Another day, another bank changing its approach to teller service in the Charlotte area.
As U.S. lenders continue to alter their branch networks, Fort Mill, S.C.-based Sharonview Federal Credit Union for the first time has gone completely tellerless at one location.
On Monday, the lender opened a Gastonia branch that replaced one in Mount Holly. Instead of tellers, the Gastonia branch has a “tech bar,” a self-service area where customers can conduct transactions.
It’s the latest example of a Charlotte-area bank opting for self-service technology instead of tellers. While the trend does not appear to be widespread locally, other banks, such as Bank of America, have made similar moves in the area in recent years.
Banks that eliminate tellers or cut back on them say they are simply responding to the changing habits of their customers, who are doing more of their transactions on smartphones and other devices.
“Sharonview’s technology-enhanced branch model in Gastonia is part of a larger corporate initiative to meet the evolving needs of our communities – enabling us to better serve both current members and future members for years to come,” Sharonview CEO Bill Partin said in a statement. In 2013, Partin was named head of the lender, which has branches in the Carolinas and New Jersey and more than 68,000 “members,” credit union parlance for customers.
Teller reductions have also come as banks seek to decrease costs in branches, which are expensive to operate, at a time when low interest rates constrain revenue growth.
But banks have also faced criticism for having fewer tellers. Some customers say they prefer interacting with a person as opposed to high-tech automated teller machines, tablets or other replacements. Also, reducing tellers eliminates what has long been an entry-level job in banking.
Sharonview says the Gastonia branch, which is in Gastonia’s Franklin Green Shopping Center, will employ five to 10 people. If any customers need assistance at the tech bar, branch personnel can help them out, the credit union says.
Nancy Everhart, a partner for Charlotte-based Little Diversified Architectural Consulting, which designed the Sharonview branch, told me branches with no tellers or fewer tellers are on the rise nationwide.
Perhaps 95 percent of U.S. branches still have tellers, she said. But of branches that are being built today, about 50 percent aren’t staffed with tellers as before, she said. In those cases, the branches might have no tellers or fewer tellers than in the past, she said.
“We worked on a branch for a bank in Florida that has no teller. That was just last year,” she said.
As banks dial back on tellers, they are stepping up on efforts to create a “branded environment, one that really speaks about their brand,” Everhart said. To that end, some banks have even gone so far as to have scents custom-made for their branches, she said.
Credit union to hold grand opening
Sharonview Federal Credit Union plans to hold a grand-opening event for its new branch in Gastonia at 2508 E. Franklin Blvd. The “block party” event is scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 7.