Can you see the signs on the wall?

ONCE UPON A TIME; Part 3…the relevance of history in risk management
Alberta Quarcoopome

“We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.” – Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum Geneva

 The Impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The services industry, especially banking has been the most impacted, and obviously for the better. It has come with both advantages and disadvantages, depending on how you look at it. Although digital banking had been in existence for over a decade, the covid 19 pandemic has facilitated its adoption by most bank customers, causing the abandonment of physical structures to conduct general banking transactions.

The signs on the wall

There seems to be a sign, or rather a banner everywhere announcing the seriousness of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its effect on business models and obviously the job market. Reading, listening to webinars, attending conferences and meetings everywhere, the language is the same. …Be Prepared for the DIGITAL DISRUPTION. In 2019, it was the subtle global war about the 5G technology. There was a scramble by the super powers for less powerful countries to dominate in technology. Now China is now leading with 6G technology while most countries are struggling with 4G!

On the banking scene, here are some of the signs that are on the wall, if you have not seen them:

  • Impending closure of many bank branches
  • Generation of digital branches manned by a skeleton staff
  • Increasing need for new business models demanding a lean staff structure
  • Changing demands of recruiters, with obvious need for specialists with data science backgrounds to understand the language of artificial intelligence.

This means that staff need to understand these signals and prepare themselves for re-alignment of their roles, change of mindsets, accepting the new structures involved in working from home and prepare even for the possibility of working from home for a longer period, on possible contract basis, and prepare even for the possibility of being laid off. To remain relevant on the job, the following preparation is key: 

Staying Relevant in The Branch Space

Yesterday’s banking space was on being service-focused, procedural, re-active and hierarchy-driven. However, today’s market space focuses on being digitally-savvy, open and communicative, customer-oriented, results-driven, advice-focused, teamplay, energetic and self-motivated.

Dear Managers, are you and your Team sharpening your skills to focus on these modern requirements, although some may only be partially true? There’s been a lot of discussion in the industry about the future of the branch. There’s no arguing that branches are expensive, and many players have even argued that they’re no longer relevant in a “digital world.” However, branches represent an opportunity for banks to differentiate and build loyalty with their customers. This can be through great, advice-driven experiences with frontline staff. There are several benefits of moving frontline staff from transactional to advisory positions.  Bank branches now have less transactions and rather need more expertise. What customers now need is guidance and advisory services.

Inexperienced Front liners

The problem here is, most frontline staff are young with little financial experience. They may not have experience in advice on buying a home, investment mix, or running a business. Since they may not even have much personal experience of their own, many find themselves just product-pushing. Instead of listening, identifying needs, explaining options, and making recommendations, inexperienced frontline staff typically may not be able to satisfy customers, thus leaving them to guess or resort to online advice. It is therefore imperative that bank managements must not only build a customer-first culture that avoids aggressive sales tactics, but to train their staff on the product, industry, and customer service knowledge they need, to become trusted advisors for customers.

Demystifying the “fine print”

Customers are asking for trusted advisors who would not hide any hidden fees that they suspect banks use to hide their profit. There is a general perception among some customers that in the efforts of bank staff to be task-driven and profit conscious, some front liners do not  reveal the full terms and conditions in the transactional forms and are quick to push them to the customers for their signatures! One customer cracked a joke about it, saying: “…. after all, that is why it is in small and fine print.”

Lifelong Education always ensures Relevancy

At a period of continuous massive change in the financial services sector, coupled with closure of  financial institutions, one should not be impervious to learning what went wrong and learning how  to stay relevant to ensure survival in the marketplace as well as for ongoing survival for businesses. These days one should not stop learning when one graduates from school. Today’s successful leaders need to learn everything that is relevant to their businesses. The advent of sandwich programs, evening and week-end courses has helped many bank staff  re-enter the formal learning system while others either rely on classes offered by their institutions, or pursue self-development through reading, videos, podcasts, etc. In the new era of digital banking, there is a need to learn new skills in business today including coding, digital analytics and others. Big Data was expected to be worth $102bn by 2019 according to IDC research. Take advantage of opportunities available for skilled analysts in the industry. There is an obvious need for mastery of essential knowledge to apply data handling methods to inform business and financial decisions. While  some organizations  are embracing this need by committing to training their employees, most organizations expect employees to learn on their own.

Building a Personal Brand for the Marketspace

On that note, I will urge all bank staff to note that within today’s marketplace, with its social media and digital-based employment services, creating a personal brand is imperative and very relevant.  Just as many consumers shop for financial services online as opposed to going to a branch, employers are also shopping for new employees digitally as well. You have to stand out from the crowd through your professional LinkedIn profile which usually has a chronological career history. If you have extra or unique abilities like writing  personal articles, shared perspectives, commentson current trends in the financial services sector, and potentially even videos or audios of presentations, this is an advantage. Organizations are increasingly looking beyond just career accomplishments. They want to know what a future employee stands for and how they think. Sharing articles, insights and perspectives is the best way to accomplish this. What is exciting about this process is that every time you share content digitally, it will be consumed by people with interests in alignment with yours. And the more you share, the more people see you in the marketplace. You will be surprised how your market value gets enhanced. In most cases, your organization becomes proud and enjoys being associated with you. Building a personal brand is not only for those looking for a job, it is actually a way to build a legacy of who you are (or who you want to be). It is also a way to connect with others in the industry as well as with clients and prospects. For many, it is the one of the most important ways to remain relevant in the marketplace. Please turn the “disruption” into opportunities. In addition, having an open and forward-thinking mindset will make you a valuable player in the digital transformation.

Upskilling Staff for Digital Branches: The Role of Financial Institutions

Banks are now re-thinking talent. Banking professionals are no longer expected to possess just technical skills but rather are increasingly required to be tech savvy. Banks are redefining job roles and restructuring their organizations to facilitate various digital banking initiatives.

The first priority of an advice-driven branch staff has to be providing understanding, clarity, and confidence to consumers. For example, not just to sell them a new mortgage. That means that training is needed to focus not just on product and industry knowledge, but the empathy to address concerns and build trust with customers. A good training program should have three main parts: product knowledge, industry trends and soft skills.

Product knowledge: A good way to structure a product training is around the customers’ life journey. This makes cross-selling very relevant. It has always been a must for bank staff to appreciate and understand the concerns and needs of people at different stages of their lives. They must be able to articulate the appropriate benefits and features of solutions to meet those needs. It should be a must to include training on the fine print and fee structures of the products and services. Staff must understand the implications so they can communicate them clearly to customers. Sometimes, unknowledgeable staff simply hand over to customers a brochure so they can “read about the details.” Staff should walk customers through details and ensure they understand the fees and limits associated with their product or service. This need is more pressing, now that the number of patrons to a branch is dwindling fast. Going through the scorching sun, and driving through heavy traffic must end up with patrons feeling more relaxed and not rushed through enquiries and transactions.

Banks must also consider resourcing the staff with the appropriate tools to be resourceful to customers. Interactive walkthroughs of the products and services — like the mobile app, mortgage applications, etc — are invaluable. Not only as an online resource for customers, but as an on-demand resource for staff. Branch staff can walk customers through products, applications, and more easily when they have access to product walkthroughs on a tablet or their computers.

I will pause here for now.



Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers, and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies, training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations and fraud.


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