The job of “bank teller” may soon go the way of “switchboard operator” and the guy who set up pins at bowling alleys.

“The role of the teller is going away,” says industry expert Joe Sullivan. “Whether that is one year from now or 43 years from now, we all know technology has completely replaced that role.”

But that doesn’t mean people who work in bank branches will be out of jobs. With no need of paper pushing in the digital era, Sullivan believes the role of teller will evolve into a higher-skilled, better compensated position. The “universal banker” will probe customers with questions about their finances and offer banking services that solve their problems.

Sullivan, founder of a Chicago-based consulting firm, Market Insights, will speak on Friday, April 17, at 8 a.m. at the New Jersey Bankers Association GROWTH Executive Conference. Tickets are $195, $345 for nonmembers. For more information, visit or call 908-272-8500.

Sullivan grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his father was a pharmacist and sales manager for a drug company. After earning an MBA at Loyola University in Chicago in the 1980s, he went directly into consulting. “I tell clients I have worked with many banks, but was never employed by one — therefore they get an unbiased, objective perspective from both an industry and non-industry perspective,” he says.

Sullivan says he has worked with 375 banks over the years in addition to writing opinion pieces and articles. “I will tell you the truth,” he says. “Sometimes you’re going to be ticked off beyond words, but we’re not going to sugar-coat it. There are no sacred cows.”

Sullivan has written much on how the banks should evolve to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. However, he warns against pursuing the new generation at the expense of serving older customers. As it happens, Baby Boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) still have more money than any other generation. Sullivan has spent a lot of time thinking about how banks can better serve them.

Sullivan wrote an article offering advice for targeting boomers, originally published on his blog at

“Community bank and credit union marketers spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out the best way to attract Millennials [born between 1981 and 1997]. You can’t blame them. Millennials’ annual spending power is expected to surpass Baby Boomers by 2018. That doesn’t mean it’s time to overlook Boomers,” he wrote.

Sullivan noted that according to a Gallup poll, boomers are likely to be “disengaged” from their banks — actively looking for alternatives — and that if banks could convert those unhappy customers to fully engaged ones, the industry could gain $83 billion in deposits and $443 billion in investment assets.

Sullivan says many stereotypes about boomers are wrong. “They are leading adopters of technology and consumption of media. Most importantly, they are doing everything on their own terms,” he wrote.

Sullivan wrote boomers are under-funded for retirement, with 60 percent having less than $100,000 saved, and 36 percent having less than $10,000 and that they plan to work well past age 65. They have greater credit quality and purchasing power and are the most likely of any generation to buy a new car. They frequently take out home equity loans, and many of them own small businesses, with boomers making up more than a quarter of the nation’s self-employed people.

Sullivan wrote that catering to Boomers’ desires means understanding what they want.

“Market to their state of mind,” he wrote. “Like with any demographic segment, you have to become familiar with psychological and emotional elements of the Boomer lifestage. Boomers are older; they are not old. For the youngest of them, 50 isn’t the new 30, it is the new 50. The recession may have left them at a financial low, but they want to look good, live longer, and live younger.”

Sullivan says boomers are likely to be on social media, likely to use mobile and tablet computers, and likely to bank online. He advises avoiding using terms like “seniors” and “golden years” in marketing materials. But Sullivan warns against a “one-size-fits-all” approach to marketing.

“What works for me wouldn’t necessarily work for a 65-year-old woman living in a condominium raising her grandson. Know your market and test your messaging. Customer segmentation is still the best way to determine how to deliver the right message, to the right customer, through the right channel, at the right time,” he wrote.

Sullivan says that as banks decide what tomorrow’s bank branches will look like, getting it right will depend on getting to know the customers and designing the branches around what they want.

“We have to boil it down to what customers in my market need,” he says. “Bankers can get stuck asking, ‘How can we renovate all our branches?’ Back up and really get to know your market and customers, how they use the bank today, what their priorities are, and what banks can do to deliver the services they need.”

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