity rates than full-time tellers.

However, we also noted that in branches with high part-time teller turnover, the cost of that turnover could negate, or even reverse, the cost productivity benefits achieved. The key to succeeding with this resource, then, is to minimize turnover while optimizing scheduling. So, what can banks do to reduce the turnover of trained, qualified and motivated part-time tellers? Here are some suggestions:

Put part-time tellers through the same training and development exercises that you use for full-time tellers. If you send tellers to classes, include part-timers with full-time hires. Not only does this ensure consistency of customer service, but it avoids the impression that part-time tellers are somehow “less valuable” than their full-time counterparts.

Financial enticements such as annual retention incentives and production-based incentive programs that reward part-time tellers for their service and hard work can encourage them to stay. It’s also another signal that you value their effort and persistence. Since part-time employees work fewer hours than full-time staff, the incentives will cost you less and you’ll gain employee good will.

During our analysis, we found that some tellers work full-time to qualify for benefits, such as health insurance and vacation pay. So, create a more robust benefit package for your part-time tellers, even if it includes items that are atypical for part-time employees. You may even find that some highly qualified, full-time workers would prefer, or are at least willing, to work part-time if they can keep their benefits package.

If it’s not practical to offer improved benefits to part-time tellers, consider increasing their pay rate as compensation. You’ll more than cover the expense through the savings realized by using that part-time teller rather than a full-time resource to cover peak transaction periods.

Be honest about scheduling. Some people apply for part-time work because they have schedule limitations. It’s easy to hire someone with the intention of meeting their scheduling criteria, but if your efforts to optimize productivity create a need for different schedules, the teller may quit. We’ve seen banks that were locked into inefficient schedules because they didn’t want to lose a good part-time teller. They tried to work around his or her schedule, even though it was counterproductive. Don’t fall into this trap. A much better strategy is to be honest when you hire part-time tellers, letting them know your peak transaction period requirements, upfront.

In our study, we found that 15 hours a week was a good benchmark for part-time teller productivity, yet some branches tended to schedule them for more hours than needed. Our study also indicated that it’s most efficient to schedule part-time tellers for shifts of no more than four to six hours. You won’t have to give them a lunch break, so they can cover your lunchtime periods.

Of course, these benchmarks are not absolutes. Banks are most successful with part-time tellers if they have a means of gathering and analyzing their own data that enables them to actively pinpoint peak activity times and determine what their individual needs might be. Maine-based Bangor Savings Bank, for example, uses its data to begin scheduling optimization at the hiring stage.

“As vacancies come up through attrition,” says vice president Melissa Marcaurelle, “we look at the data, which might say, ‘We need four-hour shifts during peak hours rather than six-hour shifts.’ In the past, we might have hired someone for a longer shift that worked with their school schedule. But now, we can set better expectations around work schedules. We’re working to find and keep the right employees to meet our needs and theirs.”

Marcaurelle says that Bangor Savings is also using its data to curtail the use of branch managers, assistants and customer service representatives as fill-ins to process transactions. Rather than engage in this expensive solution, Bangor Savings is teaching branch managers the advantages of part-time teller shifts. “Some branches may think it is more beneficial for a part-timer to work a full day, but we are focusing on what is most efficient. We’re transitioning to a better balance between the needs of our employees and those of our customers and our branches.”

Use Stricter Hiring Practices. As we have seen, turnover is costly, and poor hiring decisions that lead to failure are no exception. Part-time employees should be subject to the same strict hiring procedures as full-time personnel. Best practices include group interviews, competency tests and observation of the candidate during one-on-one interaction with other employees.

Help Them Chart a Course. Before you hire someone for part-time work, find out what their ultimate goals are and discuss with them the potential for advancement, if such is their goal. If you can walk a candidate through a possible career path, you will motivate them to succeed within your organization, even while they are at a part-time level. Use this method with college students (who often make excellent part-time staffers) and you may end up with a talented professional who “trains” for four years and then graduates into a higher position in your organization.

Offer Variety. When we discussed retention above, we suggested offering improved benefits to part-time staff (or higher pay in lieu of those benefits). For hiring purposes, you could put together a “buffet” of options, such as insurance, a dental plan, comp days, vacation, extra pay, etc., and let candidates select the perks that are right for them.

There’s no doubt that part-time employees have a place in your teller scheduling optimization. With sound hiring and retention policies, solid information about your scheduling needs, and branch managers who are willing to implement new practices, honing your utilization of part-time tellers can lead your branches to productivity increases of 15% or more.

Mr. Scott is president and CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based Financial Management Solutions, Inc. (FMSI), which provides financial institutions with business intelligence and performance management systems for efficient staffing. He can be reached at [email protected].