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More than just a buzzword, the Universal Associate approach to service and better branch experiences delivered by cross-trained employees has caught on like wildfire through branch networks nationwide.
In our webinar last week, “Universal Associates: The Right Formula of Technology, Design and Strategy to Make These Unicorns Thrive,” it became clearer than ever that that this staffing model isn’t just a passing trend.
If you attended our session, you know that we talked Universal-enabling technology, open and efficient branch designs and the winning strategies we’ve seen take the market by storm – and naturally, that sparked some great questions. Read on for the top questions financial institutions have about Universal Associates and get answers to the questions we ran out of time to answer on our webinar!
Are those implementing the Universal staffing model eliminating positions like Head Teller and Assistant Branch Manager and replacing them with Universal Associate and Branch Manager instead?
Even though the priorities of Universal Associates may differ from branch to branch, like cash ordering or vault responsibility, the branch typically replaces titles like Head Teller and Assistant Branch Manager with Universal Associate and Branch Manager to maintain a semi-flat hierarchy.
Do you often see that financial institutions with the Universal model have their Universal Associates process loans?
Yes, but we typically find that Universal Associates handle loans that do not require any certifications (ie: automotive, credit cards, personal loans). In most cases, if underwriting is needed, the branch team will have a hotline or available specialist to provide assistance.
Is centralized or decentralized lending better for implementing Universal Associates?
We typically find that Universal Associates models utilize centralized lending.
Is there a way to implement Universal Associates with centralized lending in a way where the branch staff connects the member with a Loan Originator who takes their application?
Absolutely. We’ve found a way to connect clients with experts in most financial areas – and it’s even possible when these specialists are located in a completely different branch!
Doubtful? Let’s walk through the potential outcomes of this situation in a branch that’s not enabled with Universal Associates or a back up solution for when there’s no one to help out with a specific need at the branch today.
A client walks into the traditional branch and, maybe after waiting in line, a teller uncovers that they need assistance from a Loan Originator – we’ll call him Norm. Norm has a wealth of experience in the mortgage world and has helped countless families secure mortgage financing – but he covers many branches in fairly spread-out region of the branch network.
Potential Outcome #1: Norm isn’t at the branch today… and he won’t be back until next week. The client is left feeling frustrated by the lack of options presented by the financial institution they’re actively seeking help from, while the teller is stuck in a helpless situation – unable to provide helpful solutions while also being the “bearer of bad news”.
Potential Outcome #2: Norm isn’t at the branch today – but after a quick call to confirm scheduling, the teller shares that Norm is at a branch close by – and he’s happy to drive back to this location to help the client! Better solution for the client (if he or she has time to spare) – but definitely an extra cost to the financial institution who is covering expenses like salary or travel and fuel costs.
Potential Outcome #3: Norm’s at the branch – but unfortunately, his schedule is completely packed from now until the branch closes at 5:00 pm.
None of the scenarios are ideal, but good news – all of these outcomes are completely avoidable. CFM supports a solution called Expert Nearby that utilizes video conferencing technology to simulate the efficiency and relationship-building of face-to-face interaction in a convenient, secure experience.
When clients come into the branch needing specialized services, a staff member will simply guide them into the “Expert Nearby” room, get them connected to the best banking adviser to meet their needs, and let them get down to business.
How should we schedule and rotate Universal Associates?
It’s hard to recommend a “one-size-fits-all” approach for scheduling given the amount of factors that vary per branch. In most cases, you will need to evaluate two areas to determine what works best for your branch: cross-over capacity of current staff (ie: tellers, platform staff and managers) and the “actual” transaction volume per teller versus “capacity” transaction volume per teller.
How can you avoid deposit attrition when you implement Universal Associates?
Deposit attrition with Universal Associates hasn’t been a problem, as tellers typically don’t create or motivate additional deposit growth in most cases. To help increase deposits, Universal Associates should help strengthen the client to associate relationship and can even help clients onboard to direct deposit through more “hip-to-hip” interactions to ease the process.
Do we need to do goal setting and incentives a different way?
Not necessarily! In most cases, the goals and incentives are still aligned and typically do not need to be changed. However, if implementing Universal Associates is part of a complete transformation and shift in strategy for your branch, the goal plan may require a complete restructure; if you need help creating incentives to meet your initiatives, reach out to our team.
What should I look for when I’m hiring for Universal Associates?
Because the Universal Associate role is hyper-focused on the client experience, finding the right mix of personality and experience is crucial to effectively implement this staffing model.
If you’re looking at a resume, it’s great to see any retail and consultative sales experience in addition to experience using cash recyclers and dispensers. Once you begin the interview process, look for positive, compassionate, outgoing candidates who aren’t afraid to proactively sell and uncover client needs to recommend the best solution. For more detail on hiring Universal Associates, check out the third part of our Universal Associate series that covers how to find and hire the right employees for this role.
How can you establish a career path with the UA model?
In most financial institutions, there are two different paths available for Universal Associates to grow their careers: branch management or marketing.
Universal Associates can work toward the traditional management roles like Assistant Manager, Branch Manager, Regional Branch Manager and Assistant Vice President by mastering their skills, consistently meeting or exceeding their goals or initiatives and becoming an on-boarding resource for new employees.
Another available avenue for Universal Associates is a marketing role. While the transition from banking to marketing may not seem like a smooth one, the foundation of building great relationships with clients can transition into developing deeper connections to the community to drive awareness and new business to their financial institution.
What is the average training time to transition tellers to Universal Associates?
The typical length of Universal Training program usually ranges from 8 – 12 weeks.
What should a Universal Associates training program cover?
In our blog about training and developing Universal Associates, we broke the Universal Associate training program into three key areas:
1. Focus Shift Training
To set the correct expectations for this new delivery of the client experience, this portion of training should be designed to help your staff understand the Universal model, the strategy behind its implementation in the branch, and what it means for them and their careers personally.
2. Skills Training
Train your staff on the skills they need to master for their daily responsibilities – like new accounts, teller training, small business lending – as well as skills that aren’t as clearly defined, like relationship building, conflict resolution, and needs-based selling.
3. In-Branch Practice
Tie it all together by playing out scenarios in the branch environment. This allows your staff to understand the technology, become comfortable with any changes in the branch environment design, and understand how best to navigate the conversations from the view of a Universal Associate instead of a teller.
Even with a perfect branch design, the newest tech and a phenomenal staff, you’ll only see the returns from Universal Associates if you deliver training that shows how to deliver to your strategy, elevate the branch experience, and completely knock the ball out of the park. Developing a training is a full-time job on its own; that’s why CFM offers a program called Delivery Defined to support you and your staff in successfully implementing this new staffing model.
Delivery Defined allows your staff to get involved in the training process, compiles extensive research on your market and desired branch state, and packages up everything you need to flawlessly execute a universal staffing model – all customized to your branch. This includes:
- • Hiring process, including roles and profiles
- • Training
- • Talk tracks
- • Sales playbooks
- • Onsite presence to train your staff
- • Role playing and other exercises
- • Branded playbook to map out every transition or situation that could happen (trust us – we’ve seen it all!)
If you’re interested in learning more about bringing the Delivery Defined program to your branches to simplify the introduction of Universal Associates, click here to get in touch with a member of the CFM team.
How would CFM’s Delivery Defined training work if we already have implemented the use of cash recyclers and an open concept in the branch?
Sounds like you’re off to a great start! In some instances, we work with teams like yours that already implemented the technology and design they need to build their UA foundation.
For these scenarios, our team conducts Executive Interviews to determine the desired branch experience and both short and long term initiatives within the branch. With this knowledge, we move quickly to create that branded playbook to guide staff through technology, transitions and potential situations before going on-site to your branch to assist with role-play and implementation in the branch environment.
How can technology help me transition my staff from transactional interactions to a more advisory and relationship-based approach to service?
The right technology in your branch will completely transform the way Universal Associates serve clients. The exact formula of solutions depends on your structure and what you’re looking to achieve – but whether you’ve implemented TCR’s, RTA, digital signage, or instant issuance, the common theme between them all is that they help streamline tedious processes and give back time to your staff.
Now that cash is automatically dispensed and the need for screen scraping and client hand-offs are eliminated, what is your staff going to do with all those extra minutes? Focus on the client! With more time to engage clients and discover their needs, the interactions become more meaningful and gain even more depth when associates are able to advise.
Teller lines are very long in our branches. What’s the first step to making these lines shorter without making clients feel like we’re pushing them out the door or pulling certain clients out of line?
A great first step to cutting down teller lines and wait times is implementing self-service technology. Your clients are already used to similar solutions when they check in for flights and pay their utility bills – why shouldn’t they expect the same experiences at your branch? The shift to self-service takes low-value transactions off your tellers or Universal Associates so they’re able to focus on advising clients through their financial journey rather than executing tasks.
Your branch can also implement digital signage like interactive kiosks and tablets to help educate your clients on mobile or home banking; while they navigate through the steps, your staff can jump in to answer questions and walk them through the process.
How can you help your executive board understand what Branch Transformation really is?
Trying to define Branch Transformation in an elevator pitch or email doesn’t always capture everything you’re trying to solve for. Migrating transactions to more efficient channels? Open branch designs? Better ways for your clients to discover how your solutions can help them on life’s journey? Maybe all of these things?
Reach out to our team here – we can help set up a Jump Start session to give your executive team a full recap of what’s needed to transform your branch and differentiate your brand.