Despite the ongoing havoc from Covid-19 and the disruption to face-to-face communication, consumersstill need to conduct critical financial transactions and access their money, whether throughonline/mobile channels, self-serve optionsor visiting a branch.For nearly seven months, banks and credit unions have faced the two-fold challenge of ramping up digital capacity to serve growing demand, while also offering safe and welcoming access to physical branches.

To meet needs in the branch, bankshad to respond quickly with robust measures to protect customers’ health and safety, includingenhanced cleaning, social distancing, and PPE (sanitizers,masks, gloves and plastic partitions for employees). Communication with patrons and employees to inform them of Covid-19 safety procedures was also critical. These efforts are now table stakes until the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror.

To reduce the risk of spreading the virus through human contact, banks and credit unions have also ramped up campaigns to encourage clients to use digital channels(plus ATMs, credit/debit cards and drive-thrus) over branch visits for basic transactions whenever possible. This strategy has been effective.  About 85 percent of customers who have relied more on mobile and online platforms say they will continue this practice after the pandemic recedes(Kearney Consulting).

Customers want access to physical branches  

While the convenience and safety of conducting financial transactions digitally has attracted increased consumer adoption, nearly 75% of customers said they visited physical branches at least once a month pre-Covid,according to asurvey from Jefferies.And while it’s no surprise that branch traffic dropped 30 percent in April and May compared to 2019, many peoplestill want assistance from a teller or bankerfor more complex financial needs such as personal/business loans, mortgages, lines of credit and investments.

The need for high touch, in-person service represents a challenge for banks, especially as consumers tire of social distancing or wearing masks. The prospect of an imminent vaccine might further contribute to careless behavior on the part of some clients. However, most patrons still expect their financial institution to provide rigorous health measures to keep them safe. This is especially true for older customers who are more susceptible to sickness and more likely to visit branches, as well as  the “unbanked” who depend on a physical location to cash checks or make payments.

For services that require branch visits, it’s important that banks use their digital channels to highlight information on new hours, essential services, staffing levels, heightened safety precautions, social-distancing procedures and techniques to control lines.

Those with a clear and effective Covid-19 plan will be in a stronger position to differentiate their brand with clients and prospects.

Technology advances can enhance the “new normal”

Financial institutions are looking at how technology can help provide a better“new normal” experience and engender a customer reaction that says, “My bank is working hard to keep me safe.”To achieve this, many banks and credit unions are considering newtech investments, factoring in the scale of their brick-and-mortar operations and the expected impact on customers, safety, banking products/services and brand reputation to determine ROI.

With most consumers combining a mix of branch and digital banking activities, technical innovations should be aimed at both channels. Examples of solutions that could gain traction to keep financial institutions ahead of the curve for clients and employeesinclude the following:

  • Wall mirrors can check temperatures

Temperature checks have been widely adopted as a primary precautionto detect Covid-19, with some of the world’s largest companies monitoring employees’ temperatures regularly since April. For example, Amazonutilizes infrared cameras in warehouses and Whole Foods stores to detect workers with elevated temperatures,preemptively identifying individuals who later tested positive for coronavirus. While this procedure is relatively simple,less intrusive options are also being evaluated.

Infrared mirrors, for example, are a technology that could serve as an attractive alternative to traditional temperature gauges. These cutting-edge mirrors could offer screening that’s fastand noninvasive topinpoint individuals with fevers. Managers could discreetly followup with people who may be ill and potentially spreading the virus.

Additionally, financial institutions mightconsider tracking tools to safeguard their workforce. For example, PwC has developed a contact-tracing appto help lowerworkers’ risk by  identifying people who may have been exposed to the virus at work.Similarly, Salesforce has a tool called Work.comdesigned to help employers reopen more safely. It allows companies to create online employee health surveys and map workplace locations visited by employees with evidence of coronavirus infections.

  • Density sensors manage traffic

Adhering to social distancing guidelines to establish a safe environment for customers, employees and branchesis an ongoing challenge. While many businesses have addressed traffic patterns with floor markings and arrows to ensure people stay distanced, theyrecognize the need for longer-term procedures and technologyto manage traffic flow for an effective Covid-19 protection strategy.

  • Mobile check-in avoids lines

Banks and credit unions have typically been plagued with long lines during peak times that become dangerous during a pandemic and exasperate customers. Mobile check-in can alleviate the problem and enable clients to see a teller or banker without standing in line. Queue management systems enable customers to sign-in on their smartphone –or at a digital kiosk –withoutlining up and receive a text alert when it’s their turn.

By managing customers’ expectations and allowing them to use their time more efficiently, branches can help prevent unhappy customers from walking out. Additionally, real-time analytics data from the queue systemhelps management teams improve customer service by quickly adding or moving staff to ease bottlenecks.

  • Partners boost digital adoption with education

While digital banking that reduces human contact is clearly a helpful safety measure during a pandemic, many financial institutions struggle to increase adoption. Despite financial institutions’ efforts to increase consumers’ use of online and digital channels, nearly half of highly satisfied U.S. banking customers report never using their mobile app or doing soinfrequently.

To help bridge the learning gap among non-users, banks are enlisting partners to help clients become more tech savvy. For example, Deluxe partners with banks to help incentivize customers to make the digital transition. On behalf of banks and credit unions, Deluxe mailsa real incentive check for a few dollars to customers with instructions on how to enroll in mobile banking and deposit checks remotely. Similar programs extend to other transactions.

  • Video banking adds the human element

The pandemic could accelerate trends that were already emerging. For example, video banking terminals that allow customersto speak virtually with bank and credit unionemployees can serve as an extension of the branch.With face-to-face interaction currently curtailed, financial institutions canexpand video banking at self-service machines to offermany of the same services and personalized customer experience provided by in-branch professionals. With social distancing an ongoing way of life, at least for the near term, customers who seek an added human element can bridge the gap with video banking, while maintaining safety and an added level of privacy.

When deciding where to bank, consumers are likely to consider personal health risksin addition to their financial needs. Banks and credit unions should view the pandemic as an opportune time to differentiate their brand with technology that better protects clients’ physical and financial well-being. As essential service providers, financial institutions that go the extra mile now will send a strong message that can cultivate loyal clients and goodwill for the longterm.

Tom Riccio is the president of Promotional Solutions at Deluxe, a business technology company whose solutions help businesses pay and get paid, accelerate growth and operate more efficiently. The company supports over 4,000 financial institutions and hundreds of the world’s largest consumer brands. Deluxe has been a leader in helping businesses get the workplace safety products they need to continue operating during Covid-19, from PPE to signage, floor decals that help maintain social distancing andmore.

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