Sunday, February 19, 2006

Show me the money: Bank tellers have new titles, new areas of responsibility


Call the person behind the counter at the bank a "teller," and he or she might politely tell you that the new title is "CSR" or "Customer Service Representative."

"Just as banks have changed a lot, so have our titles and what we do," says Kelli Miller, a teller turned CSR with Modesto Commerce Bank on J Street in Modesto. "We do a lot of things now. We don't just give out money." In addition to filling customers' requests for cash, CSRs assist them with deposits and transfers, redemption of bonds, cashier's checks, cash advances and a host of other services.

"Anything the customer needs to do involving balances or accounts, we do it," says Miller, who started in banking in 1980, the year she graduated from high school, after her father told her she needed to start paying rent. Following stints at a couple of local banks, Miller landed at Modesto Commerce Bank in 1989 when it opened its first branch. She says her goal always was to find a small, community bank, and she found that with Modesto Commerce Bank - which is now a division of the Bank of Stockton, but retains its small-town feel.

"A small bank means a stronger relationship with the customers," Miller says. "My job is to make them feel comfortable."

For Miller, the customers are her No. 1 priority and favorite part of coming to work each day. "If it wasn't for the customers, I wouldn't have a job. I love them. They're like my family," she says.

The first trait Francie Passalaqua, Miller's manager, looks for when hiring new CSRs is good customer service skills. "We are very customer-service oriented," she says. "It matters a lot when a customer walks in the door, and we know who they are. It puts them at ease and they come back. It's a great relationship we have with our customers." Both customers and employees at Modesto Commerce Bank are on a first-name basis.

In addition to excellent customer service skills, Passalaqua also looks for applicants with good math skills and those who are dressed professionally. "People come in dressed in jeans and thongs. I'm just amazed that they want a job here dressed like that," she says. Even if you are just stopping by to pick up an application, look your best, Passalaqua advises. "Your first impression is what we're looking at," she says.

In smaller banks, many employees end up working in a number of areas. In addition to helping customers from behind the counter, Myra Morris helps them when they want to open new accounts. "Banking is all about taking care of the customers' needs," says Morris, who has been at Modesto Commerce Bank for three years. "I enjoy helping them."

With her many years of experience, Miller is often called upon to train new CSRs. Experience or banking coursework aren't necessary, says Passalaqua, but it can't hurt to brush up on your math skills. Modesto Junior College offers A.A. and A.S. degrees in Banking and Finance. Most of the training is "on the job," Passalaqua notes.

For some people, the fear of a hold-up might keep them from considering a career in banking, notes Miller, who has experienced one robbery in all of the years she has worked in the industry. All employees receive training on a regular basis, and the risk is worth the reward, she says. "You can get robbed anywhere. Just do it," she advises those considering banking careers. "I look forward to coming to work. It's fun meeting people. It's like a big family here."

The pay range for tellers in California is minimum wage to $13 per hour depending on experience. Most full-time positions include sick leave, vacation and retirement plans. Medical, dental, vision and life insurance are usually covered. Modesto Commerce Bank continually accepts applications. They can be picked up at the bank during business hours.

Search for banking jobs at and, or for more information, visit to view the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.

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