Financial institutions have long used float (or flex) staff for scheduling issues such as handling teller line absences. Yet float staff strategies vary and more FIs now use floaters for higher skilled and more expensive positions—all to serve customers on their terms and make branches more cost effective.
Consider wealth managers, for example. Traditionally, they serve as off-site staff who schedule customer appointments. But while smaller FIs in a compact geographic area may handle wealth management centrally, many FIs assign advisors to a branch cluster. Larger FIs typically base an advisor in a hub branch inside of an area, while community FIs may dispatch to branches from a central department.
Mortgage loan officers represent another function serviced in branches that use a hub-satellite strategy. Customer referrals to a loan officer may come from a call center, branch employee, online inquiry or a call to a central mortgage department. Once an application starts, primary communications now routinely shift to online mortgage application software. Of course, these systems are still maturing and work with varying levels of success or frustration.
Branches also commonly share commercial loan officers (though this function is frequently staffed from central departments). By definition, these officers service business rather than retail customers. That favors operating from central or hub branches, since clients come to them and officers go onsite to businesses.
And of recent, some FIs apply shared resource strategy to branch managers. Groups of two to four branches within a reasonably short distance of each other have one area/cluster/market manager (who may schedule time at each location, as well as appointments and unscheduled trips to deal with issues). The operations supervisor post, traditionally targeted to teller operations, may be elevated to supervise the overall branch when managers are not on site. A branch supervisor can handle customer service issues and possibly take or start a loan application, though not having any loan authority.
Process to personnel: Float staff challenges
The positions discussed above do not generally represent the traditional definition float staff, but the float concept and challenges are similar or even the same, for reasons such as these:
- Resources must be allocated and scheduled.
- Personnel who assign, request and manage shared branch resources must know of pending requests and schedules.
- Tracking and evaluating the quality and efficiency of the process is a must. Regardless of the need—for tellers, customer service, mortgage loans, commercial loans, wealth advisors, branch managers or something else—it’s difficult to tell how well things work without measurement and history.
Shared branch resources may be managed in different ways; it depends on the capabilities and organization of each FI. Many functions by tradition are set up in silos, which means they have independent management and organizational support. Yet even when independent, the functions intersect at some level above and below the operation:
- Above, executive management needs the overall institution to succeed, and be able to determine what’s working and what’s not.
- Below, customers need convenient, consistent, high-quality products and service delivery.
- In between, operational management and staff need to discern and fulfill requirements as efficiently as possible.
Getting with the program: How software can help
There are five key points where software enters the picture:
- Access and requests for shared branch resources can come from many sources: call centers, branch employees, direct contact, online applications, etc. Outstanding demands from all sources need consolidation.
- Scheduling and appointments. Ultimately the person who manages the resource needs to see and access requests overlaid with current commitments.
- Management. As anyone familiar with scheduling and managing shared resources can attest, this stuff gets messy quickly. Tools to facilitate scheduling and monitor deficiencies are very helpful.
- Reporting and analytics. It is hard to improve what you cannot see. Software can play an important role in tracking, reporting and providing a complete picture.
- Integration, especially when shared resources span independently managed functions Regardless whether one comprehensive solution or different solutions exist for different functions, processes must integrate with other systems such as calendars, email, collaboration software, customer relation management and the like.
Floating the idea: Next Steps
The industry is abuzz over how and when branch networks will evolve. Most agree that branches don’t generate transactions the way they used to and that this downward trend will continue. But branches still play a critical role. They continue to serve as important if not primary places to start and expand customer relationships. Recent surveys confirm that a convenient branch exerts a strong pull for those selecting an FI—even among millennials and digital channel adopters. Thus branch networks will survive for the foreseeable future.
The question, then, is how can banks maximize branch productivity and continue to provide excellent customer service?
Floating high-skill personnel across branches offers a way to leverage the network. Performed poorly, it amplifies to the customer that staff and services are not what they used to be. But done well, it makes the institution look bigger and better staffed to customers. Furthermore, it truly improves quality of service.
Certainly no single prescription exists for successful resource sharing and some solutions make more or less sense given each institution's culture and operations environment. Yet in the end, the courage to rethink and refit traditional roles, and use tools that ease logistical complexity, transforms the concept of floating into performance that’s soaring.
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David Basri is president of Point Enterprises, a software company he founded in 1996. After several years in banking he moved to the vendor community, where he has developed several commercially successful software products for the financial industry. A graduate of Stanford University, Basri is based in the Charlotte area.