Looking For Career Advice: Feeling Trapped And Confused In A Retail Banking Job

I Don’t Want This Retail Banking Job Anymore!

Today’s blog post isn’t intended to be me complaining about my job, but me reaching out to the vast Angry Retail Banker community for help and advice. Because my career is currently at an impasse and I don’t have a clue where to go.

I’ve been in retail banking for way too long. I’m tired and cranky. You can say I’m an Angry Retail Banker©. I’m sick of customer service, sales, and all the work that goes into being in my current position and I want out.

But I have no idea where to go. I have no idea what to do. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I’m feel trapped and confused in a retail banking job.

And so after over two years of providing entertainment and insight into the wonderful world of banking, I’m hoping that you all can provide guidance to me.

Help me figure out how to get out of my retail banking job!

My Current Situation

I know, I know. “Trapped and confused in a retail banking job”? How many people who’ve spent their lives supporting children in Walmart greeter positions could possibly sympathize with me? A career in finance with incredible benefits packages, even for teens right out of high school? I might as well be complaining that I’m just scraping by on $500,000 a year, right?

Here’s my current situation. I live and work in an expensive city. Which city? Sorry, that’s classified. Comes with the territory of being anonymous. But I do live in a city with a high cost of living and skyrocketing real estate. I continue to live here because I grew up here, my family is here, and any job in finance that you can imagine is here. So I’m kinda stuck, but I do enjoy living in this city otherwise.

The problem is that I make about $40,000-$45,000 per year without bonuses. With bonuses? $40,000-$45,000 per year. Our bonuses are garbage. But back on point, this salary is simply not enough for me to live on in this city.

I need a new job with higher pay.

Now, I work in a bank branch. I deal with customers all day. You all probably know that because I have too many stories about nasty customers on this blog. I’m not even going to link to them because there are so many. But that’s what I do and I’m tired of it.

I don’t want to get into all the stuff about a retail banking job I don’t like. There are plenty of articles where I’ve already done that and I’ll write plenty more in the future. But I will say that dealing with the general public is a pretty infuriating job over time, and doing what I do is very stressful. I’ve been feeling the effects of that stress on my mind and body for some time, sapping away at my digestive health, my energy levels, and my creativity. Why do you think I only update with a couple articles a month rather than other bloggers who write about thirty articles a day?

I mean, other than the fact that everything I write turns into a 6,000 word tome?

I’ve currently got ten years of experience in retail banking. This includes teller, platform, and licensed banker experience. It also includes very limited supervisory experience (I’ve actually been the OIC (Officer In Charge) on a couple of occasions). I’ve opened personal and business accounts, put in applications for and did the closing processes for unsecured and home consumer lending, and have presented and sold life insurance and fixed annuities. I’ve assisted in every type of account maintenance you can imagine. I’ve played police detective, researching customers’ transactions to verify suspicious activity and AML violations or just to verify the validity of funds during complex transactions when there have been complicated money trails. All of that is often done with the customer at my desk.

As for education and licenses, I have a Bachelor’s Degree, but it’s not related to finance. I started my banking career just getting what was supposed to be a temporary teller job, and here I am. I am NMLS certified, meaning I am licensed to provide advice and process applications for consumer home lending products (Home Equity Loans, Home Equity Lines Of Credit, and residential mortgages). I also hold a state life insurance license, and I actually just renewed it a couple weeks ago. Lastly, I am a notary public and have been one long enough that I am going to have to renew that license as well very soon.

So that’s where I stand currently. It’s a tough job where you don’t get paid a lot of money. It’s primarily customer service and sales, but there is a ton of financial/transaction research, uncovering deception, KYC/AML compliance, large cash handling, physical security procedures, bureaucracy/departmental navigation, and so many other things as well.

Possible Career Paths

Where can one go from there?

Well, let’s start with where all my customers think I’m going to go one day: management.

You slowly move up in the branch to the coveted role of branch manager.

"Oh yes. What I wonderful job I have. Whee." [Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net]
“Oh yes. What I wonderful job I have. Whee.” [Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net]
Not interested.

I don’t want to manage a staff. I don’t want to be the leader, motivator, disciplinarian, final decision-maker, or any of that other crap. Plus, I don’t want to stay in the bank branches anymore.

That last sentence is key, by the way. I don’t want to work in a branch anymore.

Next up is private banking. Not investment banking, where people actually work eighty hour weeks and are on call all the time as if they were f***ing trauma surgeons, get screamed at at all hours of the day, actually sleep in bunks in the office so they could be at their desks at 4:30 AM, and make six figures while selling their souls and lives to the company.

No, private banking keeps you in the 9-5 world, but has you wheelin’ and dealin’ High Net Worth Individuals (HNWI’s). The super rich. I understand that the average salaries are roughly $70,000-$90,000 a year, but I’ve heard figures go a bit further in both directions (primarily up) depending on the firm and your experience. With my experience and qualifications, I would be a Relationship Manager. I’d be in charge of, well, managing the relationship. Keeping the client happy, being their first point of contact, convincing them to bring in more money, selling, all that stuff.

Now there’s pros and cons compared to what I’m doing now over in private banking. I like how you’re not dealing with the “trash” off the street. You won’t deal with some punk kid whose debit card isn’t working and blames the bank for it (or who has been committing debit card fraud or hasn’t been practicing the necessary debit card safety needed to avoid jail), or a non-English speaker who can’t figure out how to work their online banking. You’ll deal with a “higher class” of customers, or should I say “clients”.

Unfortunately, you’re still dealing with people. And here, you’re dealing with a more elite class of business owners and professionals used to getting what they want when they want it, looking for more complicated transactions and services, and who have more leverage to “take my money elsewhere” if they don’t get their way. See, all the reasons why threatening to close your account doesn’t work doesn’t apply to them; they have power over you when they can move their $20 million elsewhere. I’ve spoken to a woman who used to work in private banking, and she told me that these customers are way more demanding than retail banking customers. And a family friend who worked in private banking told me that many banks won’t even look at you unless you’re bringing in the big business right off the bat. I don’t have any multi-million dollar clients.

Private banking is something I showed “reluctant interest” in for awhile. I say “reluctant interest” because I knew right off the bat that while I would despise it pretty quickly, it was better than staying where I currently am now. I really am just tired of dealing with people (I have the Logician INTP personality trait, and I really can’t stand the useless obstacle that is other people when it comes to completing tasks and achieving goals). I’m tired of selling, I’m tired of justifying decisions, I’m tired of hand-holding, and I’m tired of diffusing situations with unsatisfied customers.

I can’t say I was too mad when that door “closed” on me.

My goal is to avoid continuing to work in sales and customer service. To avoid anything customer-facing. I want to get away from all that and into a nice back office somewhere.

I haven’t really looked into anything with loan underwriting/processing as that’s not really my strong suit, but having done insurance and annuity sales and being my own investor, I looked to the insurance industry instead. Suitability review (or ensuring that any trade was “suitable” for the client’s needs) is one that I aggressively applied for. Every investment someone makes with me requires “field suitability review”, or an in depth look at the customer’s needs to determine if this or that solution is right for them. If I can do that with the customer right in front of me, then I can do that in a back office.

But alas, nothing. I don’t have enough years in the securities industry (currently a whopping zero) to even be considered for that. And considering how few sales I actually have (I work in a tough area, sales-wise), I wonder if they will consider me “experienced” enough in suitability review when I’m weighed against other candidates.

Mind you, this isn’t me making up excuses to not apply. I’ve sent out plenty of resumes and job applications for these positions. The few who have been courteous to reply to me have done so with automated rejection emails. And so I’ve had that door slammed in my face.

The Current Apple Of My Eye

So while searching for how one goes from retail banking into back office (the one topic on the Internet that no one seems to have covered), I discovered ACAMS and their CAMS certification. CAMS stands for “Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist” and is a huge asset in–

Wait a second. Shouldn’t it be CAMLS? ACAMS, you have a letter missing in your name!

–breaking into the field of BSA/AML. Investigating account activity to ensure AML compliance and following up on possible instances of money laundering and terrorist financing is something that sounds worthwhile to do. Something important. Not making a sales goal or getting someone set up on online bill pay. This is something that makes a difference. It pays way more and involves no customer interaction.

Plus, I (just barely) qualify for those positions!

Or not, as I’ve applied to almost two dozen of them and have not landed a single interview.

I’ve put this thread up on Reddit about whether CAMS was worth pursuing and got a lot of responses, but relatively mixed at best. I have the educational and experience qualifications met, I can afford it if need be (though that is money not spent lightly), and even qualify for a small discount due to working in a financial institution.

But I need to know if it’s worth it to pursue CAMS certification.

After all, I thought ten years of retail banking on my resume would have made me a shoe-in for a position in the banks’ AML departments. Having a retail banking job means having done some level of transaction research, money trail following, and KYC for onboarding. It means knowing all the relevant banking regulations. It means doing all the things that provide a foundation for everything that one would do in AML.

And yet, a dozen or two applications later and not so much as an interview scheduled. I’ve looked at sites like Indeed and CareerBuilder, as well as went directly to the websites of each bank I know and even my own bank’s internal job postings. If I find anything worth applying to, I never hear back from them.

I don’t want to pay $2,100+ for CAMS membership and certification (for which you have to pass an exam) only to apply for these jobs and get the exact same response. Or lack thereof. It’s money I can afford to invest. It’s not money I can afford to have disappear.

But in researching this line of work further, I’ve learned that it’s apparently considered one of the three most stressful lines of work in finance, right there with investment banking. I’ve also read that it’s tough to break into, often requiring years of prior AML (non-branch experience) and that people with prior regulatory or law enforcement experience are generally preferred. And at some levels, failing to catch money laundering can lead to personal liability!

What the fu–

Oh, and I’ve tried looking at all the federal regulators. SEC, FINRA, CFPB, FDIC, and the Federal Reserve. Nothing available with any of them.

What Do I Even Do?

It should be noted that I’m not bouncing from “interest” to “interest” every few weeks. I’ve been looking into AML and CAMS for at least the last few months. My “reluctant interest” in private banking was from a year ago.

But now I’m not sure what to even do. My one “lead”, my one pathway out of a retail banking job, which was AML and CAMS, seems to now be the equivalent of leaping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

And that’s if I can even get in.

So I don’t know what to do at this point. What line of business am I qualified to go into on paper? What am I qualified to do in actuality? What should I look into doing and what should I avoid like the plague?

All I know is that I can’t stay where I am. I’m sick of dealing with customers, sick of worrying about sales goals, sick of all the showy hospitality nonsense, sick what happens when you merge complicated finance together with the general public. I’m sick of the long hours, the large workload, and the stress. And it’s not just me; my coworkers and people I know in other banks feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong. I know any job in financial analysis/administration/investigation that bumps my salary up to $70,000-$80,000 per year (the average salary of a CAMS certified AML investigator) isn’t going to be some nice little job where I put my feet up on the desk and nap all day. Nor am I going to be mindlessly pushing a button like George Jetson. I don’t have any illusions of me having an “easy” job. Every job has stress.

But if I’m going to be stressed, if I’m going to have a large workload, then I’d rather do so with a reasonably decent pay.

Customer service and sales only qualifies you for more customer service and sales, it seems. And that’s a problem, because these jobs won’t be around in twenty years. Not just teller jobs, but even my job as a financial advisor will be obsolete very soon (one can argue that it already is and the banks haven’t realized it yet). With the power of machine learning, anything involving high volume repetitive work can be taken over by a computer algorithm. These are the jobs we’ll lose to machines long before I’m old enough to retire. I don’t know about AML investigation, insurance/investment suitability review, or risk management. But I know the path that I’m currently on will lead me right off a bridge and I’d rather adjust course now while it’s not too late.

But I can’t find the exit.

So that’s where I am. Ten years of retail banking, sales, and customer service. I’ve been dealing with customers in one setting or another for fifteen years and I’d like to get out for multiple reasons. But I don’t know what to do. I’m feeling trapped and confused and don’t know what course of action to take, what certification I should get (if any), what I could reasonably be qualified for, or what’s really out there.

And so I ask you all for help. For advice and guidance.

For those who’ve left retail banking for better paying, non-customer facing jobs in finance, what should I do? I’d really like to do KYC/BSA/AML work (maybe something related to client onboarding), but is that right for someone like me? Is that something I can reasonably get into? Is it worth it?

What should I do!? Because everywhere I look, there’s another closed door and another brick wall.

Readers–What do YOU think!? Is it too late and I’m stuck in retail? How do I get out and move to another business line? What options have I not explored, or what finance careers have I not considered? Am I being childish and self-limiting for not wanting to deal with customers anymore? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

 

Comments

  1. says

    What about insurance agent? I know in Texas they make good money and its largely 8-5 M-F. You need some start up cash though as it is straight commission with limited start up income guarantee. You need time to build up a customer base.

    • ARB says

      Raptor,

      Thanks for the advice, but insurance agent isn’t too far off from what I do now. Not as far off as you’d think. Dealing with the public, sales, building pipelines, but now without a guaranteed salary? No thanks!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  2. Mr. Ben says

    You never stated what your BS was in.
    Is ACAMS a passion or just a door that you see? Would you rather get back to, idk, archeology, that you actually went to school for?
    I know moving away from home is rough, My first real job after graduating took me 3 states away from home. But once you get outside of the big cities, cost of living can come down more than you realize making a smaller income more attractive (and you may not even have to take a hit).
    Don’t pigeon hole yourself based on 10 years of experience, look at where you really want to be.

    • ARB says

      My B.A.? A useless enough major.

      The thing is that I consider banking to be my field. And not because I’m pigeonholed into it. I LIKE banking and finance! I read articles about investing for fun! I run this blog, and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do that without an underlying passion and enjoyment for banking. But more than I like banking and finance, I hate retail/customer service/sales. THAT’S what I’m trying to get away from.

      I can’t say that AML/KYC analysis and investigations has always been my life dream. So I’d say it’s a door; a way out of what I’m doing now. That said, the broader work sounds fascinating. Investigations, corporate security, and other similar departments are the ones there to ensure that drug dealers, white collar criminals, and terrorists aren’t using the financial system for nefarious purposes. And while most of these jobs are likely “boring” office jobs, it’s incredible to imagine myself participating in the fight against criminals and terrorists that seek to do us harm. Sure they say that the “first line of defense” is the retail branch staff, but that’s not even close. The work there is meaningless. All things the same, I’d rather make $70,000 doing something that protects us all (even if I’m the tiniest possible cog in the machine) and not have to deal with customers than make $40,000 having to convince people to open savings accounts with their checking accounts or to put their money into a fixed income instrument when all they want to do is leave their money in a checking account and just get that statement printed.

      Thanks for the input, Mr. Ben!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  3. David says

    I felt the same way a few years ago in a similar job except I was in a call center instead of a branch. Dealing with the public is exhausting. I left after 2 and a half years so I can imagine after ten you must be getting stir crazy. I ended up going back to school and getting another degree in accounting to escape. A pretty expensive option. It sounds like the positions in the area you want are pretty limited so it will probably take some time. Applying online is kind of a crapshoot for whether they will call you. Even internally in your current company, unless they have heard of you before you won’t be any more likely to make the top 5 they interview. I would suggest looking up who is in the department at your current company and trying to meet with them in person to ask how they got into the field and how you can make yourself more competitive. Then you are getting your name and face out there. If you talk to the right person and they like you, you might get a job just because of that. Try to do the same with people at other companies. Search LinkedIn and see if there are people you have something in common with. Starting with people who went to the same school as you is always easy. Another thing you can do is see if there are any associations for AML. If so you could try attending events.

    • ARB says

      David,

      Good for you getting out of that call center. But unfortunately I just can’t afford to go back to school, with or without student loans. I don’t mind getting certifications on my own, but I need to be sure that I will get something in return other than a few letters next to my name.

      I actually spoke to our Corporate Security department the other day. Our AML and related departments sit in other states, and moving just isn’t an option for me for a number of different reasons.

      ACAMS is an AML-related organization so it looks like my best bet is through them. I wanted to see if my bank would sponsor me for the CAMS exam and transfer internally so I can stay in the company, but that’s only possible if I’m willing to pack up and move a few states over to a small town with spotty public transportation. I don’t drive and I’ve never been to this state. But that’s all okay; I’ll pay for CAMS myself.

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  4. Paul says

    I was in the same exact situation as you until the beginning of March. 9 years in the branches at my credit union; started as a Teller, then Personal Banker and finally Assistant Branch Manager. I was beyond bored with these positions yet I felt like there was no way out. I began to actively seek out opportunities to work on organizational projects and get additional experience and finally was granted a Business Analyst position internally. Way more money, more career options, and most importantly no public contact! Just do everything possible to get your name out there and don’t be afraid to make your desires known. Best of luck to you!

    • ARB says

      Paul,

      Good for you getting out!

      Do you mind if I ask what a Business Analyst does? And what skills did you get from branch banking that directly transferred into that? Was there anything that really separated you from the rest of the bunch during your time in retail (ex. were you the go-to person for loan or business-related questions, or were you the person who held things together in terms of operations and kept the branch from failing audits? Just really anything that made people wonder how the branch would still function without you being there?)?

      Would love to know more!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

  5. Kate Logan says

    I don’t have any advice, just wanted to commiserate. I’m stuck in, more or less, the exact same spot you are. I’m trying to stick it out one more year for an underwriting position that I know will be available soon. Don’t sell yourself short on that end, either. I feel like 90% of underwriting skills just come from having seen a lot. If you’ve been mainly working deposits, maybe that’s the case?

    • ARB says

      Hmm, underwriting.

      I’ve never really considered that. The positions I look at online seem to be ones I’m not qualified for (then again, terms like “3-5 years Underwriting experience required” is sort of an explicit sign that I’m not qualified), but I’ve never considered that being at the bank branches have taught me a lot of things about the topic. I know way more than 99% of people that walk through those doors, especially those who think that have $XYZ in a checking account qualifies you for an unsecured loan. Maybe I should consider underwriting positions a bit more? I do my own underwriting when I put money in Lending Club and Prosper (P2P lending), so it’s not like I don’t have any experience. Just none that could be put on a resume.

      I’ve never done anything to stand out in my branch in terms of underwriting (I’m the investment “guru” in my branch, but I usually am the one asking for advice when it comes to the lending side of things). Between that and my bank paying lower than most of the competition, underwriting is definitely something I think I’d be looking elsewhere for.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kate! And good luck getting that underwriting position yourself! Hopefully it comes up soon! Just hang in there; I know you’ll get it!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

      • Kate Logan says

        That’s interesting! I always think it’s fascinating how different banks divide responsibility and labor. Just because I’m curious… I know you said you’ve taken loan applications and closed them. What happens in the interim? Are confined

        • Kate Logan says

          Sorry. .. Accidentally bumped the post button. Are they all decisioned and processed by a different department?

          • ARB says

            Happens. I’ll forgive you this time.

            As for what happens to those loans in the interim, Loan Department happens. They make the decisions, process the loans, even deal directly with the customer.

  6. Mattia says

    Someone once said:

    “Having transferable skills is overrated. All you really need is to be: 1) likable, 2) trustworthy, and 3) consistent. To make life easier, build a higher EQ. Anything technical can be learned on the job. Think about how much you remember from high school and college. Not much! The CEOs earning $25 million a year aren’t coding or rewiring your house. All they’re doing is managing people, building business relationships, and making decisions.

    […] what you’ve got more than most is experience. Experience cannot be taught or bought. Acquiring it takes time. Your experience is extremely valuable.”

    – See more at: http://www.financialsamurai.com/the-fear-of-running-out-of-money-in-retirement-is-overblown/#sthash.i3uVZyQL.dpuf

    • ARB says

      Wise words from a wise man. Definitely something to be said for experience. I’ve been trying to parlay that over to compliance/AML functions as of late. I don’t think there’s a bank in the US that hasn’t received my resume yet.

      Thanks, Mattia!

      Sincerely,
      ARB–Angry Retail Banker

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