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How the Bank and Retail Employee Profile Has Been Transformed by a Tech-Enabled World

That was then

The year is 1994. You purchased some concert tickets for your neighbor, Joe, and they came in the mail yesterday. When you took them over to his house last night, he wrote you a check to cover the cost. It’s now halfway through your workday and you remember you were supposed to deposit it, but you’re too busy to leave work – it will have to wait until the drive home. After punching out at the end of your workday, you wend your way through terrible traffic and arrive at the bank, only to discover it’s already closed. You realize your only option now is to try again on Monday and hope the checks you wrote for this month’s bills don’t bounce in the meantime.

This situation would play out very differently in 2019.

“Hey Joe, I got those concert tickets for you. They were $85 after taxes and fees - I’ll text you a screenshot of the ticket QR codes.”

“Thanks, man. I’ll Venmo you the money now.”

This is now

The ease and convenience afforded by modern technology has changed the way society functions, shaping new social norms and fundamentally altering how we interact with each other and our environments. This rate of change isn’t just constant – it's continuously accelerating. The 20-teens haven’t just sped up our banking processes, but also brought us virtual assistants, self-driving cars, and ever-more-sophisticated wearable technology.

It’s no surprise that our work lives haven’t been exempt from the technological revolution. Video chat and web-based collaborative work platforms have (in many cases) eliminated the need for office workers to be co-located, a change that can fundamentally change an organization’s culture and force dramatic shifts in how human capital is managed. In the service industry, organizations are increasingly likely to offer smartphone apps that allow customers to place orders or book appointments prior to arrival, changes that have implications for the flow of work and the degree of technology-savviness required of employees.

Creating competitive advantage with a new customer-service model

The retail industry has been one of the hardest hit by the advent of online shopping. The customer can view and purchase virtually nearly any commercially sold item from the palm of their hand, eliminating the need to make the trek into a physical store with limited inventory. This has forced fundamental changes to the experience physical stores must offer. To keep its doors open, a physical store must differentiate itself from online retailers through extensive and immediately available inventory, boutique-level service, steep discounts, or other elements that are difficult or impossible for online retailers to replicate.

One thread common to the changes in many industries is that the most valuable modern employee is one who can leverage knowledge of both technology and industry to produce outstanding work, be it a product or service. Management great Peter Drucker foresaw this impending change to our workforce long before the ubiquity of smartphones cemented the dissolution of any work-life balance the average white-collar Americans may have had. As far back as 1959, Drucker described the shift on the horizon from manual work to knowledge work. The manual work of the twentieth century was—and has continued to be—increasingly automated for the sake of safety, budget, and productivity. Just as Drucker proposed would happen, the era of manual work is today being eclipsed by an era of knowledge work. The distinctly human capability of creatively solving non-routine problems has become a more valuable economic resource than a company’s land, labor, or even financial assets.

When considering the retail banking industry, it is no wonder that the demands of the job are changing. For an increasingly large percentage of banking customers, basic transactions are largely handled online. People who seek out physical retail banking locations are likely to need assistance with complex requests or are in search of answers to difficult financial questions. Technology has all but eliminated common transactional requests; as that has happened, retail banking has reached the era of the knowledge worker. Retail banking employees must be experts in navigating and explaining branch and institutional technology, and comfortable with their own industry expertise and ability to identify and attend to non-standard customer needs. Today it is less important that a Teller be able to quickly count large stacks of cash than it is to be able to explain an annuity in accessible terms that might convince a customer to talk with a Personal Banker.

Keeping up with the future of work requires more than just equipping physical work sites with the latest and greatest technology—it also requires thoughtful evolution of human capital management. By keeping pulse on industry technology trends, supporting the development of employee creativity and expertise, and carefully updating internal selection and training resources, organizations can help ensure their knowledge workers are performing optimally and making the valuable contribution of which they are capable.

As organizations look to the future, there are important questions to answer about knowledge workers within their industry and company. What are the fundamental changes that occur to job responsibilities when the shift from manual work to knowledge work occurs? Are these changes reflected accurately in job descriptions, training materials, and performance management frameworks? Are we preparing workers for the work they will be performing?

These trends are certainly not exclusive to the banking or commercial worlds—they are emerging in all industries. Consider how to stay ahead of the curve in your field or risk being left behind in a world demanding an increasingly tech-enabled workforce.

To learn more about how automation has changed the banking and retail workforce, our HCI webcast What Retail Can Learn from How Banks Have Changed the Way They Hire is available on demand.