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3 min read

Understanding the Universal Associate Model in 5 Minutes or Less

Understanding the Universal Associate Model in 5 Minutes or Less

As financial institutions undergo branch transformations, the Universal Associate Model can improve the customer experience, cut costs, and boost job satisfaction.

If you’ve ever walked into an Apple store, you’ve probably noticed how the associates greet you and offer assistance within seconds of arriving. After that, theUniversal Associates workshop open-concept space invites you to choose your journey as Apple associates roam freely throughout the store. There’s no intimidation, no courtroom-like feel, and no cold-sell tactics involved.

This is the goal of the Universal Associate Model in banking: to bring cross-trained staff out onto the floor so they can deliver a seamless retail experience.

With customers constantly demanding higher levels of service, it makes sense. Your bank or credit union staff do not need to be stuck behind teller lines or hidden away in offices. Instead, they need to be out on the floor providing elevated service in ways that feel positive and comfortable for everyone.

Rolling out the Universal Associate model isn’t rocket science per se, but it is more than just creating a few new job descriptions and adding a service desk here and there. It’s committing to a shift from a transactional banking model to an advisory banking model—and we at DBSI are industry leaders in helping organizations like yours make that shift.

Universal Associates workbookBy utilizing DBSI’s carefully curated professional service programs, you’ll be able to elevate your staff’s culture, processes, job descriptions, and much more. Together, we can bring the vision for your financial institution to life!

Defining the Universal Associate Model for Financial Institutions

The Universal Associate Model is an advisory-based banking approach that’s been around for at least 15 years and goes by other names like Universal Banker, Universal Agent, and Universal Teller. It’s a job that combines the work of a teller, customer service representative, and even a personal banker.

While duties can vary from branch to branch, a Universal Associate typically spends time greeting clients, processing banking transactions, answering account inquiries, and processing loan applications. A Universal Associate will also:

  • Administrate branch marketing efforts
  • Cross-sell products
  • Open and close consumer and business accounts
  • Support community-based program initiativesUniversal Associates workshop

Tellers and customer service associates can be trained into Universal Associate roles, but hiring new employees is also beneficial if you’re seeking particular skill sets in a branch. Overall, employees committing to these positions should be friendly, positive, comfortable with retail sales, and empathetic to your clients’ needs.

“This is more than just a building, it's an experience," said Rosanna Ramirez, Financial Center Manager at Vantage West Credit Union. "Delivery Defined was created for us with the guidance of DBSI. So what I mean by that is t actually came in as consultants and allowed us to really make this process ours."

Benefits of the Universal Associate Model

  • An improved client experience: Branch visitors today expect more personalized service from staff than they did a decade ago when teller lines dominated the branch architecture. With a Universal Associate Model, clients will spend less time waiting for help, engage better in cross-selling discussions, and express positivity in relation to their banking experiences.
  • Reduced costs: With branch traffic declining in recent years, financial executives have been looking more closely at staffing levels and how a Universal Associate Model can save on FTE. With this model, it’s realistic for a branch operating with four tellers to reduce staffing by two, which can save a branch over $70,000 per year in salaries alone. Another consideration is that with reduced staffing numbers, a branch build or transformation can involve less retail space, potentially saving many thousands of dollars in capital.
  • Higher job satisfaction:  Because the Universal Associate Model focuses on relationship banking, employees and clients are able to interact in a more conversational manner and subsequently build better personal and business relationships. Additionally, a Universal Associate typically earns a higher wage than a bank teller due to increased job responsibilities and ongoing training requirements. These combined factors contribute to employee wellbeing and can help attract and retain top talent.

“It’s not the monetary transaction that adds value; it’s the communication between the customer and our employee,” said Pierre Cardenas, CEO of Capitol Credit Union. “Having a partner that walks with you and understands the process and actually listens to you was refreshing.”

Challenge of the Universal Associate Model

Any type of change within an institution requires a level of employee commitment, which can be challenging. The Universal Associate Model requires a shift in employee operability, and that means staff members must be able to thrive in a diverse and more interactive work environment. This can be overwhelming and frustrating for some individuals, so choosing the right people for Universal Associate roles is critical to an organization’s long-term success.

The Final Piece to a Branch Transformation

Once our team of experts designs a space and equips it with the latest technology, the Universal Associate Model becomes the final element of a branch transformation. And this is where Delivery Defined comes in …

Delivery Defined is a training program that helps provide staff with the tools and technical knowledge needed to work in a transformed banking environment. Because branches are all unique, we help create a program specific to each location, deliver team training, and provide ongoing support as needed. To learn more, download our Delivery Defined product sheet.

The other training program we offer is our Universal Associate Workshop, a two-day experience where our Professional Services team teaches organizations how to redefine staff structure, training, roles, responsibilities, compensation, titles, and more. For more information on a Universal Associate Workshop, fill out our online form below.


Together, let's bring the vision for your future to life!

Through DBSI’s carefully curated professional service programs, we can help shift your staff’s culture, processes, job descriptions, and so much more.