Bank Tellers and ATMs

Something I’ve heard the president say in televised interviews, in a meeting with writers I was invited to, and now yesterday in his speech is that the development of Automatic Teller Machines has led to a decline in the number of bank tellers. “Over the last few decades, huge advances in technology have allowed businesses to do more with less,” he said, “If you were a bank teller or a phone operator or a travel agent, you saw many in your profession replaced by ATMs and the Internet.” I believe this is actually true of travel agents, but as you can see above in this chart citing BLS data it’s not true of bank tellers.

Now it’s true that since the recession started, we’ve seen fewer people on the job as tellers. But that’s not a decades-long technologically induced trend. It’s a recession. The BLS continues to project long-term growth in the number of bank tellers presumably because banks like to open branches to attract deposits. It’s true that bank tellers as a share of the labor force should shrink but that’s different. Banks are doing more with a little bit more, not doing more with less.