The Complete Guide to Universal Associates (Part 3) – How to Find and Hire the Right Employees for your Universal Staffing Model

The Complete Guide to Universal Associates (Part 3) – How to Find and Hire the Right Employees for your Universal Staffing Model

Need to catch up on the Complete Guide to Universal Associates? Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our series!

In the second part of our Complete Guide to Universal Associates, we highlighted the key design and technology elements that should be included in any branch planning to go Universal and maximize the benefits, including an increased cross-sell ratio, seamless handling of cash transactions and impressive improvements in client experience.

The next step is talking about the people in your branch that will be delivering this new approach to servicing clients – the Universal Associates themselves!

Let’s start from the top. What is a Universal Associate?

In its simplest form, a Universal Associate (sometimes called a Universal Teller or Banker) is someone who can deliver “one and done service” by handling any client request from start to finish.   By combining the traditional teller with the service representative/personal banker roles, these cross-trained employees can fulfill every or nearly every job and transaction need in the branch­–eliminating specialized roles and client hand-offs.

How do Universal Associates improve the client experience?

Research shows that 50% of consumers still rely on branch staff for handling complex or sensitive transactions.  So, even as transactions decline, the people coming into the branch are most in need of service and advice–a great opportunity for advisory relationships.

Yet, only 23% of people say they get advice when coming into a branch.  A huge gap!  Even more troubling is that on average 54% of people say they would act on advice given.  That number goes even higher for Millennials at close to 80%!

The challenge is Tellers aren’t typically equipped to give the more complex advice needed. Because Universal Associates are more highly trained with products and sales skills, they are able to provide detailed needs assessments during account servicing, therefore providing the advice that people seek. Ultimately this leads to a better experience and double client satisfaction!

Additionally, providing great service is an unwavering priority in banking – but it’s difficult to eliminate client and staff frustration with a model that requires a consistent hand off from one specialized-but-limited employee to the next, even for simple transactions. The request takes longer to complete, leading to inefficient processes, mismanaged branch resources, and an overwhelming, lengthy in-branch experience for the client.

Though delicate situations or complex requests may require additional resources, Universal Associates are able to help clients from anywhere in the branch and with anything they need to fully deliver convenience and service.

What are the typical responsibilities and competencies of a universal employee?

Though the application and title of Universal Associates can vary from branch to branch, the job description will likely include the following responsibilities:

  • • Cross-sell all products
  • • Open different types of client and business accounts
  • • Handle the sale of complex products and services
  • • Provide superior member services
  • • Conduct needs-based selling, thinking in terms of solving a prospect’s problem
  • • Initiate and support branch marketing efforts (ie: branch events)
  • • Support community programs
  • • Easily transition between jobs and responsibilities
  • • Perform any job within the branch, including opening accounts, processing loans, and teller transactions

What skills and experience should I look for on a resume?

  • • Retail experience
  • • Proficiency in using cash recyclers and dispensers
  • • Consultative sales experience

What should stand out in the interview?

The right mix of personality, compassion and openness creates a successful Universal Associate. Some of the qualities you should look for include:

  • • Friendly
  • • Outgoing
  • • Positive
  • • Not afraid to proactively sell and uncover clients’ needs to find the best solution
  • • Committed
  • • Desire to make an impact in people’s lives

How much should I pay a Universal Associate?

Universal Associates average an annual salary of $31,000 or $13.99/hr. – a significant jump from the typical Teller salary of $23,000 or $10.76/hr.

While Universal Associates earn a higher salary than Tellers, the overall cost is actually reduced by 1-2 full time employee(s) per location (salary and benefits) and less staff turnover.

What makes Universal Associates stay longer than your traditional Tellers? We could say it’s all based on the increase in salary, but the real answer is they’re not bored at work! Universal employees are no longer bound to teller lines or one specific area of business, giving them freedom to advise clients, build deeper relationships and complete more diverse responsibilities from anywhere in the branch.

They’re also staying longer because there’s mutual investment in their success due to their own learning and your investment. The transition to a universal role requires the right combination of personality, skill sets and training to support their success. Whether they choose to keep growing their skills within your branch or eventually decide to spread their wings elsewhere, moving to a universal role means more opportunity to build up their resume.

How can I eliminate challenges and pushback from my current staff?

If you want to adopt a Universal Associate model and start deploying some of the branch designs/technology/tools that you’ve seen– how do you tie it all together, where do you start, and how do you ensure that your staff really embraces the strategic intent?

Surprisingly enough, there have been a lot of organizations that think all you have to do is create a new title, design a new branch, add some technology, and “poof” – you have an effective Universal Associate!

Most often, we find that the training that needs to be done in order to ensure success with Universal Associates is overlooked.


  • • Skills Training, including TCR use, account opening, problem resolution, and cross-selling 101.
  • • Cultural Shift Training to get everyone in branch operations together to make sure everyone truly understands why the Executive Team decided to invest in the branch/technology to deploy the model.  The main goal is to get everyone on board with the idea and stack hands to make it happen.
  • • Branch Experience Training so Operations knows exactly how to leverage the branch to its full potential with this new model to deliver the “WOW ” client experience that the universal approach was designed to deliver.

One program that’s available to you today that can help you do exactly this is something we call Delivery Defined.  This is a workshop that CFM provides designed to ensure your success with new ideas, concepts, and technology like Universal Associates. 

Through a proven process of interviews, and analysis we customize each one of these programs to identify, and package the hiring process/training/talk tracks/playbooks that are needed for your staff to deliver the desired Retail Branch Experience to your clients.

This includes an onsite presence for training your staff, role playing, and a branded Playbook that maps out every transition or situation that can happen in the branch.

What strategies can I implement to get the Universal Associate model in my branch?

  • • Begin the program when entering a new market to make the biggest impact. You’ll be able to test, adjust, and provide great customer service with the layout and technology you’ve chosen (not replaced)
  • • Start the program as new employees are hired to start with a fresh slate and pilot the program without any context of the past
  • • Look for volunteer branches – which of your branches is the most progressive, highest opportunity, looking to grow? Choose them to begin the program and get them involved in the process
  • • Plot the model yourself and choose the most appropriate branches to pilot the strategy – new branches, newly remodeled or extremely progressive are the most recommended
  • • Allow your team to reapply for new positions by giving everyone pink slips – it’s an alternative strategy, but gives employees a voice and allows you to gauge feedback

Get ready – the future branch retail environment is built for Universal Associates. By focusing on the people delivering this universal model, you not only reduce operating costs from decreased FTEs and turnover, but also increase Universal Associate and client satisfaction. The end result: happier employees, elevated client experiences with “wow” service and more advisory interactions.

Want to learn the right way to bring Universal Associates into your branch network? Just fill out the short form below and a CFM advisor will be happy to bring you up to speed and make customized recommendations for your unique situation.

Editor’s Note: This is Part 3 of our Complete Guide to Universal Associates  – a multi-part series devoted entirely to helping financial institutions understand how to bring the Universal Associate strategy to life.