Is this the death of the teller?

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” That’s what Mark Twain supposedly said in response to news stories reporting his demise. That’s also exactly what I think of when I contemplate the fate of tellers, a position futurists have called endangered for some years.

Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there were 520,500 teller jobs in 2014, a number BLS acknowledged would likely decline in the 10-year period from 2014 to 2024. But in 2024 BLS predicts there will still be around 480,000.

Probably the sharpest insights into tellers are found in the FMSI Teller Line Study, a report updated on a regular basis. One number jumps out at us: “Average monthly volume for teller transactions is down 34.2 percent since 1992.”

No surprise. That’s because many transactions have shifted out of branches and into online and mobile channels. Nobody expects that trend to reverse; if anything, more and more of what we do inside credit union accounts will, in fact, occur through digital channels.

Incidentally, the two most common teller transactions, per FMSI, are check deposits and cash withdrawals, both of which can be handled by an ATM. To that point, many members who go to branches are indeed conducting their business on an ATM.

Nonetheless, get this: per FMSI the average number of teller transactions per branch in 2017 is 7,700. That is down from 11,700 in 1992, but tellers still handle a lot of transactions.

Tellers are down but definitely not out.

Crucially, the transactions they handle may be particularly important, both to the members and their credit unions. That’s suggested in the J.D. Power 2016 U.S. Retail Banking Satisfaction Study: “While the overall number of bank branches in the United States declines, brick and mortar branches are still a key channel for servicing customers in those moments of truth (e.g., resolving problems and dealing with more complex transactions).”

When in doubt—when a member seeks a “moment of truth”—he/she may just ditch the mobile phone and seek out human contact, and at a credit union, that typically means a teller transaction.

Their numbers may be diminishing, but their importance is not.

In its 2017 study, J. D. Power doubled down on the current relevance of teller interactions: “Across all customers in the study, overall satisfaction among those who visited a bank branch within the past 12 months is 27 index points higher (on a 1,000-point scale) than among those who did not visit a branch (824 vs. 797, respectively).”

The reality: credit unions will need fewer tellers, and fewer staffed teller lines, as the number of branches decreases.

That does not mean tellers are going away.

There is, in fact, a lot of optimism about the role and value of tellers, even if the industry needs fewer of them. Nate Tobik, the founder of, said that tellers are, “brand ambassadors. Tellers need to understand their bank’s products and be the biggest cheerleader for them.”

Keith Kemph, a financial services expert with consulting firm CC Pace, added: “Because the younger generation is slowly transitioning to an online banking generation, the future of the bank teller I believe is required to be that of a bank ‘concierge’.”

Tobik elaborated: “The role of a teller is shifting from someone who processes transactions to being someone who can solve tougher customer problems. In our view, the future teller is cross-functional where helping process transactions is only a small part of their job.”

Gregg Stockdale, a longtime CEO of 1st Valley Credit Union, and more recently a credit union consultant in San Bernardino, CA, said likewise. He predicted that tellers will remain in branch, but spend most of their time doing a range of tasks in addition to teller work—they will fill in as needed throughout the workday.

Stockdale also noted that there’s a frequently ignored reason that tellers are so important to the credit union movement: this is typically an entry-level position that also serves as a training ground for loan officers, customer service reps, and more. Cut back on tellers, and that also reduces the flow of new employees into the credit union.

Bottomline: tellers very much remain in the credit union personnel mix. And nobody sees that changing soon.

Robert McGarvey

Robert McGarvey

A blogger and speaker, Robert McGarvey is a longtime journalist who has covered credit unions extensively, notably for Credit Union Times as well as the New York Times and TheStreet, ... Web: Details