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Singapore banks step up pace of cutting, reskilling tellers

OCBC to halve teller jobs in two years and UOB to retrain all tellers over same period to give them "broader" roles

Singapore banks' plans to retrain their frontline staff are gathering pace, with OCBC being the latest to put out fresh targets in reskilling over 300 of its bank tellers here.


SINGAPORE banks' plans to retrain their frontline staff are gathering pace, with OCBC being the latest to put out fresh targets in reskilling over 300 of its bank tellers here.

The bank said on Monday it would cut half of its bank teller jobs in two years. All the tellers at the 51 local branches of Singapore's second-largest bank will be retrained over the next five years to take on digital or advisory roles.

OCBC added that the branch network would remain "largely unchanged", even as it sets aside S$14 million in developing new automated teller machines (ATMs) and digital service kiosks in Singapore that function as "mini branches".

"Even as OCBC transforms its branch operations to focus on more digital and advisory services, no tellers employed today will lose their jobs as a result and the existing network of bank branches will remain largely unchanged," the bank said.

OCBC said the tellers would move into roles that allow them to take on "higher value-added" tasks that require decision-making or physical verification. This shift takes them away from repetitive menial counter tasks such as processing cash transactions, which currently make up close to 90 per cent of transactions performed at branch teller counters.

One in three OCBC bank tellers is a fresh polytechnic graduate while the rest are experienced tellers or staff hired from other banks and industries. Over the past five years, OCBC's bank teller headcount has been reduced by 15 per cent as branch footfall drops along with more customers going digital.

OCBC's latest targets are similar to its peers', as banks in Singapore move to retrain their staff to ready them for the digital transformation of the industry.

A UOB spokesman said within the next two years, all UOB bank tellers will be equipped with "the relevant skillsets to take on broader roles at the branches".

The retraining comes under its Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) that was launched last year for UOB's customer-facing staff. At this point, one in four UOB bank tellers has had his role "broadened".

UOB tellers who have been retrained can now guide customers in using UOB's digital services. BT understands that retrained tellers can also offer advisory services to customers.

DBS, Singapore's largest bank, was the first bank here to announce plans to reskill 1,500 employees under its PCP last October.

These employees to be retrained are not just from the branches but also those from back-end operations in consumer banking and institutional banking, as well as client-facing staff in branches, a spokesman said.

Since then, around two-thirds of all branch employees have been trained, and the remaining third will undergo training in the next 12 months.

"Employees who have undergone training are now equipped to handle a broader range of products and services, as well as better manage and advise customers on their financial needs," the bank spokesman said.

At the same time, banks are also investing in new technology. OCBC said it spent two years developing new ATMs and digital kiosks that for now, allow customers to perform 15 of the most frequent bank counter services such as cash deposits and larger withdrawals, simultaneous cash and coin deposits, as well as an update of customers' details. It will install these machines at 35 of its branches by 2020.

Since the pilot launch of the new ATMs and digital service kiosks at eight OCBC branches in May this year, the branches have migrated close to 10 per cent of branch over-the-counter transactions to these machines and over 35,000 transactions have been performed.

The new ATMs and digital service kiosks include new digital technology capabilities such as facial and fingerprint scanners for biometric authentication and signature pads, which can be activated for use in the future.

By next year, the ATMs will be able to facilitate instant cheque encashment, so customers can scan their cash cheques at the ATM to receive the funds immediately. The new ATMs will also be able to dispense up to S$200,000 in cash in one transaction, in the customer's preferred note denominations.

Some of the redeployed bank tellers at OCBC will become branch "digital ambassadors". As part of the pilot, 15 "digital ambassadors" have already been working at the branches where the new machines and digital service kiosks have been launched to help guide elderly customers in using the new machines.

Since December 2017, OCBC's "digital ambassadors" have converted 30 per cent of seniors at the Holland Village branch to adopt digital banking such as by using the OCBC Pay Anyone e-payments app or mobile and Internet banking.

DBS said that for about a year now, it has offered services through some 25 Video Teller Machines today, which can handle enquiries such as passbook replacements, and offer assistance from its customer service officers via live video streaming.

In two years, DBS has also rolled out some 120 branch teller machines (BTMs) in Singapore. At BTMs, customers make cash withdrawal and deposits with their passbooks or ATM cards instead of the teller counter. Customers can also withdraw up to S$200,000 per transaction, after the transaction is validated by branch staff.

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