Bank robberies in virtual reality: how BofA trains staff for stressful encounters

Bank robberies in virtual reality: how BofA trains staff for stressful encounters

What’s the best way to help employees prepare for the worst-case scenario? For Bank of America, the answer is: repeat.

In October 2021, Bank of America launched virtual reality training through its 4,300 financial centers, employing approximately 50,000 employees. The program initially prioritized customer and co-worker interaction trainings, but proved so successful that the organization has since invested in creating additional virtual scenarios as elaborate and challenging as bank robberies. .

“The safety of your employees is based on split-second decisions managers make, in some cases,” says John Jordan, director of Bank of America’s Academy, which oversees onboarding and skills development. in the business. “We found VR to be quite the business case, a way to provide better training and better customer and employee experiences.”

Not all of Bank of America’s VR trainings are as terrifying as a robbery, although they are as effective, says Jordan. The Academy has long relied on Technology to improve training and development programs. Its online trainings allow employees to engage in scenarios and conversations, both during the formal onboarding process and any time after, at their convenience; these trainings have been used almost a million times by employees. Adding virtual reality, he says, is just one more way to enhance learnings and make them stickier.

“When we started piloting this technology, we quickly saw situations where someone had been trained on something and felt confident in their skills, but once we used virtual reality, they realized that maybe they didn’t know the subject as well as they thought they did,” Jordan said. “So the VR experience not only created a more memorable way for them to learn, but it also gave us a better way to certify a skill.”

A person tests hand tracking on a Meta virtual reality headset. Bank of America uses virtual reality to train employees to prepare for situations that require split-second decisions.

Michael Short/Bloomberg

It has proven to be a valuable way to build empathy. With the expertise of the Academy’s in-house team, as well as input from Bank of America’s technology partners, the bank has created trainings on how to respond with empathy when someone is going through a divorce or experiences a death in the family, for example.

“Especially for young people who are earlier in their careers, they may never have experienced these things and therefore may not be as empathetic as you would like,” says Jordan. These trainings help bridge this gap, and in addition to giving employees the opportunity to practice and experience a live conversation, virtual interactions are also recorded, allowing the employee to assess their performance.

“Trainings help you search for clues, ask better questions, and literally put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Jordan says. “The people who provide the best customer service are usually the ones with the most seniority. So how do you simulate seniority? It’s through practice.”

Adopting the technology has involved fewer barriers than expected to Bank of America. The biggest challenge, says Jordan, is simply helping people overcome the fear of putting on the VR headset. (“People think they’re going to get dizzy.”) But once they’ve tried the technology, those fears are allayed.

As the company continues to expand its virtual reality training in the future, Jordan says there are many additional opportunities to maximize the value of the technology, especially in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion policies.

“Being able to show someone what it’s like to have a physical disability, or to be the only person of your race in a room – that’s where we’ll see the value, and that’s where empathy will develop,” he says.

Through Bank of America’s Pathways program, the bank partners with nonprofit organizations and community colleges to provide career paths for people in low- and middle-income communities, with a commitment to hire 20,000 people. Part of this partnership includes sharing some of Bank of America’s training programs, working to build job skills and career readiness within these communities.

“We’ve taken on 10,000 hires and we’re working another 10,000 people, mostly without degrees, and it’s been a resounding success,” Jordan said. “We partner with organizations like the Boys and Girls Club or the Community College of Rhode Island, and we have such a wealth of content on everything from technology to customer service and empathy, we’re working to complement that. what these organizations have already done to improve the skills of communities.”

As the Academy’s technology-focused programs continue to expand, both within Bank of America and beyond, it will only create a stronger workforce, Jordan says, and better interactions within the Bank of America team – and with their customers.

“If you get 50,000 people to be better at something, multiplied by millions of customer interactions,” he says, “that matters.”

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