Socially Distanced Banking Spurs Innovation and Stronger Digital Engagement

Sep  22 
Dan Senft  Director, Product Management, Bank Solutions, Fiserv 

Pandemic accelerates strategies to transform digital capabilities and the branch

The pandemic has changed the way people bank. Adapting to those changes has been difficult for financial institutions, but it's also created opportunities to reach consumers in new and engaging ways.

As a result, many banks and credit unions are accelerating long-held strategies to reimagine the branch and transform digital capabilities. Many see this as a good time to innovate, engage and think differently about the experience they deliver, from the drive-thru lane to mobile banking.

Consumers are adapting, too. Whether by necessity or choice, they're managing money in new, often digital, ways. More than one in four consumers (26 percent) say they've changed payment methods as a result of the pandemic, according to Expectations & Experiences: Consumer Finances During COVID-19, the consumer trends survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Fiserv in May 2020. The survey also found that among those who already use in-branch ATMs, 36 percent are using them less often.

Look for many of those changes to stick. For example, 27 percent of those who use mobile check deposit have increased use since the pandemic began, and 66 percent expect that increase to be permanent.

As the pandemic continues, banks and credit unions are weighing what changes will be permanent and settling into a new banking model: digital-first banking supported by the branch experience.

So the question becomes: How is your financial institution engaging consumers now?

Social Distancing in the Branch

The branch continues to be an important touchpoint, even as many people limit in-lobby visits due to COVID-19. In May, the survey found that among consumers who had visited a branch in the past year, 54 percent expected to visit a branch soon after it opened. Just 2 percent said they'd never visit again.

More than half of consumers said there are certain actions that would make them feel safe returning to the branch, including hand sanitizers where transaction slips are filled out (64 percent), plastic barriers at teller windows (59 percent) and lines marking a 6-foot distance approaching teller windows (60 percent).

Financial institutions are also prioritizing opportunities for contactless engagement. For example, online chat enables banking from home while maintaining personal, "high-touch" interactions with bankers. In the same way, appointment scheduling solutions promote social distancing and ensure people meet with the right experts when they do visit the branch.

Encouraging greater use of self-service kiosks, interactive teller machines and ATMs also reduces branch traffic, limits time spent in a branch and frees staff for higher-value activities. In addition, teller cash recyclers minimize the handling of cash, speed up teller transactions and reduce consumers' time in the branch.

The Need for Stronger Digital Engagement

The pandemic has been an eye-opener for financial institutions, especially those that hadn't prioritized digital investments. Social distancing caused consumers and financial institutions to lean on digital banking channels like never before. If digital capabilities weren't already in place to provide anytime, anywhere banking, there was no time to waste.

As a result, many banks and credit unions are accelerating implementation of digital transformation strategies, priorities and initiatives. Organizations are also thinking more broadly about the end-to-end consumer experience and how to provide people with greater choice in how they bank.

The pandemic is driving changes in consumers' preferences and behavior. Now that digital options are more about necessity than convenience, people are more willing to use digital alternatives for managing accounts, making payments, transferring money and other activities. Use this moment to reintroduce and market digital capabilities to people who were once resistant to completing their banking tasks online.

Opening an account online or using mobile banking to pay bills aren't new capabilities, but they're new to people who are using them for the first time. Coach consumers as they discover new ways to manage their finances and interact with their bank or credit union.

Staffing Changes and Priorities

Few could have envisioned the scenario financial institutions were faced with early in the pandemic. Overnight, banks and credit unions had to adapt to shuttered branches and a work-from-home staff.

Even as organizations move back to more typical operations, the need to modify staffing models, roles and processes continues. Call center and drive-thru volumes, for example, have risen sharply for most financial institutions. Staffing adjustments are also necessary when local social-distancing guidelines change and associates are personally affected by COVID-19.  

Many financial institutions have already reduced their branch footprint or transitioned to a smaller staff of cross-trained universal bankers who can meet multiple customer needs, from retail banking to lending. Look for that focus to accelerate in the current environment.

A Partner in Challenging Times

Social distancing was never a phrase intended for banking, but financial institutions and consumers continue to adapt. What was new and uncomfortable a few months ago is now becoming the norm.

Financial institutions are working side by side with their customers and members, many of whom need help navigating difficult circumstances. Continue to communicate with the people you serve. Keep them updated on changes to policies and procedures and let them know you are always mindful of their safety. Be a partner to your customers and members in whatever ways they need.