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Are bank tellers destined to go the way of the dinosaur?

The answer is an unequivocal yes, although there always will be a place for entry-level, teller-like jobs in the consolidated banking industry of the 21st century.

The biggest changes will involve the skills required of tellers, according to Susan Fowler, senior vice president of human resources at Sanwa Bank California.

Transaction-processing skills will become less important as automation takes over many conventional teller tasks, she said. In their place, sales and customer service skills will take on an expanded role, she added.

Much of the change in traditional teller duties owes to the growing use of computers and automation in many typical banking processes.

For example, many cash withdrawals and deposits are now handled by automated teller machines. Other transactions, such as transfers of money between accounts or bill paying, can be accomplished via ATMs, over the phone, or using a personal computer.

"The teller job has changed dramatically. When we look for tellers now, we're looking for computer skills and sales skills," said Fowler.

In fact, the term "teller" itself derived from the word "till," meaning a box where cash is kept may soon be on the way out, according to Fowler. It its place, the entry-level job of the future will be "customer service representatives," she added.

"Now their job description says they need to have enough product knowledge to handle initial customer inquiries," she said, including questions about investment and mortgage lending products.

Fowler pointed out that Sanwa currently employs about 580 full-time equivalent tellers statewide, down from about 880 in 1990, she said. Roughly 65 percent of Sanwa tellers are part-time employees, compared with virtually no part-timers in 1990, Fowler added.

Likewise, the number of tellers at Bank of America has declined over the last four years, though at a slowing rate, said BofA spokeswoman Linda Mueller. BofA currently employs 6,819 full-time equivalent tellers in California, down from 7,112 in 1993, she said.

Mueller added that the actual number of BofA tellers in California has stayed relatively constant at about 8,000 over the last five years, which means part-timers as a percentage of the whole has grown over that time.

Even so, the entry-level teller-type position isn't about to disappear anytime soon, said Kathy Aleman, BofA's manager of Southern California recruitment.

"I don't see that position going away at least not in the next five years. I think we'll always have some kind of customer service/sales/teller-type positions, because the customer always needs to start someplace," she said.

Douglas Young

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