Rebuilding America: Banks will now have “a grocery-store look, with sneeze guards at teller stations and decals on the floor telling people where to wait.”
The banking industry never closed during the coronavirus outbreak, providing essential financial services to individuals and businesses despite shutting down some branches and reducing hours and services at others.
The industry will continue to provide help indefinitely, with some temporary and permanent changes in the works.
“For the time being, temporarily closed branches remain closed,” said LiAna Enriquez, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman in Phoenix. The company might soon ease some restrictions, such as requiring lobby visits by appointment, but that will be done on a case-by-base basis, she said.
A ‘grocery-store look’
Various health and safety precautions adopted by Wells Fargo and others will continue, including protective barriers, social-distancing measures, staggering staff and shifts, enhanced branch cleaning and an emphasis on drive-up teller services.
“It’s going to have a grocery-store look, with sneeze guards at teller stations and decals on the floor telling people where to wait,” said Mike Brown, Arizona regional president for WaFd Bank. The company’s 31 branches around the state will reopen around June 1 with these and other safeguards in mind, including limits on the numbers of people who may enter lobbies at one time, he said.
In many ways, banks and other financial companies were well-prepared for the coronavirus outbreak because so many of their customers are used to conducting most if not all transactions over computers and smart phones, rarely visiting offices.
“For those who have been doing online banking, it was no big deal,” said Brown.
One change that could become more prominent is the use of electronic signatures to prepare documents. WaFd prepared thousands of Paycheck Protection Program loans in recent weeks as that federal program rolled out, and customers signed electronically.
“That was a first for us,” Brown said.
A broader societal change could see decreased use of currency, coins and checks. With so many digital and electronic payment options available, people no longer need to touch paper and metal that could carry the virus.
Insurance companies such as State Farm are now relying more on virtual inspections, electronic handling of claims and other functions that don’t require in-person meetings.
“Before this situation unfolded we had undergone a digital transformation, which laid the foundation for customers to reach us on the channel of their choice,” said Angie Harrier, a spokeswoman for the company.
Personal help still needed
Video conferencing also is gaining traction as bankers, insurance agents, investment advisers and others reach out to customers. Look for that trend to continue, especially as more people have suffered income losses or investment setbacks that imperil long-term goals — to say nothing of new income-tax complexities and regulatory changes affecting retirement accounts, mortgages and much more.
“This is a time when (financial) customers need reassurance and someone to speak to,” said a report by Accenture on possible changes ahead for the banking industry specifically. “Use it as an opportunity to connect and talk to these clients.”
This is one reason Accenture, a global professional-services firm, expects banks and financial firms will retain many of their branches or other offices, even as digital communications continue to flourish.
Accenture also sees other changes ahead for financial companies as the economy reopens, ranging from special lobby hours for seniors and vulnerable customers to greater education efforts by companies to help customers who aren’t technologically literate become more accustomed to digital transactions.
“This could very well accelerate many trends that were already shaping the banking industry,” Accenture said in its report.
Banks: What’s new
- More focus on helping the elderly and other vulnerable customers.
- Increased emphasis on online transactions, virtual meetings through videoconferencing.
- Staggered shifts, reduced hours and social distancing measures in branches.
- Further opportunities to provide financial counseling and advice.
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