When I recently spoke to a young family acquaintance who had taken a job as a bank teller, it got me thinking about the changing nature of that role, and its future prospects. Particularly as I recalled a couple of news articles on Finextra recently, such
as Bank of America tellers petitioning their bosses to cease the roll-out of video teller ATMs and
Barclays' plans to axe 1700 branch staff
We're all familiar with banks' PR efforts in their 'branch of the future' initiatives, and research that shows banks still like branches because they are an effective sales channel and lots of customers prefer them when dealing with complex transactions
(or having to deposit cash).
But at the same time we've all seen the stories about small communities being deserted by banks as digital channels prevail and physical channel costs need cutting. So I thought I'd gather some of the latest stats I could find to take snapshot of where bank
branches are heading.
As evidenced by the number of bland pub franchises now occupying large former High Street bank buildings, branch closure has been a steady trend in the UK since 1989.
Nottingham University, found that nearly 7,500 branches (40%) closed between 1989 and 2012. It says that the rate of closure had been slower since the year 2000. But community campaigners point to recent
announcements from the big banks as an indication that branch closures are about to ramp up again.
the past 12 months saw the nation's branch network shrink for the first time in 11 years, even though mergers over the past five years have seen greater concentration of ownership by the Big 4 of ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac.
In the US, there had been sporadic growth in branch numbers since 2000. But record number of bank closures at the lower tier and cost cutting by the survivors is reversing that.
SNL Financial says US banks and thrifts shut 2,267 branches in 2012. AlixPartners, a New York consulting firm , says that put the bank-branch count at 93,000 -—the
lowest tally since 2007. The firm expects the figure to drop to 80,000 over the next decade, putting the total closer in line with 2000 levels.
The US Bureau of Labor statistics tells a similar tale. In 2010 it expected
"little or no change" or a rise of 1% on the number of tellers in the country by 2020, up from 560,000. But by 2012 the number had already fallen slightly to 541,770
So, with fewer branches and fewer customers lining up in them to conduct basic transactions, what will become of the teller?
The responsibilities entailed have already shifted more from customer service towards sales. Online employment forums abound with talk about branch management not caring about anything else but teller staff meeting credit card and loan sales targets, regardless
of how reliable they are at transaction handling, or resolving issues for customers.
This pressure and relatively low wages lead to high staff turnover. So it seems for any young person looking to get into banking via an alternative route than graduate intake programs, branch employment is still an opportunity - but only if they can handle
the hard sell.