Home / Banking Strategies / Blue skies, banking stars: How universal bankers meet universal consumer needs

Blue skies, banking stars: How universal bankers meet universal consumer needs


Financial institutions continue on their quest to discover efficient, productive new methods that meet—and hopefully exceed—the high expectations of banking customers. Yet for many, the options are limited. And this reality comes at a time when net interest margins and net income continue to be squeezed, even with interest rates rising.   

This poses a particularly vexing challenge as banks seek to offer customers personal service at a branch.  They don’t like spending lots of time in the traditional teller line for basic transactions, which also results in high servicing costs. Yet relegating all this interaction to self-service methods reduces or eliminates opportunities to create and deepen relationships.    

Some institutions are creating hybrid branch and engagement models that stem from “branch of the future” discussions; these locations embrace high-tech elements yet retain the personal interaction touch.  This change aligns well with the rise of self- and assisted-service channels that augment traditional, full-service banking at many institutions (which includes access to subject matter experts).    

But while consumers may find a more streamlined, open branch layout inviting, the human element must be kept front of mind. Outstanding customer experience requires more than branch design and process flow changes: It must also encourage expanded interaction and engagement. Many branches today are transforming from places where customers primarily conduct transactions to ones where they can seek education, advice and guidance on a wide variety of financial matters. 

Newer deployment models have begun to change how banks and credit unions interact with their customers and members. And even though consumers increasingly use digital banking methods for daily transactions, it’s important to note that most banking customers still want to have the option to speak with knowledgeable employees when they desire it.  

Fortunately, the hybrid customer service model offers customers personal back and forth and an efficient process, which lays the foundation for an outstanding customer experience. For a growing number of financial institutions, this takes shape as the universal banker business model. 

Many institutions are using (or considering) a universal banker business model because first of all, they seek to create and broaden relationships with their banking customers. This responds to banking customers’ evolving expectations, which now change the fundamental role of customer-facing personnel.  Many drivers of a positive customer experience—such as having an advisory and consultative relationship and being able to bank when, where and how desired—also inform the universal banker business model at many institutions. 

The universal banker model promises to elevate the overall customer experience by way of a hybrid teller/banker role that incorporates educational, sales and marketing expertise. This reduces or eliminates customer hand-offs and often allows for flexible and extended schedules. In this model, bankers can:

  • Freely roam the branches (often in open, inviting and newly reconfigured spaces)
  • Listen to customers
  • Educate and advise them, or
  • Act as a conduit for more advanced subject matter expertise

This model can also introduce opportunities to optimize “branch of the future” initiatives through the use of highly trained employees and a variety of full-service, self-service and assisted-service interaction methods that meet customers where they live and bank. It’s also important to provide sufficient training for these new universal bankers, and make sure these employees possess the right aptitudes and interpersonal skills to best serve today’s banking customers. 

Combining technology and expanded access to trained bankers and subject matter experts through a universal banker business model adds up to a smart move for institutions. Besides creating operational efficiencies, it provides a framework to satisfy banking customers and deliver a superior customer experience. After all, the desire to deliver a big win for customers—one that turns into lucrative loyalty—is truly universal.

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Ed O’Brien is EVP, research and strategy, for ath Power Consulting, a premier provider of research and customer experience solutions for the financial services industry. Ed can be reached at [email protected].

Hear Ed speak on What Do Small Businesses Want in a Banking Partner: More Touch or More Technology at BAI Beacon, October 4 – 5 in Atlanta.

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