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Amid fraud, role of bank teller changing
Role of the bank teller changing with world issues

Date published: 3/19/2005


As identity theft cases rise, employees are taking on additional responsibilities

The bank teller who once completed check transactions and had to know only basic math has, for the most part, been replaced.

While tellers still handle customer needs, they now have more responsibility in preventing identity theft and selling financial products.

"As the world changes, so does the role of the bank teller," said Heather McElrath, spokesperson for the American Banker's Association.

Post-9/11 legislation, such as the Patriot Act, requires banks to ask more questions, record a lot of information, know what to look for and detect suspicious activity.

"The scope of what tellers need to know has increased tremendously, and they have so much more liability on them than they did before," said Maria Franklin, senior vice president for Union Bank and Trust.

Tellers collect information more than anyone else because they have the most contact with customers, she said. The information collected helps banks be a first defender against the funding of terrorism, money laundering activities and identity theft.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the nation, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Virginia had about 4,297 victims in 2003, up from 3,395 in 2002. The agency reports that bank fraud is the third most common type.

That's encouraging many banks to tighten their rules. Most don't cash checks and money orders for noncustomers anymore.

And many have added emphasis on getting to know customers and monitoring their banking habits.

"[Tellers] have to be on their toes at all times," Franklin said. "The technology for copying items is so sophisticated, it is very difficult [to recognize fraudulent activity]."

Some banks are even adding fingerprint scanners to verify a customer's identity.

"We are constantly looking for ways to help the teller determine these kinds of things," Franklin said.

The increased responsibility of tellers is leading some banks to eliminate the "teller" title.

First Market Bank, founded in Richmond in 1997, has "financial service advisers" rather than tellers.

They complete transactions and work with customers, as a teller would. But they are also trained to meet other customer needs.

"Banks are becoming more retail-oriented than anything else," said Lynn Riggleman, branch manager for First Market's Twin Lakes branch in Fredericksburg.

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