The Universal Banker. It’s a term that’s slowly made its way onto the financial industry discussion table over the past several years. Initially a novel (but not terribly pressing) concept, the universal banker is now demanding some serious consideration as the branch transformation quest heats up. The reason? Dialogue banking is the leanest customer service model there is and, when combined with the other transformational branch elements of the day, by far the most effective and profitable. But why do many banks currently adopting other aspects of the “nu-branch” model not have universal bankers? Does it mean there’s some dark and secret shortcoming to it, and that we should all just “wait and see”?
The fact is, a universal banker isn’t built overnight; it takes from six months to a year to educate someone in the various skills of this near-mythical creature. The universal banker, or relationship banker, or universal agent, as they’re also known, is an eclectic assemblage of innate abilities and training sensibilities. Some of it may come naturally, others must be learned over time. The vital ingredients in the universal banker cocktail are:
1. Flexible and Eclectic Learner. A universal agent must be able to shift from one aspect of the business to another, often seamlessly (a walking omnichannel, if you will). Clients will be reassured by someone who identifies as a consultant one minute and a teller the next. The more and varied aspects of the business a single individual is capable of understanding and owning, the stronger and more valuable they will be.
2. People Skills. Through all of the retail gymnastics a universal banker performs, they must empathize appropriately, always building trust while communicating clearly. They don’t teach this stuff in school, because it comes from the heart, and while patience and the ability to relate to others isn’t usually a banking job requirement, it is crucial in this context.
3. Sales Savvy. When industry people champion the universal banker model, they’re usually championing the opportunity to cross-sell. In order to do this successfully, the universal agent has to be a salesperson; able to intuit what their customers need before they know it themselves. Good sales people are optimistic hunters, passionate and disciplined and always ready to assert the benefits of a product or service.
4. Able to Use New Technology and Tools. New tech tools are a huge part of the branch transformation quest. Any universal banker worth their salt is fluent in the use of tablets, cash recyclers, ITM’s, and any associated language. They’ll be happy to guide customers through tech bars, as well as navigate the opening of new accounts, loan applications and use of insurance and investment products.
5. Awareness of the F.I.’s Brand Personality. Implementation of the universal banker model might (or might not) be part of a larger re-branding campaign on the part of the financial institution. Either way, they will need to be aware of the brand persona and possibly even the branch persona, depending on the relationship between company HQ and smaller branches in the hub-and-spoke network.
The comprehensive training required for an individual to fill the universal agent role means that, in the beginning at least, certain branches in a network should be selected for the launch of this model. It stands to reason that smaller branches are more suitable for newly-trained universal bankers, as they can cover the ground more easily thereby connecting clients to a greater range of services more efficiently. Smaller branches often feature a single dialogue tower, staffed by two people. This is the perfect training scenario, as a more experienced universal agent can be partnered with the new trainee.
There are numerous scenarios that may or may not play out over the next decade with regard to branch banking. During that time, the focus on customer experience will increase dramatically. The looming fortresses of olde are being replaced by agile, smaller branches that offer a startling array of services compared to their ancestors. The universal banker will completely replace the teller of old, as basic transactional functions will be swallowed up by the tech wave. The cost of designing and building new branches will drop, as smaller branches and more efficient methodologies become mainstream.
Branch location type will also change; so-called “high-rise branches” and micro-branches are going to sprout up like mushrooms at a nook or cranny near you very soon. These branches will be increasingly customized; individual branch themes and services will characterize each branch personality to the Nth degree. Gen Y and Gen Z’ers will demand ever more gimmicks to earn their custom as convenience is commoditized by ubiquitous micro-branches… The possibilities are endless.
Featured image by Stefan Ramniceanu