Are Bank Tellers Going The Way Of The Dinosaur?

Between ATMs, online banking and smartphone apps, the average person can now go months, possibly years, without ever having to go into a bank and interact with a teller. And a number of financial institutions are continuing to looking for ways to remove tellers from the equation — or at least move the tellers somewhere that they aren’t taking up expensive real estate.

Customers with boring old checking and savings accounts (especially those that don’t total in the six figures) are nowhere near as profitable to banks as mortgage borrowers and those who put hundreds of thousands of dollars at the institutions’ disposal.

And with a growing number of account-holders opting for the aforementioned mentions of account management, fewer people are queuing up to make deposits at their local bank branch. So it’s no surprise that banks are looking to minimize the time, labor and money expended on providing face-to-face interaction with customers.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Chase is currently testing machines that allow customers to perform some tasks not currently available through an ATM. That test could expand to 1,000 branches during the next year-and-a-half.

Bank of America recently tested video teller machines that give customers video screen access to BofA employees located in a centralized call center. The bank says it is reviewing the results of that test before it decides how to proceed.

Meanwhile, Coastal Federal Credit Union based in North Carolina has gone ahead and installed video tellers in all of its branches.

“Branch managers don’t have to worry about manning the teller operations anymore, so they can be totally focused on the members who walk in,” explains a rep for the credit union, adding that the company saw a 40% cost savings by replacing branch tellers with video tellers.

While we are all for technology that makes it easier to interact with the bank, we do worry a bit about banks closing too many branches and/or whittling branches down to only those employees who specialize in big-ticket accounts.

A number of people already choose online-only banking, but that is a choice made by the consumer. If banks eradicate in-person interaction completely, then the choice to go online-only is not the customer’s.


Edit Your Comment

  1. RobHoliday says:

    The only time I’ve needed a teller in the pat 5 years, is when I needed to withdraw $800 for cash Christmas gifts. More than I could get from an ATM.

    • nugatory says:

      Thats usually why I visit a teller too.

      This year I’ve had to start visiting a teller to deposit expense checks from work. Instead of direct deposit, expenses are paid by check. Of course these checks can’t be read by automatic check readers (ATM or mobile device) and the only way to deposit it is by handing it to a teller.

    • waitetr says:

      Ditto. essentially needing more cash than the ATM allows or needed cash like coins or specific denominations. Oh and that time that I had to close my account.

  2. bluline says:

    I understand the desire and need to reduce overhead expenses, and eliminating personnel is a tried-and-true method of doing that. On the other hand, when institutions rely almost totally on automation, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to interact with a human, it drives a wedge between that institution and its customers. All of us are familiar with the frustration of getting trapped in some automated phone system that never gives us the opportunity to speak with a real person. I hope banks aren’t going to go that route.

    • PunditGuy says:

      That wedge is by design. There’s a small subset of customers that cause most of the customer service expense. Someone has made a cost/benefit decision that driving those customers away is better than keeping them around.

    • jesusofcool says:

      I agree. It’s funny, the banks have created the problem they’re complaining about. If you don’t have a relationship with your bank, you’re going to have no loyalty and hop around looking for the best rates or benefits. And if there’s no one to have a relationship with or to cultivate relationships with customers, people just aren’t going to develop them.

  3. Invader Zim says:

    No, because banks will always see the potential to charge u for using them.

  4. redskull says:

    I had a second job last year that didn’t offer direct deposit, so I had to go to the teller line to cash those paychecks. Prior to that I hadn’t actually been inside a bank in… I can’t remember.

    • Bsamm09 says:

      Isn’t it easier to just deposit them in the ATM?

      • Captain Walker says:

        redskull is 84 years old

      • GrayMatter says:

        Programming ought to be able to account for every problems; this is quite impossible, as stories on this web site can testify.

        ATM deposits, if there is a problem, can escalate into major problems quite easily.

        With a deposit at a teller, many problems can be brought up immediately and solved.

        • CommonSense(ಠ_ಠ) says:

          ATM check deposites is so 00s in the 10s we use picture check cashing apps, so you always keep the original check if there ever is a problem.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        Does it really take that much more time and effort to get to know your tellers? You know, the ones that will help you when you will EVENTUALLY have a problem?

  5. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    Maybe I’m just showing my age but I still go to the bank a few times a month to deposit checks or for special requests — $2 bills, $1 coins, getting brand new bills for graduation or birthday gifts, etc.

    If there’s ever a problem with my account, it’s much easier to just go to a branch and talk with an actual person, than it is to deal with automated systems, or getting a random CSR at a call center. To me, tellers are the face of the company, and a good experience for day-to-day transactions leads me to give them preference for the big stuff (investments, mortgages, HELOCs, car loans, etc.). In my area, there is very little variation in APRs for loans or CDs — It really comes down to customer service for me.

    • scoutermac says:

      Unless you use Fifth Third Bank. I walked in one day to order checks. My address had changed, which I already had updated my address with the bank prior to this visit. I requested the person behind the counter to order my new checks and specified the address which she confirmed was listed on my account. She then proceeded to question why I did not want the old address and started to process the incorrect address. I placed my drivers license on the counter and said. This is the address I want to use. She said “Are you sure?” I show two addresses here.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        Oddly enough, I am referring to Fifth-Third bank. I’ve never had any problems with them. I’ve had several accounts with them for close to 20 years.

        I do most of my banking with them, with the exception of auto loans through Peoples Federal Credit Union and our various savings accounts with ING.

        • scoutermac says:

          I have been using Fifth Third Bank for over 10 years. I have had nothing but problems with them. I have walked in and asked to withdraw money from my account and I have had the teller and manager ask me to go to the ATM. When I have called corporate in Cincinnati to resolve the issue they were of no help.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            Why do you keep using them if they’ve been so terrible?

            I bailed on my previous bank (Mellon) a long time ago because of a single screw up they refused to take responsibility for.

    • Mambru says:

      I agree, not only teller but the personal bankers they are needed more than you think, sometimes they help you out with overdraft fees, finding info, reversing charges. Not to mention when you need to make a complain is better to explain it to someone in person rather than talking to a guy in Bangladesh.
      I barely use my bank but when I go to my branch (chase) people are nice to talk to and very helpful. My mother she goes very regular to the her bank (BoA eww) and gets people to help her better than calling on the phone

  6. benbell says:

    My local bank which is one of the larger PNC branches and open nights and weekends. Is always busy, they have at least 5 tellers if not more working at all times. There are still plenty of transactions which require a teller.

  7. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    But what will the little white haired ladies with the big pocketbooks do when they need cash or get their checking account straightened out? I seem to always get behind one of those on the few occasions I actually need to interact with a teller.

  8. mattyb says:

    That’s why I like my credit union. Although I rarely need to go in there, whenever I do there is an army of friendly folks ready to assist me with whatever I need.

    • Tardis78 says:

      Agreed. The times I go into my CU are when I have a question and there are at least three people ready to answer my questions.

  9. sirwired says:

    I’m a member of Coastal FCU; the new machines have been fine for me. The only drawback is cash deposits (esp. w/ coins) don’t happen easily, and check deposits are tedious.

  10. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    This isn’t new. CIBC did this 20 years ago. Automate transactional functions a much as possible, close over 1/3rd of branches, question low value customers daring to enter their remaining branches and physically divert them to the ATMs, and focus face-time & staff on high value customers (loans, mutual funds, mortgages, investments…). CIBC was Canada’s largest (or 2nd largest depending on the metric) bank and is now #5.

  11. Sean says:

    Bank of America is also working on depositing checks via cell phone similar to USAA.

  12. StatusfriedCrustomer says:

    // the average person can now go months, possibly years, without ever having to go into a bank and interact with a teller. //

    And yet they are opening bank branches right and left (at least in NYC). Every time a store closes, a new bank branch replaces it. Banks don’t want to spend money on tellers, but they want to spend money building new branches?

  13. menty666 says:

    I actually don’t mind going to my CU and interacting with the tellers. For one thing, the human isn’t likely to accidentally mangle my deposit and then break down leaving it in limbo.

    Also, I deposit my daycare provider’s check directly, which involves me going to the credit union, filling out the slip with her account number on it and doing the deposit. Try that with an ATM, you can’t because the account’s not linked to your card.

    I’d have to either have her go to the bank (instead of watching my son) or talk her into an alternate payment method which could drive up MY costs whens he tries to recoup the fees.

    There’s something to be said for forging a human relationship; when something goes wrong you’re more likely to get friendly help instead of tossed around a phone tree.

  14. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The tellers are always busy with other customers when I enter my bank. I have to wait in line but no one shouts out that my business is important to them, tells me that they are busy serving other customers, gives me an estimated wait time, or advises me not to leave because I am in priority sequence and there are 3 customers ahead of me.

  15. esc27 says:

    I need a teller a few times a year to deposit checks and convert change to cash.
    No, I’m not going to trust the street side, oft abused, potentially compromised ATM machine with my check (i.e. the only proof I have that I am owed money.) Nor am I interested in giving up 10% of my money (or being locked into a gift card) just to convert change to bills.

    • bosozoku says:

      There it is! The 1st “ATM machine” post – (Automated Teller Machine machine).

      Carry on, no more trolling to see from me today.

    • Christopher Wilson says:

      My credit union has coin machines in most branches. There is no fee to use them and it gets deposited right to your account.

  16. tralfaz says:

    The last time I had to see a teller was to convert some cash to Loonies for a vacation. I’m pretty sure I’d be clueless how to get that done without walking into a branch. Sure, I could just use a Canadian ATM, but then I’m paying transaction fees (~2.5%?)

  17. Emperor Norton I says:

    Bank One, now Chase Bank tried this at their branch on Western Ave. in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
    Everyone hated it!
    It lasted about a year & they went back to normal teller windows.

  18. The Horror... says:

    Well if it’s good enough for Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase then sign my bank up! i hear hose banks are the best of the best so every single bank in the world should follow suit.

    I want 100% reliance on electronics and total automation when it comes every aspect of my life. I’m still waiting for that Charmin app! I look forward to a future where you don’t even have to wipe your own ass! That’s what I call progress!

    If you go to the single greatest store in the world, Wal-Mart, you can see some people don’t even walk anymore. Why walk when you can ride an awesome scooter? Walking is SO 5 years ago.

  19. mbz32190 says:

    Now, I’m only 22, but I can only remember going to a bank teller maybe twice in my life—to cash in piles of coins. Now, I’ve been a member of a non-local (2 hrs away) credit union for the past 4 years and have done everything online or at an ATM without incidents. When I deposit checks, I always just use a PNCBank ATM since they print the check images on the receipts. They have some kind of “deposit by picture” thing now but it only works with an android/iPhone :.

  20. Vermont2US says:

    When is everyone going to wake up to the fact that if you eliminate tellers you then eliminate entry-level jobs. Some of your kids are going to need those jobs; not everyone can afford a college education, and that still doesn’t guarantee your little snowflake a good-paying job.

    There are other reasons for having tellers, but this is one of my biggest gripes. There are too few entry-level jobs nowadays.

  21. AD8BC says:

    Bank rumors I have heard that never came through:

    #1 Banks will charge you a fee to use a real human teller.
    Nope — I use tellers all the time and it’s still free.

    #2 Due to government regulation, rewards credit cards will go away.
    Nope — I still earn miles on my trusty American Airlines Mastercard

    #3 ATM fees will go through the roof
    Nope — Mine still average $1 to $3, and my bank kindly refunds them

    #4 Banks will actually CHARGE YOU for letting you keep your money in a checking account
    Nope — Mine is still free

    #5 Bank tellers are going away…
    We’ll see. I doubt it.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      #4 Banks will actually CHARGE YOU for letting you keep your money in a checking account

      Free checking is gone unless you have a threshold of other business with the bank. Chase charges $12/month.

    • Bsamm09 says:

      #2 – I thought that was reward DEBIT cards, not credit cards and they have been going away from what I can tell.

  22. TBGBoodler says:

    Can someone please explain to me why new banks are being built on every available corner these days? If I see a building being built lately, I can be sure it’s a new bank.

  23. Extended-Warranty says:

    I go to the bank quarterly to deposit all of the checks I have saved up. Responsibile credit card use is the best form of payment, bar none. Cash and check has no use for me.

  24. aleck says:

    “If banks eradicate in-person interaction completely, then the choice to go online-only is not the customer’s.”

    If a product or service is not profitable, a company is not required to continue providing it, even if consumers choose to like it. That’s the way free market works.

    • Vermont2US says:

      And if the banks stop providing the service the customers want, then the customers have the right to go elsewhere for their banking needs…straight to their nearest Credit Union!

  25. ducktownhusker says:

    As a former financial employee at 4 different banks/credit unions, typically the poorer clients came into the branch while the more affluent customers relied on things like internet banking, debit cards and ATMs.

    You can draw your own conclusions/causations from that; I’m just making a statement.

  26. guspaz says:

    Things I currently do that I cannot do at an ATM:

    – Deposit a cheque in US dollars
    – Withdraw a roll of loonies (or any other coins) for laundry (washers/dryers take two loonies per load)
    – Put money into my RRSP, TFSA, or other investments
    – Withdraw money in any denomination other that $20 bills (some ATMs dispense $50s but don’t let you control the number of $50s versus $20s)

    The third item (moving money into my retirement plan, tax free account, or other investments) can be done over the phone with a representative, and theoretically online (if I activate the ability to do investments online), the rest need an actual teller: the intertubes is not currently capable of printing out coins.

    • jeb says:

      I’ve survived without walking into a bank for coins to do laundry. I may have this past summer (I don’t remember) but there’s a machine where I do my laundry that turns cash into quarters. Some gas stations will also trade a $10 bill for a roll of quarters (which is $10 worth of quarters.)

  27. attackgypsy says:

    This is why I like my local bank. (Ok, they’ve opened 2 branches in the next town over). Open more hours. Open half day Saturday AND Sunday. Local people who always have a smile for you. Problems get fixed quickly and painlessly.

    BofA sent me an offer to open a fee-free checking account for a starting balance of 25 bucks, as long as I got paperless statements and never used a teller. I sent them back a polite “no thank you, I get a fee-free account right where I am, and I get statements on paper and tellers” letter.

    (No fee, because we have a direct deposit, otherwise, its only like 4 bucks, and no per-check fees)

  28. jp7570-1 says:

    I havent used a teller in almost 10 years. But its not just tellers thata re disappearing. With the average cost of a new pad site location being around $3 million and “branches” inside grocery stores running around $300,000, you will see even fewer standalone bank branches in the future. Ally Bank might be one model for the future of banking – no physical presence whatsoever, just online.

  29. VashTS says:

    Cannot wait for Ramesh codename Cowboy Mike in India to interact with me via Bank of America centralized teller service.

  30. Rob says:

    I went into my credit union’s branch this past Saturday for the first time in three years (the last time was to open my account) just to ask how everyone was doing. The month prior the branch had been robbed at gun point, terrorizing the tellers and customers there at the time. They are doing better with time.

  31. Mercurio says:

    “adding that the company saw a 40% cost savings by replacing branch tellers with video tellers.”

    And that is the reason I left Coastal Federal Credit Union. I expect a money first attitude from banks, but not a credit union. Also, those video tellers are creepy as hell. I moved my money to a credit union down the street that was still willing to provide actual service.

  32. CS_Slave says:

    I used to be a bank teller. The pay was pretty good compared to what I was making as a cashier/customer service slave. I kinda got layed off right before the banking crisis.

    I disagree about people haivng under 6 figures not making the banks money. It’s those that keep $5.64 in their bank account that make them money off NSF fees. The people in the middle that always have a couple of hundred bucks prob make them nothing though.

    My friend was complaining about how bad his customer service is at his bank. I told him, what do you do for them? They give you a free account and they make no money off you. Then he threatened to go back to Bank of America……. oh the blind leading the blind.