Saturday, September 18, 2021

Bankers Automate! With This Asterisk.

Last week the Virginia Bankers’ Association had a futurist at their annual convention. Among other things, he predicted that the pandemic induced, government supported prolonged labor shortage will accelerate the pace in which society will replace low-level jobs with remote technology, automated intelligence, and robots. He gave an example of McDonald’s experimenting with centralized drive-thru ordering, with the employee that takes the order in some far away locale. And they were working to replace this with chat bots.

I thought of the implications.

I grew up without much. My first job was a paperboy until I was old enough to be a W2 employee. When that happened, I flipped burgers and washed dishes through high school. My first banking job was making microfiche on a Datagraphix 4590 for the local bank, which helped pay for college.

I then went into the Navy. There, along with my primary technical job, I destroyed classified material in a kiln, waxed floors, cleaned bathrooms. This added nothing to my knowledge and understanding of the banking industry and its future.

But without it, would I be who I am today? Worse, would I even have gotten the chance to climb that ladder if the bottom rungs were removed?

We see these trends in entry level banking jobs. At first, it was the ATM taking transactional work away from the teller. Which evolved to cash recyclers automating cash handling. This has led to the decline of traditional branch staffing from eight-to-ten FTEs per branch to four-to-five. And the trend continues with the introduction of the ITM. Indeed, the problem with branch staffing has gone from “how do we handle the transaction volume” to “how do we cover the lobby hours?”

Many financial institutions are looking to auto-decision small commercial loans. Replacing the work of the junior credit analyst with an algorithm. Introductory investment management is going away from the junior wealth manager and migrating to robo advising. In our challenging interest rate and therefore net interest margin environment, banks are working hard to automate as much support processes as possible to increase assets, loans, and deposits per FTE.

These are all good things, in my opinion. As lower-level work is automated, this leaves more challenging work for us humans. Which should translate to better compensation for who’s left, and greater resources to serve the bank’s other stakeholders.

But what of the bottom rungs? When we remove them, are we building a system that provides advantage to those that can make the pivot, or have the time and resources to be able to start at the third rung? I needed to be that dishwasher, floor scrubber, and tape librarian. I could not afford to support myself and my young family, go to college, and elevate up the ladder had I not started at the bottom.

This can play into a bank’s higher purpose. To provide economic mobility to those that can’t start on second base (some of whom thought they hit a double). There must be purposeful employee development to turn entry level employees into higher level and high performing employees of the future. Even if you hire them to punch above their current weight.

Philip Kotler, former Marketing professor from Northwestern University, in describing "Firms of Endearment" from the 2014 book (second edition) of the same name, noted that one characteristic of a Firm of Endearment was that employees were paid more, trained longer, and stayed longer than at peer companies. 

Initially, however, your struggle while they struggle is a journey worth taking if you can build the workforce of your bank’s future from the ground up. While leveling the playing field for those that by their circumstance must start climbing the ladder from the bottom.

~ Jeff

And please consider reading the book: Squared Away-How Can Bankers Succeed as Economic First Responders

Ten percent of author royalties go to, who work to bring down the suicide rate among our veterans. 




Thank you!