As COVID-19 continues to spread through the nation, and mandatory closures of businesses are implemented to increase social distancing in an attempt to flatten the curve, some businesses remain open as essential to serve the public. Examples include grocery stores, pharmacies, and some financial institutions such as banks and credit unions. Despite these organizations opening their doors to the public, social distancing measures still need to be implemented to keep both staff and the public safe.   

While there are long-term investments that banks and credit unions can make – for example, investing further in online and mobile banking capabilities – these investments and shifts may not occur quickly enough to address the crisis at hand. Instead, the best practices that are outlined below look to leverage investments that have already been made. 

Increase Use of the Drive-up Window 

Many banks and credit unions already have branches with drive-up windows. The drive-up window provides both distance and a physical barrier between the customer/member and the banking associate while still giving patrons the personalized experience they would receive by coming into the branch. Furthermore, to date, there is no significant research showing that either drive-up transactions or in-branch transactions are faster. The biggest risk to the consumer experience is when individuals perform multiple transactions during the same visit, as other members can get “stuck” in line. While this is a potential inconvenience, individuals are in the confines of their own vehicles, and are safer than if they were standing in line within the branch. Banking institutions can help mitigate this inconvenience by proactively communicating with their clients and asking them to limit the number of transactions they are performing in a single visit, while at the same time promoting the benefits of utilizing a drive-up window during this period of social distancing. 

Additional Utilization of ATM and ITM 

Some branches do not have drive-up windows – this is particularly the case in cities and other metropolitan areas that are densely populated. However, many of these branches have ATM (automated teller machine) or ITM (interactive teller machine) capabilities. Despite this, many clients may not be fully aware of the depth of functionality that can be performed at these machines. Managers can ensure their employees are educating customers about the added benefits of using these technologies, which will improve the overall customer experience.   

Restricting Access to Branches without an Appointment 

Some banking transactions cannot take place through a drive-up window or at an ATM/ITM. Transactions such as opening an account or applying for a mortgage or car loan, need to be performed inside the branch itself. And while it is appropriate for loan officers and banking associates to wear personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves while meeting with clients, those measures do not help to protect customers from other members that don’t follow these guidelines. Instead, banks and credit unions can look to restrict the clients who can enter the branch to only those who have appointments. Many financial institutions have already begun to follow this practice for multiple reasons. First, by limiting in-branch traffic to only individuals with appointments, this helps to enforce many of the social distancing measures that have been dictated by states and municipalities.  Some branches, for example, are only allowed to have three or four clients inside at a time. By requiring everyone entering the branch have an appointment, financial institutions can ensure that those social distancing requirements are met. Second, as customers make appointments, they can be instructed as to what documentation they need to bring with them to perform the transaction they are looking to complete. This will help reduce the number of branch visits to complete each transaction and promote a safe, quality customer experience. 

Moving Forward 

Banks and credit unions, like many essential businesses, are facing an unprecedented challenge in these uncertain times. While they need to be able to perform face-to-face transactions with their customers and members, banks and credit unions can still implement responsible social distancing measures. Leveraging investments such as drive-up windows, ATMs, and ITMs – while adding some additional white-glove support for customers – can help to keep everyone safe while still providing essential services. Requiring appointments before customers are allowed in the branch is another proven strategy to encourage and enforce social distancing, while still driving economic value. By following these best practices, banks and credit unions can continue to serve their customers in a safe, efficient manner, resulting in a win-win for everyone involved. 

Published: Friday, April 17, 2020