The retail bank environment is evolving and requires employees who learn quickly, adapt well and think on their feet. Onboarding is critical to the evolution of the retail bank for at least two reasons. Firstly, employee performance directly impacts branch metrics. Secondly, branch practices, roles and accountabilities are a moving target. New technologies substitute in-person interactions, affecting traffic patterns and altering the transactions historically done in a branch. Customers interact with the bank through numerous channels and increasingly expect seamless experiences. Retail banks run with notoriously tight staffing models, giving rise (at least in part) to the concept of the universal banker

When the work is challenging, the environment is evolving, and it’s difficult to predict customer traffic and transaction volumes, effective, flexible onboarding is essential. Solving the onboarding puzzle relies on a clear understanding of the work itself, a flexible learning strategy that can be updated as conditions change and modularized training. Without a flexible learning strategy and training, the possibility of unmet business goals, poor customer service, job shock and employee turnover increases dramatically.

Onboarding Challenges

There are numerous challenges to address when it comes to onboarding retail bank employees:

Siloes and Misalignment

Different functions can have different goals for branch performance. Sales and risk are but two functions with a hand in defining what happens inside a branch’s four walls. Each has metrics in place to monitor branch, team or individual performance. When the leaders have harmonized expectations, they can successfully integrate their ideas for customer experience, transactional quality, fraud and risk identification, and revenue, among other outcomes. Often, however, there is misalignment about expectations and accountabilities.

Running Lean

One of the hallmarks of the retail banking environment is that it runs lean, so employees in a traditional setting can end up with multiple, sometimes overlapping, responsibilities and blurry accountabilities. Alternatively, the bank may pursue the universal banker approach where, by design, the individual does the work traditionally assigned to a teller (transactions) and a banker (sales). According to an American Bankers Association (ABA) Banking Journal article, most banks have chosen to use or evolve toward the universal banker model.

Onboarding as a Function of Time Rather Than Performance

In many organizations, “onboarding” is synonymous with a length of time rather than a level of performance. As a result, new employees end up in a training environment for what stakeholders consider the right amount of time.

The Difficulty Protecting New Employees

When new bank employees start their job, it’s challenging to protect them from all the scenarios that could emerge in the branch. In response to this reality, onboarding training is often heavy on awareness or knowledge, covering a little bit about many things, and has a lack of authentic practice. As a result, people leave training ill-prepared for the realities of the work, quickly draining their enthusiasm for the job.

Overcome the Challenges

The keys to overcoming these challenges are rigorous analyses and a structured yet flexible approach to onboarding that focuses on what the new hire must do on the job. The training includes enough realistic practice for employees to develop a level of performance that meets the organization’s needs. While practicing scenarios, employees will apply the knowledge they’ve picked up from training, or they’ll learn how to access resources or information while completing the task or transaction. Instead of a trial by fire where the customer is the teacher, a better learning strategy uses engineered, authentic practice in a safe, low-risk environment.

Clearly and Precisely Define Performance Expectations

Unfortunately, onboarding training can’t cover every eventuality. What it needs, but often lacks, is an agreed-on definition of performance expectations for the new employee. As a target, these performance expectations guide training decisions, because they focus instruction and realistic practice on the work’s high-priority elements.

Collaborate with stakeholders from functions such as retail leadership, risk and sales to define what successful performance should look like at the end of onboarding. Undoubtedly, there will be some negotiations, give and take, and trade-offs. Use existing documentation and data, and work with subject matter experts (SMEs) from each role and representing the various branch sizes or configurations to document a complete picture of the work that happens in the branches.

How the work is divvied up is vital to onboarding decisions. Here’s a summary-level example of the onboarding performance expectations for a traditional teller and banker:

Teller: At the end of onboarding, the teller will be able to perform the following low- and mid-level tasks independently:

    • Conduct effective customer conversations: Greet, build rapport, authenticate, uncover needs (transaction and sales opportunities), recommend and refer.
    • Complete low- and mid-complexity transactions for personal and business accounts, such as locating specific transactions for customers, making deposits and withdrawals, cashing checks, processing payments and transfers, issuing cashier’s checks, and processing cash advances.
    • Complete assigned risk monitoring activities.

Banker: At the end of onboarding, the banker will be able to perform the following tasks independently:

    • Build rapport, determine customer needs or goals, identify and present solution(s), and overcome objections.
    • Open, set up and onboard personal and business customers and accounts​.
    • Refer or seek guidance, and observe complex personal and entity accounts​.
    • Make sales referrals.
    • Complete assigned risk activities.
    • Asks for support (when needed) on more complex business and entity accounts​.

In an organization with the universal banker role, performance expectations would include a combination of teller and banker tasks.

To fully flesh out the performance expectations, develop robust documentation of the performance (including work outputs, essential tasks, behaviors, metrics and gaps) and knowledge, skill and competency requirements. Top performers can provide insights into their mental models and schemas. Collaborate with newer employees to determine what was challenging to learn, work tasks or processes that tripped them up, and parts of the training that didn’t help them.

Revisit Your New Hire Audiences

Another consideration for the bank is the makeup of your new hire population. For many roles, including the teller role, the recruits are college students, recent college graduates, recent high school graduates or experienced part-timers. While most may arrive without any banking experience, many will have some experience to draw on. The learning strategy may need to treat each community uniquely while driving toward the same performance target.

Create a Flexible Learning Strategy

The learning strategy should take a realistic perspective on performance. Some specific ways that the learning strategy can help include:

The retail bank environment is changing dramatically. The customer’s needs and desires are changing, as are service expectations. The move to digital banking is rapidly altering the number and kind of face-to-face interactions. However, the goal of the onboarding experience remains the same: to help new employees reach a performance outcome. Flexible, performance-focused new hire training is essential to a retail bank’s success.