Why You Should Invest in Your Branch Workforce

It may seem counterintuitive, but this is the right time to invest in your branch workforce.

Yes, fewer customers are visiting the branch and there is little doubt that much of the pandemic-inspired shift to digital banking will only increase. And yes, there are still too many branches around the world and more should be shuttered.

But branches aren’t going away anytime soon. With associate attrition so high and digital transformation so robust, now seems to be the right time to transform the purpose of your branches and role of your staff.

Curinos believes that banks need a new vision to address the evolving needs of customers, attract and develop deep customer relationships and boost market share. It is time to hire the best and brightest people and deploy them in the branches with new roles and new performance metrics that can be funded by reduced attrition. The goal: a higher return on investment that is generated by deeper customer engagement.

In short, a well-paid, engaged workforce will pay off for the bank.

PRODUCTIVITY DECLINE AND COST ACCELERATION

It has always been difficult to maintain a quality branch workforce. The staff is often inexperienced, salaries are low and attrition is high. With current wage pressure, costs are escalating without an improvement in quality. These challenges, combined with customer behavioral shifts towards digital engagement, are creating a complicated situation.

A recent Curinos survey of retail branch teams affirmed that teller attrition levels are running above 40% and banker attrition ranges between 25-40%. Even more surprising: the average branch manager attrition rate is above 20% for a position that historically has been
very stable.

At the same time, competition for talent, inflation and wages are increasing branch staffing expense without commensurate improvements in quality. (See Figure 1.) We have all heard about The Great Resignation and branches aren’t immune. Making matters worse, many surveys show that more than 50% of your talent expects to be looking for a new job within two years.

Finally, banks are seeing wide variations in teller and sales productivity. (See Figure 2.) Teller transaction volume is down by more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels, creating more sub-scale branches across the industry.

Figure 1: Minimum Wage Announcements by U.S. Banks

Source: Curinos analysis, Fifth Third, Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PNC, USAA, BMO Harris, Santander, First Financial, Associated Bank, TD Bank

Figure 2: Teller Productivity — Transactions per Month per Teller FTE, Jan 2021 — Dec 2021

Source: SalesScape Comparative Analytics

LEGACY BELIEFS AND ACTIONS

Although bank leadership is aware of these trends, the problem isn’t being addressed in a way that suits these times. For the past 50 years, branches have been managed as unit-driven, transaction-oriented factories that focus on how to do more with less. Curinos believes that many are losing the war on talent because their response is caught up in this legacy structure that just doesn’t fit today’s needs.

Curinos has identified new approaches to common problems:

  1. “Digital banking is driving the future of sales and service so if we over-invest in the branch, including people, tools and analytics, aren’t we taking away from our investment in digital?”


    Problem: While investments in digital are necessary to maintain parity with competitors, most regional and community banks are unlikely to achieve a winning digital strategy. Most banks ultimately win or lose based on local market execution, which is built on strong talent with clear expectation and performance management.

    New Approach: Reframe the role of branch team members around customer engagement (digital migration, account usage/primacy and relationship depth) with associated KPIs and empowerment around the daily routines that are successful in driving engagement and achieving better outcomes.

  2. “We keep our compensation brackets up to date, which keeps us competitive with face-to-face sales and service.”


    Problem: These brackets ensure you compete for legacy, traditional talent that turns over at 40% for some banks today. A continued focus on this approach may lead to adverse selection, filling your organization with the shallow end of the talent pool over time.

    New Approach: Break out of front-line compensation brackets and target people who excel at client engagement and aspire to a high-salaried position. Increase base pay, establish two-year “stay and perform” incentives. Establish rotating programs with other geographies and parts of the bank to encourage mobility.

  3. “Although 80% of our workers prefer remote work, branch banking is a face-to-face business and we don’t have the flexibility to offer hybrid work opportunities for our retail teams.”


    Problem: This approach inhibits creative ways to accommodate work while addressing employee needs.

    New Approach: Create better integration with traditional branch roles and other functions and explore the location required for certain activities. Can branch team members focus on proactive outreach activities while working from home? Can branch team members remotely cover shifts within the customer contact center? Do your digital origination and support systems enable more human remote engagement?

  4. “Sales and, more importantly, sales coaching is best served through face-to-face work. Tracking and coaching sales remotely isn’t efficient and won’t get us better results.”


    Problem: While face-to-face, live interaction still plays a role in sales, it is unrealistic to coach hundreds or thousands of people at scale in a typical branch environment.

    New Approach: Role playing and practice is the most effective way to improve performance. Audio and video recordings are effective and efficient for practicing sales approaches and responses. Remote coaching at scale represents the next generation of training and development.

THE BUSINESS CASE FOR CHANGE 

With the shift in consumer needs away from transactions toward advice, Curinos believes there is an opportunity to create a self-funding mechanism for this investment in talent. Using a simple branch complement of 6.0 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees (2.5 tellers, 2 bankers, 1 manager), we believe a shift to 5.0 FTE (4 bankers, 1 manager) can be paid for through a 50% reduction in attrition costs by implementing these new strategies. (See Figure 3.)

There is an opportunity to drive improvements across multiple customer engagement dimensions, including digital usage, relationship depth and net promoter scores. 

Figure 3: Improvement Opportunities

LOOKING AHEAD

These types of changes can’t happen overnight and — depending on network size — they may be only suitable for segments of branches and/or segments of people. But for most organizations,
the field-based people costs still represent a massive amount of invested operating expenses and capital on an annual basis.

Initial steps can be taken now, including radically changing performance metrics to focus on customer engagement rather than production. Adopt better analytics for human resources to help identify the best potential employees. Experiment with new hiring sources and pay scales. Other early actions include developing new remote digital training/coaching systems and testing new models for branch roles.

With the challenges of The Great Resignation and impact of wage inflation, organizations are battling to keep up. Those that continue to implement legacy approaches are missing opportunities to improve efficiency and productivity. Organizations that will lead the industry a few years from now are already looking to test their way into more advanced workforce models.

Andrew Hovet
Director
andrew.hovet@curinos.com
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