Tellers long have been one of a bank’s most visible features—the face of the institution for scores of consumers who visited branches on a regular basis. But cost-cutting pressures, technological developments and changing consumer habits are reducing their numbers, limiting their influence and cutting into their pay checks. “The teller is an endangered species,” says Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at University of California, Berkeley.
In a survey earlier this year by accounting and consulting firm Crowe Horwath LLP, the average full-time teller with a few years of experience earned $25,738 in total compensation, down 2.9% from the previous year and last among the 28 bank functions analyzed in the survey. According to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for American workers was $46,440.
Since 2002, the total compensation of an experienced teller has fallen 3.8% after adjusting for inflation, according to data from Crowe Horwath run through the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator. During the same time, a commercial loan officer’s compensation has risen by an inflation-adjusted 9.8%.
The financial struggles of tellers highlight difficulties in the U.S. banking sector. As new regulations and sluggish economic growth hit the bottom line, banks have been under pressure to cut branches and employees. The number of bank branches in the U.S. recently dipped to its lowest level since 2005, with more than 4,800 branches shutting from the peak in 2009, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Between 2007 and 2013, the number of bank tellers dropped by 80,280, or 13.2%, to 527,680, an 11-year low, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 1999 to 2007, banks added 154,820 tellers, according to BLS data.
Online tools and more sophisticated ATMs have grown in popularity in recent years, meaning branches no longer need as many workers handing out deposit slips and cashing checks for customers. With the rise in electronic commerce across many industries, some entry-level jobs are becoming less common, giving younger workers fewer options and eliminating a path by which future executives once rose.
In an interview, the U.S. Bancorp chairman and chief executive also predicted there will be fewer tellers in the future, but that those still in the job will be more skilled. They also will be busier when interest rates rise, prompting customers to shop around for different savings products a bank offers. At some banks, tellers’ duties are slowly being subsumed into the role of ’universal bankers’ who have more expertise in products such as loans and credit cards. Citizens Financial Group Inc. has begun training some of its tellers to take tests administered by state regulators so that they can offer more services to clients.