Bank staff before the 1980s
Before the 1980s the structure of bank employment was very rigid. For instance, although banks had started to employ women in response to the labour shortages that occurred during the world wars, women’s employment was quite limited in its scope.
Rigidity in work reflected the rigidity of bank branch organisation. Branch staff was made up of:
- tellers, who accepted transactions by customers at counters, including the receipt and payment of cash
- the ledger department, where people could open and close accounts, get account balance and other information, and deal with term deposits; and, until bank computerisation in the 1960s, it also handled accounting functions
- the MICR (magnetic ink character recognition) processing area (from the 1960s), where cheques and other forms were encoded so they could be processed by computers
- the international department, which dealt with payments for trade transactions, and with customers who were travelling internationally, or who had small international payments to make or receive
- the securities department, which was the most prestigious department, which handled lending and related documentation
- the manager, who was primarily responsible for lending
- the accountant, who managed the day-to-day operations of the branch, including the staff.
The Bank of New Zealand first hired women during the First World War, and employed 326 female clerks by June 1918. When the war ended, many of these women lost their jobs – in 1939 the bank only employed 74 women.
Senior roles were dominated by male career staff – any male staff in more junior roles were likely to be there to learn how bank branches should operate. By contrast, female staff dominated the more junior roles. If they became dissatisfied with the lack of opportunity for advancement they would leave.
Bank head offices were relatively small, responsible for a limited range of central administration functions.
Staff changes from the 1980s
Deregulation in the 1980s led to a focus on competition and efficiency. Banks tried to reduce costs and increase revenue through reorganisation and staff changes. Roles within branches changed, and although there was still a requirement for some tellers to handle non-electronic transactions, branches came to be populated with personal bankers who could undertake a wider range of roles, including conducting lending interviews.
In the 2000s lending decisions were made using a computerised credit-scoring model, and most processing was centralised. Branches often did not have a manager. Managers that remained were more like sales coaches, responsible for making sure that the branch achieved lending growth targets, rather than being responsible for any intricate lending decisions.
More complex lending was handled by specialist commercial and rural bankers. They reported through their own specialist structure, rather than through branches.
The account inquiry and sales processes that used to be handled by branches were centralised into call centres. Staff ability to respond to more complex queries was assisted by extensive computer support. These call centres and other centralised processing units were part of a much larger head-office infrastructure.
In the 1970s, 90% of a bank’s staff might have been working in branches. In 2009 this proportion was less than 50%. Banks’ head offices had many specialist roles that did not exist previously, in areas such as product management and strategy. Many staff had university degrees, and not just those in the head offices. Previously training was more like an apprenticeship, with staff learning on the job.