Banking Security: Where Are All the Tellers?


Banking Security - © gow27 - Fotolia.comIn case you’d rather listen than read:

Banking Security

I walked into a bank in Nice, France.  I needed to do some transactions for my elderly French aunt Elisabeth who could no longer leave her apartment.  She wanted me to talk to Mr. Duchamp, her friendly banker of many years.  But all I saw were machines.  There was not one teller, one personal banker, one receptionist in sight.  The year was 2009.

x – x – x – x – x


Last Saturday I walked into my bank in South Florida to make an international wire transfer, something I do several times a month.  I don’t do the transfers online because I get the manager’s review, plus confirmation of the transaction, by using a personal banker.  And that “insurance” of no future headaches only costs me $5 more than doing it myself, $45 instead of $40.

I noticed that every chair in the waiting area was full.  And people were lined up almost out the door to have a teller make a deposit or withdrawal for them.  When I went to write my name on the waiting list for a personal banker, I saw 11 names before mine.

When I walked down past all the cubicles, I saw only one personal banker.

Where Are All the Bankers?

All the rest of the personal bankers were behind the windows, acting as tellers, including those who had become my friends over the years of completing my transfers.

I waited to see how long the first transaction took with the one personal banker.  Twenty minutes.  I multiplied that by 10 (for the ten names still ahead of mine) and realized I’d be there until after the bank closed.  I wrote “I LEFT” next to my name.

On Monday, I went to the bank earlier.  The scene was not quite as bad, but still bad.  Then I saw the manager.  When I asked what the heck was going on, he said he had as many people as he was allowed.  Going forward, any employee who left for whatever reason was not replaced.  It seems that a new piece of software was determining how much staff he could have.

I mentioned that since the software measured the number of people served, it didn’t count the frustrated people I saw leave the bank, saying they’d open their account elsewhere.

I said, “Ed, I have a business to run, I can’t wait hours for every wire transfer.  Should I go to another branch?  Or another bank?”

He told me I’d find the same thing elsewhere.  All banks are forcing people to use ATMs and to make online transactions.  They are phasing out having people in the branches.

We’re headed towards the European model.

Banking Security versus Automation

This push towards automation is happening at the same time as banks are facing more and more security breaches at retail locations and online.  Anyone you talk to has a story about “compromised bank cards.”  And hackers are proving they will always be one step ahead of any banking security protection the banks and retailers install.

So what can you do?

It’s time to take a few moments to think about how this change will affect how you handle your finances.

I only have two pieces of advice, things that help me sleep at night.  I’ve mentioned them before, but I’ll mention them again.

  1. I have one of those services that protect our good name from identity theft and credit fraud through their comprehensive suites of identity theft protection tools, such as Identity Guard, LifeLock, TrustedID, etc.
  2. The accounts from which I use the card for ATM withdrawals, grocery store payments and online transactions are in one single bank.  My savings accounts and other accounts where money might accrue are in totally separate banks.  (Not “separate branches,” but “separate banks.”)  And I do not make transfers from those banks into the bank with the active cards.  It’s not a perfect firewall, but it’s the best I can think of at this time, because it limits my exposure.

What about you?  What have you done to create your own peace of mind?  Have you thought about how the push towards 100% automation might change your banking habits?

Let us know in the Comments section below.  (And remember, we’re online.  So don’t share anything that might put your banking security at risk!)


Bio: Sharon O’Day fixes financial lives. She is a tell-it-like-it-is money expert with a successful career in global finance, plus an MBA from the Wharton School. Today she specializes in getting entrepreneurial women over 50 back on their game so they can have more money, less stress and more joy. With her “Over Fifty and Financially Free” strategies, they take actions that lead to their ultimate goal: financial  peace of mind.

  • Great post, Sharon! This is very important for all banking clients. Thanks for sharing your knowledge on the matter.

    • Because I travel a lot, Lorii, I often see things elsewhere that later show up here. It just makes it easier to identify where trends might be taking us. I know you have that same multicultural viewpoint …

  • Meryl Beck

    Having things automated can be convenient at times but I think we have lost sight of “human” contact. The feeling we all need of being taken care of and having someone actually take the time to listen to our needs. We live such busy lives but our basic human needs have not changed. We need to be listened to and shown care, automation does not do this. I find it sad that we have lost sight of what being of service to others is all about.
    Protecting ourselves seems to be getting harder and harder to do as well. While I to have things in place that are to protect my finances, identity and such there are just as many people learning how to hack what is supposed to protect us. Sometimes it is hard to know what one should use to protect themselves.
    Thank you for your tips and advice.

    • We all miss that human touch, Meryl. In fact, we see it in the massive outreach by people through social media. (And sometimes the need to connect can lead to poor judgment, as we’ve certainly all heard anecdotally.) We can give preference to services that still provide that contact … and hold back the tide for some time … but it’ll get harder and harder. Unless the pendulum swings back some day … 😉

  • Carmen M Perez ELO

    Sharon I think about the loss of jobs and continued automation and think it is so sad. I do my best to use people when the option is available. I will not shop at stores that only use automated services. Just the way I live. I prepare the smile and thank you from a person not a box. I do my best to use good old fashioned cash to pay for stuff. I know very old school but it has never done we wrong.

    • I’m with you, Carmen! I read the other day that the role of broker is actually coming back. People wanted to circumvent them because suddenly they had access to all the needed information … and felt they could save money. But they didn’t count on the “quality” of the information being so unreliable. So they’re starting to look for people who will filter the information … enter the broker! A human being! Yay!

  • Kung Phoo

    Wow I never thought about it, but it’s true. It’s scary to think about! Everything is done online or at a machine and we don’t have that personal connection with people anymore. A lot of us feel a lot more confident in dealing with an actual person than a machine. I like the old fashioned way of doing things.

    • I like the old fashioned way in the great majority of areas, too, Robert! There are certainly conveniences that come with the technological advances we’ve experienced, but we also lost a lot in the process. Hopefully there will be a “sorting out” someday so we take the best and ditch the rest …

  • Alexandra McAllister

    WOW! Banking sure has changed! I remember going to the bank with my grandfather and he had a booklet…he’d make a deposit and the teller would write in his book and then take out his file and record it there! Seems like the stone age when one compares it to how banking is done now! Thanks for sharing these valuable tips. It helps create a peace of mind. Oh, I also do my banking with one bank.

    • When you look back as you did, Alexandra, I can see the scene clearly in my mind’s eye. And it’s incredible that the massive amount of change came as fast as it did. Somehow it feels as if the RATE of change has increased, which is what I think makes it harder for people to assimilate. And some of us just miss the physically reassuring aspects of the earlier way … 😉

  • LOL, Sharon, the European model! I am happy that Switzerland is not part of the EU then, well, we have different problems with our banks … I guarantee you a waiting period of below 10 minutes to be assisted by a personal banker in any Swiss bank but they are very reluctant to accept US customers these days.

    • I know, Barbara. And when FATCA goes into full effect in July of this year, it will be even harder for Americans overseas to bank, even those who are ex-pats living abroad. Hopefully someone will realize that a law intended to control tax fraud is making everyone life difficult!

  • Roslyn Tanner Evans

    Since my husband does our live banking, I was unaware this going on. Our branch still has several officers and tellers and so we have great customer service. He does not like to do any online transactions and I have cut back on some of mine. You provide great tips to protect us and I will be looking into them. Thanks as always for your expertise.

  • Scott Glaze

    I do most of my banking online. The only time I go to the bank is to make a deposit or withdraw cash. It does seem wild that they are reducing staff since that is their top line to increase sales.

    • Scott, you are right, banks lose the face-to-face opportunity to upsell customers to other services. But maybe they’ve determined that online advertising or television ads have filled that role more efficiently and effectively …

  • Heather Cameron

    Sharon interesting post. The banking system in Canada is very different and ever time I walk into a bank they are empty of people. Not sure if we are doing more online but it is easy to get help. Less people serving customers but less customers.

    • I know this varies from area to area, Heather, and bank to bank. I do know that it is every banker’s dream to lower their labor costs. But I HAVE heard the same from others in Canada. You lucky ducks! 😉

  • Nate Leung

    Hi Sharon-

    It’s been awhile since I’ve physically gone to the bank. Now that I think about it, it seems like every year, less and less I go there. I really have no use to go unless I need to make a deposit where I would rather do in person. This is an interesting post for sure!

    • You’re right, Nate, so many of the services we used to go to banks for have been moved online. However, from the long lines I see at my branch it seems there are still many who haven’t reached that comfort level …

  • YEARS ago I worked in a bank and there was a push to utilize ATMs then – to the point that the customer was charged a per transaction fee for using a teller. I admit that I am more comfortable with online banking than most, but there will always be a need for face to face customer service. Pushing customers totally online is short sided. Relationships still hold power for the customer.

    • Since fraud exists in every sector of online activity, Lynn, I guess banks don’t feel particularly singled out. Truth is, we’ve accepted the risk as part of today’s reality. But you’re right, some things are best done face-to-face, including relationship building!

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  • Veronica Solomon

    The entire first half of my working life was in banking. I started in Jamaica at age 17 and back then, being a banker was a very prestigious job. Not so any more. They get paid almost nothing and are expected to work on weekends now and sell stuff. My friend who is still in banking who I worked with back in the day, complains about being burnt out. She has been in the business for over 20 years and she doesn’t know how to do anything else….at least that’s her excuse for not moving away from a job she hates so much

    • Veronica, on one of the more frustrating days I wrote about, I walked past one of the personal bankers who was acting as teller. There was an unusual transaction she did not know how to do. I saw her on the verge of tears … and she’s a strong woman who got herself and her children out of the Eastern bloc when that was virtually impossible. So the pressure has to be great. But like your friend, banking is “what she knows,” so until she decides otherwise …

  • Gillian ~ Gilly

    It’s kind of sad losing face to face interaction, especially when it comes to banking. Sometimes this is the only way to make you feel at ease dealing with some transactions. I suppose we are digging in the depths of a technical revolution. 🙂

    • As you say, Gilly, the technical revolution has its upsides … and its downsides. While I fully embrace its upsides, I see the distance and alienation it creates between individuals … something 140 characters just can’t bridge.

  • Susan Schiller

    Depending on an electronic economy, overall, seems dangerous… Living in a rural community, I haven’t noticed any changes you describe, but I continue to follow the unusual status of bankers committing suicide this year – 12 so far in the first quarter.

    • You bring up an interesting point, Susan. We see the changes on the outside of the banking industry, but don’t know the price being paid on the inside …