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The Future of Retail Banking—Are Your Frontline Employees Ready?

At the end of the day, consumer behaviors drive the biggest change

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  • Written by  Carol Leaman, President & CEO, Axonify
The Future of Retail Banking—Are Your Frontline Employees Ready?

No matter how much retail banking leaders prepare for disruption, at the end of the day, consumer behaviors drive the biggest change. And frontline employees are always in the eye of the storm.

In 2019, half of the U.S. banking customers surveyed said they had digitally engaged with their bank infrequently or not at all—and would need help to do so. Contrast that with 2020. When banks closed their retail operations because of COVID-19, contact center and mobile use spiked, and 15 – 20% of customers said they expected to increase their use of digital channels even after the pandemic passed.

Now, as we look at 2021 and beyond, it’s clear retail banking isn’t anywhere close to finished with the shift to digital. As consumers become more comfortable banking across channels, frontline bank employees need the skills to comfortably navigate the new technologies.

The walls are down, but expectations are up

During the pandemic, many banks shifted employees from in-person roles, like tellers, to positions in offsite customer service, where employees could work from home or a contact center. As the work environment moves to the next phase, banks may see their employees working from multiple settings—in person, at home or a hybrid. This means bank leaders need to equip their employees with the skills to manage work and connections long-term, regardless of where they sit.

Compounding this is the fact that branch locations, which were already declining pre-pandemic, are continuing to decrease. A recent study suggests branches could be extinct in just 13 years. Since branches have traditionally been the primary location to sell products, how will banks reach consumers in other places, using different skills to build online relationships and establish trust?

Regardless of channel, customer service will be even more critical as customers look for products and services tailored to their individual needs. In these uncertain financial times, customers are relying on banks for more than transactional interactions — as Deloitte says, they want “continuous, relationship-based, advice-centric engagement.”

Supporting employees for long-term success

Employees have already been asked to take on new responsibilities and skills, shift their work environment and be flexible and motivated in the middle of ambiguity. And, in crisis mode, many of them rose to the occasion. But now, the state of flux is becoming the norm. Coupled with the evolving responsibilities financial services’ frontline workers will shoulder, the buck stops with bank leaders to make sure employees have the training, technology and processes to fuel their success long-term.

Bank leaders must look at the entire employee journey to see if they have the right-fit support they need. Take onboarding, for example. A year and a half ago, onboarding a new employee looked very different than it does now. It was probably in person and may have involved giving the employee a manual to read on the first day or sending them to a class to learn the technology platform used in the job.

Always be learning

Today, with many employees offsite, those methods don’t work. The truth is those options were never ideal for helping employees remember what they earned. People learn best when the onboarding is relevant, motivating and easy to absorb. Prioritizing the topics employees need to know first and building on them once they are in the job makes them feel confident and motivated to perform their best. Supplementing training with digital, on-demand resources helps employees have the information they need at their fingertips.

The same applies to upskilling and cross-skilling employees when they take on new responsibilities. To ensure the workforce is prepared for upcoming challenges, employees should always be learning, according to Alan Richardson, VP of Learning and Performance at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

“If your client-facing team isn’t constantly learning new skills, you’re probably already behind,” said Richardson during an AxoniCom Fireside chat. “These technological tools and capabilities, coupled with interpersonal skills, empower frontline employees. They can use their knowledge to suggest financial options that help consumers and communities thrive and prosper.”

While the future of banking may not be crystal-clear, one thing is certain: bank leaders need to ensure their frontline employees are agile and ready for anything, no matter what comes next. “By investing in the employee, we’re investing in the client,” concludes Richardson. “Because the employee is the one who’s going to create the great experience.”


By Carol Leaman, President & CEO, Axonify

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