By Tom RiccioFor bank branches, COVID-19 would seem to be the perfect storm.
But don’t write the branch obituary yet. Human nature is a stubborn thing, and old habits are strong enough to survive the scourge of COVID-19, even if they evolve, as branch behaviors surely will—and are.
A 2019 World Branch Report found that consumers had 51 percent greater trust in financial institutions that have branches. While the research was conducted before the pandemic, “trust” has hardly become irrelevant in a world full of financial and economic insecurity. Take this to the bank: Trust will be critical for banks in the next phase, and many people will still want the security of knowing there’s a real place they can go to talk with a real person.
Banks have also seized the opportunity to encourage customers to use their digital banking channels instead of visiting branches. One way gaining traction, for example, is banks sending $2-$5 checks to clients with instructions on how to use mobile deposit. This incentive is an example of how banks can use traditional channels—the mail and a paper check—to drive digital adoption. About 85 percent of customers who have relied more on mobile and online platforms say they will continue this practice after the pandemic recedes, reports Kearney Consulting.
Despite the best efforts of banks to drive people to digital channels, there will still be a need for branches—for the other 15 percent plus those who are “digital first” but still need a branch from time to time.
Positioning the bank branch to succeed in this type of environment is one of the industry’s next big challenges. But it is much more than just a challenge to overcome. It is an opportunity for financial institutions to differentiate themselves from competitors, earn the trust of clients and build brand equity. Below are a few solutions that could gain traction as financial institutions reimagine the in-person banking experience and technology enhancements needed to protect clients.
Infrared wall mirrors monitor discreetly
Temperature checks have been widely adopted as a means of detecting symptomatic people, with some of the world’s largest companies monitoring employees’ temperatures regularly since April. Amazon, for example, uses infrared cameras in warehouses and Whole Foods stores to detect workers with elevated temperatures, identifying many 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 option in a branch setting. These cutting-edge mirrors could offer screening that’s fast and non-invasive to pinpoint individuals—including employees—with fevers. Managers could discreetly and safely engage with people who may be ill and ask them to come back another time.
Density sensors manage traffic
Adhering to social distancing guidelines to establish a safe environment for clients, employees and branches is an ongoing challenge. While many businesses have addressed traffic patterns with floor markings and arrows to ensure people stay distanced, they recognize the need for longer-term procedures and technology to manage traffic flow.
Density sensors that monitor the number of people entering and exiting a building can alert management when a space becomes too crowded. Businesses have controlled traffic flow by literally counting people leaving and entering a store, but this is hardly a long-term strategy. Now, solutions like SafeSpace can be used to count and monitor the number of people arriving and leaving a location—with both manual and automated sensor options. These systems automatically show how many people are inside and when more can enter.
This solution could be especially relevant in high-density cities. One could imagine a “traffic light” outside a busy Manhattan bank branch that indicates when there is enough space to enter.
Video banking adds the human element
The pandemic could accelerate trends that were already emerging. For example, video banking terminals that allow customers to speak virtually with bank employees can serve as an extension of the branch. Financial institutions can expand video banking at self-service machines to offer many of the same services and personalized customer experience provided by in-branch professionals. Truist, for example, has an offering called Teller Connect that enables customers to talk via video chat with a real person at an ATM. Teller Connect agents are available for longer hours than a bank branch, offering users an added perk. This technology can bridge the gap between the in-person and digital experience.
Bank branches are destined to continue evolving after COVID-19. It is an open question, however, which banks will find the right mix of technology enhancements and human interaction to differentiate themselves from competitors. Banks can view this moment as an opportunity to win clients by offering the best experience that combines protections for their health, options for engaging personal interactions and technology enhancements for a seamless experience.
Tom Riccio is the president of Promotional Solutions at Deluxe, a business technology company offering solutions that support more than 4,000 financial institutions and hundreds of the world’s largest consumer brands—including by delivering workplace safety products they need to continue operating during COVID-19.