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Branch Staff Idle Time – How to Use it to Your Advantage

July 25, 2013

W. Michael Scott, President/CEO at FMSI

Technological improvements across delivery channels in the financial services industry continue to impact branch operating environments. Remote deposits for commercial accounts, mobile device deposits for consumers, personal teller video machines with remote live tellers, online banking and mobile banking, are just some of the technologies causing sweeping changes to our branches.

The adoption of these technologies is evidence the population is turning more to automation where possible to conduct their banking transactions, and as a result branch staff idle time continues to rise. The 2013 FMSI Teller Line Study shows the detailed trends of a more idle workforce through analyzing the increased labor expense against a declining transaction volume. Some important statistics covered by the study over the past 21 years include:

  • A 45% decline in teller transactions at the branch level.

  • An increase in salary and benefit wages of 84%.

  • An increased labor cost per teller transaction of 123.6%.

  • A productivity decline of 17.9% resulting from increased idle time and Waiting for Work Time (WFW) in the branches due to constant staffing levels and declining activity volume.

  • A projection by many is branch activities will continue to decline by 25% over the next five years as mobile banking will gain a greater market share of the transactions.

With Financial Institutions (FIs) looking to invest in additional technologies that will drive transactions out of the branch, and subsequently further reduce long term branch operating expenses, staff idle time will undoubtedly grow—resulting in an even more underutilized staff resource. How can management better handle their increasing staff idle time?

Activity Based Budgeting

One consideration to address this increasing staff idle time dilemma is for retail branch management and the CFO’s to take a look at activity based budgeting. What should the cost goal be of an acceptable Unit Labor Cost (ULC) per transaction? We know the varying branch transaction activity levels at different branches within our branch networks, and we can use this data to test our staffing salary and benefit budget expense. Should we have an effective $4 teller transaction labor cost at one branch versus a $2 teller transaction labor cost at another branch? This is what actually occurs in today’s branch network but it is not highlighted and revealed in a noticeable manner with the current staff budget process.

Detailed business intelligence tools that help FIs better manage their ULCs are now available in today’s workforce management systems from vendors, like FMSI. Yet amazingly, as reported by a recent Celent study in 2012 only 3% of FIs are utilizing any type of workforce management tool to optimally staff their branch networks.  Workforce management tools enable reducing staff idle time or generating more efficient use of the staff idle time.  Staff budgeting processes have remained relatively the same for decades, despite the fact that these sophisticated activity based workforce management analysis and scheduling tools exist.

So the question, which is highlighted by FMSI’s monthly performance management comparative benchmarking reports, is ….even though we are making our budget numbers, IS OUR BUDGET CORRECT?

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Most FIs operate in a vacuum on many of their Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). They only know their own environment and work within an internal vacuum and their own norms. As long as they meet their expense budgets, they experience no pain. The issue is teller transaction volume has decreased slowly over the past two decades, with usually only up to a two percent decline annually. Over several years this barely noticeable annual activity decline becomes significant, yet the staff levels and budgets have not declined to match the reduced activities.

Branch networks are now servicing fewer people per branch, and have become over branched / underutilized for the volume of activities being processed.

The previously mentioned technologies have increased in the branches and even further reduced the processing times of the transactions, yielding even more Waiting for Work Time (or idle time) between diminishing transactions, and effectively lowering productivity through the same sized staffing allotments.  Many teller exit interviews often report job dissatisfaction created through idle, or slow times.

Points of Comparison

How does your staff’s Productivity, ULC per Transaction, Pay Rates, and Part Time Staff Utilization compare internally between branches and externally to other financial institutions? How much idle time is identified by your scheduling tool, and at what times and days of the week does this occur?

What is your ROI for each individual Customer Service Representative (CSR)?

  • Factoring the first year revenue associated with each unique product sold by a CSR versus the salary and benefit cost for that CSR, what is your ROI on that individual person?
  • Are you satisfied with your CSRs having 30 to 40 percent of idle time and the remainder of their time spent 50% in product sales and 50% on service account holder issues?
  • Of the average length of time for your CSRs to open a checking account within the institution, how does each of the CSR’s individual average time spent on that product compare to the institution’s average time spent. Are there coaching and training opportunities to be identified?

What if you could identify and quantify your staff idle time for each person in the branch down to specific times of day and day of week and by individual name? How could you turn the 30 % of idle time, which you are still paying for, into productive and profitable efforts to benefit your FI? Would you take steps to act on such business intelligence?

The $864 million Kansas-based Meritrust Credit Union has transformed how they are handling their staff idle time, with the help of FMSI’s Teller Management SystemTM.

“Getting the most out of our teller downtime, with the help of the FMSI scheduling software, has been a big win for Meritrust,” says Kimberly Rowley, VP Retail Delivery & Operations at Meritrust.  “Our regional managers all got together and developed training materials focusing on what they all deemed as critically important for our tellers to have in-depth knowledge on.   Our tellers have to study these materials and complete online tests during their lulls in transaction activity.  These training materials combined with a sales initiative we rolled out one year prior to using FMSI, has led to considerable sales, service and productivity improvements.”

See the full Meritrust FMSI case study here.

Business Intelligence Tools

FMSI’s workforce management tools like the recently enhanced Teller Management SystemTM (TMS) scheduling engine operates on a closed loop design, to not only schedule to payroll, but to forecast and schedule staff based on activity needs.  The system also concurrently prepares productivity analysis reports based on the actual transactions processed, for comparison purposes, back to the forecast and actual staff scheduled—including both individual and branch KPI’s.

As previously mentioned FMSI’s monthly institutional reports contain comparisons so you can determine how well you are performing on a Productivity, Unit Labor Cost, Pay Rate, and Part Time Utilization basis compared to other FIs on the FMSI system. This point of comparison is stated by our clients as being “very eye opening”.This ranking data is what causes executive management teams to affect change from their norms. The reason management is moved to affect change is the management team of the FI no longer has to operate within a vacuum, and they get to compare their norms to what others are achieving, through better staff scheduling.

For many, this is a new concept of scheduling not only to payroll but to activity needs within payroll. Thus, after factoring in various tasks, lunches, breaks, etc. the remaining non-scheduled time for employees is named idle time, and is specifically identified by fifteen minute increments within days of the week and by individual staff. This idle time can then be redirected into more productive efforts to generate a more enriching work environment for the staff and a better and more profitable use of staff dollars for the institution. What would you do with your new found 30% staff idle time?

The following is a screenshot from FMSI’s scheduling system which systematically identifyies idle times derived from automated analysis of specific branch transaction activity (from core system data). The black colored blocks represent the idle times where secondary duties can be assigned.

Turning Idle Time into Productive Time (Better Handling the Branch Staff Resource)

For many years now FIs have had a mantra of ‘we have a sales culture in our branches.’ Most often the challenge is the staff is not fully trained on the value of the various products, and they do not know which products are best suited to each specific account holder. An identified period of idle time can be transformed into more productive time.

Here are some positive uses of idle time once they are identified, quantified, and scheduled for productive tasks:

  • Have your Training Department develop short videos on product education and have a Learning Management System (LMS) developed to track who, when, and where the course is taken and the score achieved on each product.
  • Require all staff to take the product education courses and have branch meetings on the benefits to the account holders of such products.
  • Implement a selling video course on how to generate a positive sales discussion with account holders.
  • Track referrals and, reward results that are beyond expected goals.
  • Have other internal departments define special projects that could be handled in the branches during idle time. Every department has some kind of file scrubbing efforts to be done.
  • Develop a positive outbound calling program to account holders during idle time. The message needs to be one of value to the account holder.
  • Cross training programs can be accomplished during idle time.
  • Career Path Development programs can be developed and administered via videos.
  • With known time periods of available idle time, the Call Center phone systems can direct calls to specific phone extensions of those known and qualified staff who could handle a Call Center inquiry.
  • Assist lending staff with paperwork for filing titles, recording documents with appropriate agencies, etc.
  • Ask your staff for suggestions on how to better utilize the unscheduled identified idle time, and you will receive many suggestions. No one wants to sit idle and be bored.

In Summation

With new technologies pushing transactions out of the branch, staff idle time will continue to grow.  Through activity based budgeting, an ongoing focus on your FIs workforce optimization— and with the help of sophisticated scheduling and reporting tools—your institution will better handle your branch staff idle time, and subsequently improve your branch network sales, service and productivity.

Keep a close eye on your branch staff idle time, and use this excess and readily available labor capacity to your advantage.  You will be amazed by the results.

About FMSI

FMSI is located in Alpharetta, Georgia and since 1990 has been assisting financial institutions in North America with branch performance management business intelligence and workforce scheduling to optimize branch staff to improve service level achievements and effectiveness through better scheduling and performance management business intelligence.

FMSI provides monthly peer performance and labor cost analyses, detailed performance reporting and dashboards, along with forecasted staff work schedules to meet account holder service demands at the right times. Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) technologies allow senior management to have pertinent KPI’s at their fingertips when they enter a branch and assists in facilitating management business intelligence for actionable improvements.

BIO, W. Michael Scott, FMSI

W. Michael Scott is President and CEO of Alpharetta, Ga.-based FMSI, which provides financial institutions with business intelligence and performance management systems for efficient branch staff scheduling and lobby management. He can be reached at

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