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Automation of the Bank Teller | OmPrompt

The Death of the Bank Teller: a Lesson about Automation

Posted by John Wakeman, CEO on 17 June 2015

Automation: a trip down memory lane…

Have you ever stood in a bank queue on a Friday with a form in your hand waiting for the bank cashier to exchange your cheque for cash, so you can draw spending money for the weekend? It may seem unthinkable to younger generations but - back in the day - retail banking was actually a very manual process. 

There were rows of people behind security screens who received and issued cash. They couldn’t take a lunch break. The lines queued out the door. Every withdrawal and every payment into an account had to be processed – by hand – from reconciling a credit card bill, to issuing a cheque, to withdrawing cash.

Times change.

Today you don’t think about it – you go to the ATM.

But, when the first automated teller machine (ATM), or ‘cash point’ was installed in England in 1972 there was panic. Headlines foretold the end of the bank teller, the closing of banks, the automation of human activity in banking, the loss of thousands of jobs...

The panic was unnecessary, however. And the banks were really clear: this wasn’t about cost-saving or job-elimination. It was about redeployment.

Ironically, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

People are still concerned about automation taking away people's jobs. But, having done a lot of work with major multinationals on a lot of customer automation management projects, I’m often reminded of the transition that has happened in retail banks – particularly when customers or potential customers and I discuss where resources will be redeployed after their automation project is complete. And I'm reminded that panic isn't necessary.

What really happened to the bank teller?

In truth, the bank teller didn't disappear: he or she evolved. And s/he had to evolve, because suddenly banks came under huge competitive pressure and had to transform their business model from being transactional to being focused on great customer service! Customers wanted to be treated as human beings. So, now, retail banking takes a two-part approach: prompt service by automation and excellent service by humans. Staff in the front office now cross-sell and up-sell things like mortgages, ISAs, investments and insurance.

We learn a lot from ATMs about change, technology and automation.

Banking had to change - and it keeps on changing. In fact, the lesson we learned from the ATMs is that mass diversification of business is a necessary response to a changing world. Retail banking is a great example of an industry that continues to embrace automation, an industry that has streamlined back-office processes almost to perfection. We now use machines to pay in cash and cheques – a previously human-focused activity – and online banking for all of our other transactional needs. The lesson we can take away from the evolution of retail banking is that any process can be simplified. 

Think of the order-to-cash process, for example. Goods are produced by manufacturers in great quantity, ordered in great quantity, shipped in great quantity (you get the idea)… and yet humans are involved at every stage of the process. This increasingly diverse process introduces its own set of complexities that are currently being solved by humans. They’re the ‘bank tellers’ of the order-to-cash process.

Automation is the wave of the present – and the future.

Banks changed to ATMs to embrace the future (or create it, perhaps?) - not in order to replace human beings - but to allow them to focus on what they do best: dealing with other human beings in cases where processes are not simple.

In our industry, it’s not sustainable for supply chains to continue to throw people at the problem of diversity in the supply chain, instead of resolving problems using technology. Computers make less errors than human beings do. They are able to process simple tasks extremely fast. And if human-aided complexity is built in to the process – through the use of business rules, for example, they excel at identifying errors or miscalculations in processes.

The world has changed: and continues to change

Hardly anyone uses bank tellers these days, but they still add value to the banking process in other ways. And in the future, supply chains will realise that they can release their employees’ potential by automating tasks that can be better handled by machines, so humans can do tasks that require the human touch.

OmPrompt knows a bit about this. Talk to us about Customer Automation in the supply chain. We’ve been doing it for a while, and we can help. We'd love to show you how to release your own employees' potential through automation.

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