Replacing bank tellers with automated machines – a win-win-win situation

When I was a kid, I always followed my mum to the bank to withdraw / deposit money, check on her safe deposit box or to exchange new notes for Chinese New Year. Those were the times when we had to stand in line to wait for our turn and we would only know which counter we were supposed to go to when prompted by the LED board in front. No queue number then. Over the counter, you would either be greeted by a young, pretty face or a motherly-looking lady. Either one, both would be smiling and polite, and the experience always pleasant.

Fast forward to now. I can’t remember when was the last time I queued for an over the counter assistance from a bank teller. Nowadays, I visit the bank only to deposit cash and to speak with an officer over my investment policies. In other words, bank services that cannot be done online.

OCBC announced on Monday (23 July) that it would be cutting half its bank teller jobs in the next two years. Fifteen of the most frequent bank counter services previously done by bank tellers will be gradually taken over by OCBC’s new ATMs and digital service kiosks. These new automated machines make use of new digital technologies such as facial and fingerprint scanners for biometric authentication and signature pads, which can be activated for use in the future.

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For some, they may mourn the expedited death of the traditional bank teller’s job. However, the automation actually provided an excellent opportunity for the bank to train and retrain its frontline staff to better meet the future needs of its customers.

It’s a rare win-win-win situation actually. How so?

First of all, NO ONE will be retrenched in OCBC’s latest exercise. According to TODAY’s report, currently one in three OCBC bank tellers are fresh poly graduates, while the rest are experienced tellers or staff hired from other banks and industries. OCBC had said that these bank tellers would be redeployed to “perform higher value-added tasks that require decision making or physical verification”. What this also means is that the bank recognises the huge potential that can be unlocked from this group – their “train-“ and “retrain-ability”, their knowledge of bank services and most importantly, their experience in frontline customer service.

While customers get to enjoy the ease, convenience and speed of service that the new automated machines provide, the affected bank tellers can now learn new skills that can add value to their work.

OCBC’s goal is to train all its tellers over the next five years to perform digital or advisory roles. What I especially appreciate about this is that more bank staff would now be trained to help guide elderly customers to use the new machines. It is always heartening to learn that in our push towards automation, we do not neglect the needs of the group(s) that grew up in an era with no computers and internet.

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So while increasing automation means we may not visit the bank for a face-to-face interaction with its staff as often anymore, the bank still upholds the importance of the human touch. After all, to instil and retain trust of its customers is a core value of any bank and the best way to do so is to build and maintain a strong relationship.

Take a look at the job description of a bank teller found on an online job search portal. Some values don’t change, no matter how automated the banking process evolves to be, and whether you are a bank teller or digital ambassador.

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