THE WASHINGTON POST
When Wells Fargo opened its first high-tech branch three years ago in Washington’s NoMa neighborhood, it did away with desks and replaced traditional counters with large touch-screen ATMs.
Also gone from its location: tellers.
Instead, the 1,000-square-foot branch has a handful of tablet-toting employees to help customers navigate technology to deposit checks, apply for loans or open savings accounts.
It’s a model that’s being replicated throughout the region, leading to a shift in the number — and types — of employees at area banks.
The number of bank tellers in the region has dropped by nearly half in the past 10 years, from 10,980 in 2005 to 5,990 in 2015, outpacing a 17 percent drop nationally, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall employment in the Washington region rose 7.3 percent in the same period.
Median annual pay for tellers, meanwhile, has risen 35 percent, to $32,250 as tellers are increasingly required to be well-versed in technology.
A recent report by Citigroup estimates that an additional 30 percent of U.S. banking jobs could be eliminated by 2025 as financial firms shutter branches and invest more heavily in technology.
Traffic in branches is down dramatically. You just don’t need that many branches anymore.”
-Ronald D. Paul, community bank chief executive
“There has been a tremendous change in the mix of bank employees, with a much greater reliance on tech workers,” said Bert Ely, a banking industry consultant in Alexandria, Virginia. “Banks are cutting a lot of so-called back-office processing jobs — and that is something that will continue.”
Experts say the trend is likely to be magnified in the Washington area, where an influx of young professionals and tech-savvy customers has ushered in a number of high-tech branches that require few employees. Recent bank mergers and branch closings have contributed to shrinkage in the pool of jobs.
“Traffic in branches is down dramatically,” said Ronald D. Paul, chief executive of Bethesda-based Eagle Bancorp, the region’s largest community bank. “You just don’t need that many branches anymore.”
As a result, the company has closed less-frequented branches following its 2014 acquisition of Virginia Heritage Bank and moved others into smaller spaces. It also is adding more high-tech workers, including computer programmers and commercial deposit officers who can help troubleshoot technology, to its ranks.
The number of bank branches in the Washington region has been steadily dropping in recent years. Last year, the area had 1,697 branches, 84 fewer than it did in 2010, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
“It was the ATM that started this spiral 25 or 30 years ago,” said Stephen Fuller, an economist and senior adviser at George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. “We’ve just about replaced the need to have people in those spaces.”
Indeed, nearly four in 10 U.S. residents have not visited a bank or credit union branch in at least six months, according to a survey by Bankrate.com, a New York-based personal-finance information company. When customers do stop by the bank, it is generally for financial consultations or to open accounts, not routine transactions, the survey found.
“The bank as it is today is becoming more interactional and less transactional,” said David M. Glaser, a vice president at Washington-based National Capital Bank. “When people come in, it’s with a more complex question or to open an account. If they just need to deposit a check — well, they can do that at the ATM.”