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A Look Ahead to U.S. Retail Banking in 2016

Top retail banking executives, at institutions both large and small, are expressing a mix of optimism and uncertainty as they look ahead to 2016.

Self-Service Revolution

Customers are migrating to electronic channels, making payroll reduction a necessity, but they still desire the same, or an improved, level of service.

The Strategic Implications of Tellers Selling
As banks increasingly reorient their tellers from transactions to sales, executives must also think through the strategic implications of this shift. by TOM ZAYKO
Jun 7, 2013  |  16 Comments

“Tellers must do more than transact – they must also sell!”

If you’re coming to that conclusion at your bank, you are not alone and you have good reason. Tellers see more customers than anybody else in the bank. The transactions they handle often give off obvious indicators of sales opportunities. With branch volumes declining and facilities smaller, it’s no longer feasible to have specialized roles such as managers, lenders, new accounts reps, tellers, teller supervisors, etc. In banking, as in every other industry making do with fewer people, those staff remaining will have to make a greater contribution to revenue.

Technology has naturally played a role in this transformation, first by usurping many of tellers’ old responsibilities. Cash recyclers have eliminated, or significantly reduced, balancing and cash counting. In addition, self-service technology also allows customers to conduct their own transactions. Since tellers don’t need to be so deeply skilled in operational matters, they can focus on the needs of the customer rather than the transaction. Most banks recognize this, at least in theory; the term “teller” has been typically transformed into “customer service representative,” or something similar.

So yes, tellers, by whatever name, must sell. ATMs, or other self-service technology, can be programmed to take the deposit, analyze the customer’s profile for signs of “next product needed” and promptly explain its benefits to the customer. But tellers are people, with clear job expectations. No sustained behavioral change ever happened just because management changed the job description.

Clearly, making the move from teller to seller will take more than handing the teller a script and promising an incentive if they deliver it. And it should take more. We are, after all, talking about growing revenue from current resources. If revenue could be raised by fiat and title changes, we wouldn’t need most of our executive apparatus.

Just as clearly, it means providing tellers with more skills, and that’s where many banks tend to start. But in our experience, starting with sales skills can be a recipe for frustrated sellers, disengaged managers and unimpressed customers. What might otherwise sound like a simple change to a job description is actually a significant strategic initiative. Think about it. We’re talking about taking our largest category of workers (the face of our bank to the customer), fundamentally changing their job and compensation and establishing them as a fresh source of revenue. What could go wrong? Or rather, how to prevent what could so obviously go wrong?

The answer is to focus up front on four areas: strategy, organization structure, branch efficiency and sales process:

Strategy. A change of this significance obviously has strategic implications across the board.  How will this change alter the customer experience? Competitively, what are our risks? What are competitors doing? Can our Information Technology (IT) support our intentions? Are we constrained by our facilities? Which products can tellers sell and which should be reserved for sales platform staff and branch managers?

To make these strategic decisions, it is necessary to make real adjustments in the following areas:

Organization Structure. Altering the job of your most visible employee clearly has implications for your retail organization structure. If tellers are sellers, how does that change what new accounts people do? Or do we institute “universal” tellers? Do their supervisors need to be differently enabled? What does it mean for future recruiting and for our managerial pipeline? Do we create internal competition, or strive for a team-selling environment, with group incentives?

If, like many banks, you have already gone through a serious effort to flatten your organization structure and align it to changing customer needs and behaviors, then making tellers sellers will force you to re-consider your staffing model. If you have ever prematurely announced an organizational change, you only make that mistake once. Taking the time to organize well and to communicate the changes thoroughly in advance is well worth the time it takes.

One example of a bank that altered their organizational structure is Oregon’s Umpqua Bank. They revamped their “branches” and converted them into “stores,” with each store having two job families: the store manager and Universal Associate (UA). Once trained, every UA could handle any customer need, from basic teller work to new account transactions, loan applications and assisting with operational questions. The UA rotates positions on a regular basis, to retain the basic skills in all the operating areas of the store.

Branch Efficiency. Your branch staffing model was no doubt calibrated on tellers doing transactions as efficiently as possible, while other job types handled the sales-oriented activities. Now many aspects of that efficiency model are different. Sellers, after all, are measured on sales results, not efficiency. And yet it has probably never been more important for your branches to operate at peak efficiency. How will your measure change? How will you recalibrate your staffing model?

Before launching this change, it is important to articulate a sales process that reflects your new staffing model.

Sales Process. Today, your sales process consists of deliberate and codified steps to identify an opportunity, qualify prospects, initiate contact, describe the offer, overcome objections, emphasize the benefits and close the deal. It even includes the technology you’ve invested in to support it. But when tellers become sellers, should they follow the same set of steps? What accommodations need to be made for your newly minted sales staff?  And most of all, what will customers think?

From the customer’s point of view, this friendly teller who handled transactions efficiently is now doing something else and taking more of their time – which they didn’t expect. It’s a legitimate concern that, if the sales process change is handled poorly, customers could feel oversold and taken advantage of. So training on selling and communication skills will be essential.

And that applies to new technology on the front line. The cost of database technology/customer relationship management (CRM) has decreased dramatically, enabling even community banks to drive next-best sale prompts and other scripts to the front line with great results. Given the maturation of CRM systems, there are many experienced third parties who are more than capable in helping banks leverage the technology.

So, while the opportunity is compelling and the potential lucrative, it’s important to note that the banks that are succeeding with a new branch sales model recognized at the start that behavioral change comes from planning for conscientious and comprehensive strategic change.

Mr. Zayko is a director of Austin, Tex.-based Peak Performance Consulting Group, which specializes in retail and community banking. Based in Montclair, N.J., he can be reached at tzayko@ppcgroup.com.

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8/5/2013 12:27 PM

It is one thing to have a next best offer program running where tellers can see it and create a lead, by speaking a quick line and if the customer expresses interest in the offer, because it is relevant to them, making a referral to someone to close on it. It is another for the teller to sell. And, to execute on the sale. Banks will add significant costs to their branches, if they have tellers sell and close-executing on the sale. Customers might try it once, and then automatically say, no, because they came in for a transaction, and end up spending 20 minutes in the branch instead of 2, and will not do it again. Instead banks would be much better served by implementing a referral model, supported by software that allowed tellers to make a pitch and refer. Tracked it, and reward tellers for successful referrals.

charvak karpe
7/2/2013 3:00 PM

For an example of how not to write a teller script for selling products, visit a post office. "Would you like to send it Priority?" "How about delivery confirmation?" "Do you need stamps with that?". I've had tellers admit that the job was a lot better before the sales script got rolled out. Don't make banking with a teller unpleasant. The pleasant personal interaction is one of the last reasons customers still use the branch.

7/2/2013 8:47 AM

Mike: Good article on Tellers selling at the Teller Line

7/1/2013 9:31 AM


karen gordon
6/21/2013 10:27 AM

Teaching tellers the skills to effectively become sellers is an important point. Additionally, giving them the tools to effectively carry out each sale is crucial. Tools like instant prescreen give tellers the ability to know which offers are relevant to that particular customer and present them in real-time. Rather than spending time and money to distribute generic offers, customer service representatives can focus on a personalized and pleasant customer experience. This not only makes the encounter more meaningful for the consumer, but also relieves a large amount of pressure from the teller during the sales process. It’s easier to stay motivated to sell when you hear “yes” more often than “no”.

kuldip sharma
6/20/2013 6:00 AM

While its true that most Tellers do try cross selling a product or two, as soon as one stands at the Teller Counter. However, the reason why most cross sales do not materialize is not because the Teller's sales pitch is not pursuasive enough but for the simple fact that the prospect may not have need for the product(s) being offered. If cross sell products are offered on the basis of analytics, cross sales can be optimised. In the process, resultant frustration and erosion of self confidence that often occurs when a Teller repeatedly draws a blank while offering products not needed by the customers, can also be minimised.

6/15/2013 1:37 PM

I was working for a large bank in Romania that have intended to do this transformation but failed . Why ? first because was not considered the tellers profile, large majority are operational , reactive persons with no or less skills on sales . The effort and cost related with the training was huge . From my perspective the solution is to invest on IT applications for self banking services and in time to shift staff from tellers to sellers because yes I agree the future on baking will stay in building relationship with customers and help them get services ,

eric larse
6/14/2013 11:03 AM

You are spot on in the warning to not lose sight of the customer’s point of view. They most likely came into the branch with a different set of expectations for the visit. A clumsy sales attempt not aligned with the customer’s expectations and needs is very risky. I tend to agree with Darryl and others that the foundation of such a strategic shift is finding and retaining the right people with the skills to fulfill multiple roles.

6/12/2013 12:33 PM

This has another angle of delaying the entire process in the counter. Banks have already rationalised teller staff adjusting for technological advances and in an Indian context where there are queues many times in teller counters X sell idea is still debatable.

helen leah
6/12/2013 2:49 AM

I agree that banks need to think carefully about how they use the resources they have to ensure they adapt to customers changing behaviours and the need to do this will increase over time. The challenge in the European market is the regulatory constraints applied to the sale of almost all Retail Banking products and the subsequent supervision of these regulations. I do think that this is a great way to get flexibility into your workforce without any changes to individual working hours, which can be a challenge.

6/11/2013 8:41 AM

Retrain tellers? Like Umpqua, it will be hiring new employees with a retail sales background.

vijay shivram menon
6/11/2013 8:28 AM

In a country like India , alternate channels are being used by majority of customers , except cash based customer requirement where bank branches are necessary. Hence Teller roles are now getting converted in to UA kind of roles, where every staff does everything including tele sales, outbound sales etc. Hence ultimately the training on branch staff is aimed at developing multi-tasking and the levels of ability of respective branch teams decides the level of business at branch level.

6/11/2013 8:02 AM

It also deepends on the age of the tellers, since many tellers in europe have reached the age of 35-45 and have very little room to be trained into sellers. Moreover, the customer will need some time to adjust (years) since the customer has been acquainted with the teller's posistion as a customer service posistion not as a specialist in sales or products therefore,a mood change need to take place for the customer.

les blake
6/11/2013 4:24 AM

We are now finding in our local Bank that most people now avoid the tellers that make the 'hard sell' with other products. Like us, a vast number of people prefer to go to a separate information desk if they need advice and only expect their teller to be efficient at that job and a pleasure to come into the office. It doesn't take much to change a sales opportunity into a PR mess.

darryl demos
6/10/2013 11:01 AM

The article correctly points that not only teller roles, but account opening/platform roles are changing and the need for specialization of an operational nature is on the decline. However, the article's misses the important first step which is identifying across all staff and positions who are going to be the "keepers" in the new world - those who possess the right attitudes to sell and to transaction. Over the next 36 months, there will be a relatively rapid shift in transaction and sales activities, yet there is generally enough attrition to migrate to new activity levels. The key is to put in programs now to retain those who can best become the universals that the write refers to in the Umpqua example - we will need sellers to transaction and transactors to sell and we job 1 is to identify and focus retention on those individuals

joseph gnorski
6/10/2013 9:49 AM

This is a good article that points out some often overlooked elements of moving to a sales culture in the retail branch. However, it is important to note the second paragraph about technology should not be overlooked. While most, if not all, financial institutions have a self service presence only ~30% are using cash recyclers to eliminate balancing, counting, securing and authenticating cash. Those functions can account for up to 70% of a tellers time during the day. As with most things in life, "focus" will you make you more successful. Before you begin down this path of creating a sales culture, be sure you are giving your frontline staff the time it needs to "focus" on selling. When you combine that with the other elements mentioned success will not be hard to find.