Float Staff - Not Just Tellers Anymore

May 16, 2017

Float Who?

Financial institutions (FIs) have long used float (or flex) staff to fill in scheduling issues. Float staff have generally been used to handle absences on the teller line, and strategies to implement float vary widely (see Branch Float Staff Handled Many Ways). An increasing number of FIs are applying similar strategy to higher skilled and more expensive positions as part of the trend to serve customers on their terms while making branches more cost effective.

Certain functions have always been serviced in branches by off-site staff scheduling appointments to meet customers. An obvious example are Wealth Management advisors. While smaller FIs covering a compact geographic area may handle Wealth Management centrally, many FIs assign advisors to a cluster of branches. Larger FIs typically base an advisor in a hub branch inside of an area, while community FIs may dispatch to branches from a central department.

Mortgage loan officers are another function serviced in branches using a hub-satellite strategy. Customer referrals to a loan officer may come from a call center, a branch employee, an online inquiry or a call to a central mortgage department. Once an application is underway, it is now common for primary communications to shift to online mortgage application software. These systems are still maturing and work with varying levels of success or frustration.

Commercial loan officers are often shared among branches, though this function is frequently staffed from central departments. By definition CML officers are servicing business rather than retail customers. That means it is more acceptable to operate from central or hub branches, with clients coming to them and officers going onsite to businesses.

More recently, some FIs have begun applying a shared resource strategy to branch managers. Groups of two to four branches within a reasonably short distance of each other have one area/cluster/market manager. The manager may have scheduled times to be at each location, combined with appointments and unscheduled trips to deal with issues. The position of operations supervisor, traditionally targeted to teller operations, may be elevated to supervise the overall branch when the manager is not on site. A branch supervisor can handle customer service issues and possibly take or start a loan application, while not having any loan authority.

The Challenges

The positions discussed above are not generally considered float staff, but conceptually it is similar and many of the challenges are the same.

  • Resources have to be allocated and scheduled.
  • Personnel assigning, requesting and managing shared branch resources must be aware of pending requests and schedules.
  • There is a need to track and evaluate the quality and efficiency of the process. Regardless of whether the need is tellers, customer service, mortgage loans, commercial loans, wealth advisors, branch managers or something else; without measurement and history it is hard to tell how well things are working.

Shared branch resources may be managed in different ways depending on what capabilities and organization each FI has. Many of these functions are traditionally set up in silos, meaning they have independent management and organizational support. Even when independent, the functions come together at some level above and below the operation. Above, executive management needs the overall institution to succeed, and have the ability to determine what is working and what is not. Below, customers need convenient, consistent, high quality products and service delivery. In between, operational management and staff need to discern and fulfill requirements as efficiently as possible.

There are several ways that software can help.

  • Access and requests. Access to and requests for shared branch resources can come from many sources: call center, branch employees, direct contact, online applications, etc. Outstanding demands from all sources need to be consolidated.
  • Scheduling and appointments. Ultimately the resource, or the person managing the resource, needs to be able see requests overlaid with current commitments.
  • Management. As anyone who has had to schedule and manage shared resources can attest, this stuff gets messy quickly. Having tools to facilitate scheduling and monitor deficiencies is very helpful.
  • Reporting and analytics. It is difficult to improve what you cannot see. Especially when shared resources span independently managed functions, software can play an important role to track, report and provide a complete picture.
  • Integration. Regardless of whether there is one comprehensive solution or different solutions for different functions, processes will have to integrate with other systems such as calendars, email, collaboration software, CRM, etc.

Next Steps

There is a lot of discussion in the industry about how and when branch networks are going to evolve. It is generally agreed that branches are not the primary transaction generators they once were, and that trend will continue its downward slope. Branches still play a critical role. They continue to be an important, if not the primary, place where customer relationships are started and expanded. Recent surveys have confirmed that availability of a convenient branch is still a strong consideration to selecting an FI, even among millennials and those who utilize digital channels. So branch networks are going to be around for the foreseeable future.

The question then, is how to maximize branch productivity and continue to provide excellent customer service. Sharing (floating) high skill personnel across branches is a way to leverage the branch network. Done well, resource sharing makes the institution look bigger and better staffed to the customer than it otherwise would, and really does improve quality of service. Done poorly, it amplifies to the customer that staff and services are not what they used to be.

Certainly there is no one right prescription for resource sharing. There are solutions that make sense given each institution's culture and operational environment. Finding these solutions takes thinking outside of traditional roles along with tools to ease the logistical complexity.