A recent article at the Wall Street Journal suggests that bank tellers may be an endangered species. Once prominent members of the banking community, since 2009 tellers have seen their wages decrease and their colleagues move elsewhere to different positions where they can find higher pay and more hours.
Bank tellers have been replaced, in part, by technological advances in society that include smartphones and intelligent automated teller machines. Financial institutions no longer primarily serve to dispense cash to consumers or deposit bi-weekly checks. They have since transitioned to providing financial advice for a range of services, and as such, banks have begun making less space available for tellers and more offices for higher-up positions such as commercial loan officers.
The Journal notes that tellers used to move up the ranks. Richard Davis, for instance, who began working as a teller at Security Pacific Bank in 1976 when he was 18, eventually climbed the corporate ladder into the position he currently possesses: the head of U.S. Bancorp. Davis commented on his personal situation and the reality in which he grew up.
“Some of the best bankers found their way into the position by starting out as a teller,” he said.
This reality, unfortunately for tellers aspiring for something more, is no longer present. Financial pressures on banks have caused them to cut back the number of tellers they hire as well as lower the hours and wages they award those employees. Since 2002, the Journal reports, the average wages for bank tellers have dropped 3.8 percent (adjusted for inflation). That is compared to the wages of commercial loan officers that, also since 2002 and adjusted for inflation, have seen their wages increase by an average of 9.8 percent.
The number of positions for tellers fell 3.2 percent between 2007 and 2013; one national bank, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., says it expects to cut branch employees — excluding managers — by approximately 20 percent. Another institution, Popular Community Bank, has noted that it relies on part-time employees, some who work only a reported 24 hours a week, to respond to customer demand that comes in waves throughout each day.
What all this means is not that there is no avenue for tellers to rise to management. It means that there are fewer avenues and that the positions tellers assume will require more skills than those of the past. Davis indicated that he believed the number of tellers would continue to drop and that existing positions would demand more from employees.
Yet, even that sentiment requires some optimism. At some banks, tellers’ duties are being absorbed into positions titled “universal bankers” — people who have in-depth knowledge of loans and credit cards they can share with customers.
Some banks, such as Citizen’s Financial Group Inc., are fighting back by training their tellers so they can take state tests which would allow them to offer more services to bank customers. Such moves may stem the immediate drop in wages for some, but the overall trend appears to limit tellers and favor managers. Even with the Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting tellers’ median wages in 2013 at $12.21 an hour, which is nearly $5 more than the federal minimum wage of $7.25, the trends are clear. Banks are making up for financial shortfalls by consolidating responsibilities and promoting only the most skilled applicants to the few positions they have to offer. Tellers are on the downward slide into obsolescence.
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