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Branch Banking Amid a Pandemic

Even with spiking levels of COVID in communities across the country, bank branches remain operational, and expect to stay open for business in their current form for the foreseeable future, as recently reported by Believe In Banking. As an essential service, banking has successfully pivoted to our current COVID normal – augmenting digital and mobile platforms, implementing appointment-banking and repurposing channels like drive-up windows – all to meet considerable consumer demand in these unprecedented times.

While many have predicted the death of the branch over the last decade, the reality is that the branch banking channel remains strong, even through the pandemic. Though some branch locations may have more limited access with a focus on customer appointments for access, 53% of consumers as early as April were already reporting they planned to return to the branch, according to Babbage Pulse. Further, while digital use is unquestionably on the rise during the pandemic, consumers are not yet completely all in on it yet, with McKinsey finding 54% of consumers reporting infrequent or no use of digital at all.

While it’s clear that bank brands must enhance their digital platforms to meet customers’ transactional needs now and into the future, the branch still has a vital role, albeit an evolving one. No longer necessarily the primary home for transactions, the branch is one of a full and connected suite of banking channels people are using to manage all aspects of their financial lives. For daily transactional needs, digital channels like convenient apps and online banking save time, and self-service channels like ATMs and ITMs provide on-demand, on-site service when needed. So, what then is happening at the branch?

Relationship-Building

Once a locus for transactions, the local bank branch has evolved. Now it’s not only a beacon for a bank’s brand – a point of presence in the local market – it’s where personal connections and significant consultations happen. Especially during tough economic times like these, financial decisions are mission-critical for people navigating complex and competing financial demands. With these make-or-break money decisions, businesses and retail consumers need advice and professional guidance from a trusted banker, and it’s those valuable consultations that happen inside the branch.

During COVID and beyond, the local branch and its staff represent a solid relationship rooted in trust. Showing their strength in this moment, we’ve heard countless reports of local bank branch staff reaching out to customers one-by-one during the pandemic to check on them. This is especially true as business customers applied for PPP assistance and banks helped shepherd the applications through to get critical payments to keep small businesses afloat. Deepening relationships through tough times, banking is living up to its role as an “essential service provider,” demonstrating banking’s purpose and power on an individual consumer level.

A direct and personal channel of engagement, the branch is where consumers often begin and certainly sustain their primary banking relationships. Interestingly, as the pandemic has upended the way we live and work, consumer preference is also moving closer to home, as Kantar finds that 69% of U.S. consumers are prioritizing support for local institutions they know. As people’s brand loyalties shift toward supporting local businesses that have deep community roots, banks and credit unions that maximize their local presence have a distinct opportunity.

Optimizing Opportunities

Smart banks know that the local branch is where their purpose comes to life. Accenture reports that nearly half of consumers want more than access, efficiency and good rates from their bank or credit union. What consumers are looking for is a purpose-driven organization that’s on a mission to be responsive to their personal needs and financial goals, and they want that right around the corner. Demonstrating a core commitment to service and communicating a brand’s authentic community connections, the local branch is the place where banks engage with existing and new customers alike.

Further, while smart strategy and marketing raises overall brand awareness, the local branch is still the place where banks achieve most of their new account openings and lasting ones at that. Recent data from Novantas finds much higher customer attrition if a customer opened their account digitally compared to 30% for those initiating account openings through the branch. When optimized, the branch is perfectly positioned to acquire customers who have a renewed focused on the value of banking locally. This data demonstrates that while digital transformation is certainly table stakes for banking’s future, optimizing the branch channel is equally critical.

As new data points to populations on the move – especially millennials – banks must look at strategies for leveraging the brand and branch together to deepen consumer relationships. With growth in emerging suburbs, exurbs, and secondary cities, financial institutions are tapping into the power of the optimized branch network to drive acquisition and consideration among new consumers, as relocation is a prime time when consumers consider switching banking relationships. Using powerful data and insights will help banks drive informed decision-making about branch networks, identifying growth opportunities at a time when banking needs it most.

Adrenaline is an experience design agency specializing in financial services that creates and implements end-to-end branded experiences from the brand to the branch. Believe in Banking is a mission-oriented platform bringing together decision-makers, influencers, and industry leaders for timely insights, news, data, and vital conversations around the critical role of financial services.

About Author:
Gina Bleedorn, Chief Experience Officer at Adrenaline and Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Believe in Banking

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