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Right on schedule: New branch tools and strategies to serve your staff

Oct 25, 2019 / Consumer Banking

Once upon a time, the old Chicago Stadium was known as the “Madhouse on Madison.” The building, which sat a couple miles west of BAI’s current headquarters, calls to mind a particular madhouse memory of my own: working as a banking newbie at Citibank’s main Chicago branch.

How could I forget? I started my banking career managing branches, then multi-state branch networks. And you could count on bedlam in the branch: not every day but certainly Mondays and Fridays, almost every lunch hour and—heaven forbid—if Social Security checks arrived the same day (remember when people waited by the mailbox for checks?) at the same time as large companies paid their employees,.

Across the industry, teller line waits caused more customer aggravation than any other obstacle. Thus we paid a lot of attention to queue management and even looked to Disney for best practice guidance. We also designed service standards such as U.S. Bank’s Five-Star Service: if you waited more than five  minutes in the teller line, the bank would pay you five dollars. (No one used the expression then, but it was truly “a fin for chagrin.”)

Today we live in different and often difficult times. Rarely do branches suffer such problems because we don’t process the level of monetary, “paying and receiving” transactions. Long lines at teller booths make for a rarer sight. And as traffic declined, financial institutions cut back branch staff and the average branch full-time employee (FTE) count recently dropped from eight to five.

Five is less than eight; how does that add up? Tabulate the number of hours the branch is open and the need for dual control, and five FTE sits right at or close to the minimum to keep the doors open. Unless you automate the teller function with self-service, or significantly reduce hours you can’t go much lower.

Thus we must think about staff scheduling differently. If the branch already finds itself close to the minimum staff required, predicting how many staff you need at a given time won’t cut it. Instead simplify the scheduling process and activities to bolster productivity.

Away with the old way: a new approach

The old way many banks still operate assigns everyone to a single branch. They rarely work anywhere else.

To compensate for absences and vacations, some branches retain extra staff—leaving them in fact overstaffed—to provide a float pool. Scheduling float assignments requires a request to whoever supervises the pool and then manually adjusts individual schedules.

Staff carry out primary functions and rarely stray from them. And while staff occasionally pitch in to help in other areas for the greater good, essentially a teller is a teller, a personal banker a personal banker. If you need a teller somewhere else, you need to find someone with that specific skill to fill in. 

Now, consider the new approach. Many institutions that implement universal bankers do so because they eliminate the teller/personal banker barrier—and thus flex between roles.

But forward-thinking organizations go even further, staffing at the market level rather than an individual branch. That eliminates the need for a float pool because you can predict capacity and manage staff across multiple branches within the same geography. Someone may spend most of their time at a “home branch” but shift between locations on an as-needed basis.

Timely tools, simple scheduling

New smartphone scheduling apps enable employees to manage their time and this improves satisfaction as it simplifies management time and effort.

First, it involves staff in helping to set their schedule. It shows available work hours within the geography that staff prefer to work. This tool is in some ways resembles what Uber and Lyft use to show demand and the locations riders want transportation. 

In the bank’s case, scheduling apps make it possible to:

  • give staff improved control (something especially important to millennials)
  • simplify the manual task of assignment for managers
  • avoid the over staffing needed to fund float pools
  • hire and retain part-timers because they have opportunities to fill in at multiple branches

But it’s not a free-for-all where everyone does their own thing. These tools feature embedded rules-based controls such as managerial approval, overtime control and labor rules compliance.

I wish I had this when I oversaw branches in Chicago. I think back to the time my district managers spent trying to flex staff when someone’s kid was sick and couldn’t go to school or  even a slight change in winter weather could wreak havoc on public transit. Such a tool would have, so to speak, kept the trains running on time.

Make sense of staff hours and activities

Now let’s look at intra-day activities, the second area where this really helps. Every retail executive I talk to tells me that they want “more”: more outside calling, more time spent on-boarding customers, more outreach. But we know from tracking more than 7,000 branch transactions and shadowing branch staff during a “day in their life,” it doesn’t happen anywhere near as often as the execs would like.

Today we essentially tell people to fit it into their day or week. And then we let meetings and other distractions get in the way. Going forward, we can predict the best times to perform “no-customer-in-front-of-me” activities; schedule the time; keep other diversions off their plate; and significantly shift activities to align with the bank’s desired goals.

Parting thoughts: a model makeover

This boils down to changing the model—and giving your staff the tools to jump-start the process. Meanwhile your retail managers, newly freed, can spend more time on coaching as sophisticated automation and artificial intelligence (AI) drive the analytical tools.

Staff labor-savings pay: That part is obvious. But the other side of the payoff coin means better customer experience and sales performance, thanks to better scheduling of proactive activities—that is, what people do.

We also know what not to do: Schedule bodies to meet a guessed customer demand at a time of declining branch arrivals. Because as experience teaches—or at least taught me—jamming excess bodies into a bank turns a branch into a madhouse. 

David Kerstein is president of Austin, Texas, based Peak Performance Consulting Group, which specializes in helping community and regional banks grow. He can be reached at [email protected].