While I was a student, I took at summer job working as a bank teller. Though my main objective was to earn enough money to help pay for my school fees and cover a short holiday around Europe, I also wanted to explore the world of retail banking. Several members of my family were working in the banking industry, so I was very interested in learning more about career opportunities in this field.

I was quickly taught the ropes—counting notes by hand (at the time machine counters were unusual; I still love the feel of counting fresh notes), managing my safe, balancing the debits and credits and closing the books at the end of the day.  The work was manual, there were no computers on hand to support us. We had microfiche we could consult to look up customers’ account balances at the previous night’s closing. If a customer came in looking to withdraw a large amount of funds we would either have to contact the branch that held the account, or if that was ours, check across all the teller desks to see what might have been presented against the account already that day.

Ultimately it was up to the branch Manager or Assistant Manager to take a decision on whether or not to grant the approval for a large withdrawal. These individuals had the experience and intuition to know whether a customer was good for the money and could be trusted to repay loans. Banking was an art and a skill that was learned over time. Bankers were looked up to, and trusted. You were proud to have a banker in the family.

Today there are computer systems that can provide real-time updates on customer balances.  There are algorithms that enable rapid loan risk evaluation and quick decisions. Banking, like many other industries, has become a science where investment in technology can differentiate the leaders.

But where does this leave bank employees? The industry has evolved, but so has the workforce.  Today’s new joiners are not content to learn the ropes and aspire to a lifelong career at the one firm. Fjord* describes career paths today as no longer being “linear journeys”. They state that “employees are treating their careers as a series of ‘tours’.”

Banks today have lost the cachet they once had. They are now competing for the best talent with the likes of Pixar, Tesla and even non-profit organizations such as GlobalGiving and TED. Job experiences need to be redefined—expressed as a set of skills an individual can learn, and opportunities to develop experience. Management styles will also need to adapt as employee loyalty will depend on more than just a simple paycheck. Millennials and Gen Z tend to highly value corporate culture.

My own experience as a student years ago confirmed my interest in the financial services industry, but the industry has changed significantly since then. Years of cost cutting at many leading firms has put considerable pressure on the employee base to deliver efficiencies while seeking revenue growth. While not afraid of taking on a challenge, new recruits want to feel inspired at work. Banks today need to define roles that enable employees to play a key part in driving the success of the firm.

While investments in technology may have simplified certain tasks, it is only with committed employees that banks can deliver exceptional service to their customer base. Investing in employee experience has become key to attracting the best talent. It is time to start thinking about the environment, training and opportunities banks may offer to entice future candidates. It is also important to recognize that in our increasingly digital world, a mix of skill sets may become more valuable than years of experience in one narrow field. Just as I benefited years ago from mentors who encouraged me to build a portfolio of skills to pursue my career goals, we need leaders to encourage employee ‘tours’ to build broader experience, which will ultimately benefit both the financial services industry and our communities. Banks can then focus on developing an organizational culture and environment that empowers its people, enticing top talent.

*For more information on “Why successful organizations will invest employee experience”, see Fjord Trends 2016.

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