What does COVID-19 mean for the Future of Retail Banking?

In the past few weeks, the recent COVID-19 virus has turned our world upside down and has affected every industry in some way. Financial institutions are seeing their branches and lobbies either being shut down or drastically changing their normal day-to-day operations, relying on helping customers from a distance. Mobile banking is one solution allowing customers to perform many of the same transactions they can do in the branch, but it doesn’t work for everyone, especially for those customers who prefer or demand talking in person to their banking experts about loans, wealth management, or anything else concerning their finances, especially in times like this. But what happens when branches are forced to shut down due to an event like the Coronavirus? How can you still reach the individuals who can answer your questions and help you with your transactions?
More recently, we have seen many financial institutions invest in Personal Teller Machines (PTMs) or Interactive Teller Machines (ITM’s) – better described by their manufacturers as a “branch in a box.” ITMs are similar to the traditional ATM’s except they allow for “face-to-face” interaction where you can see a remote teller that can handle many of the same transactions as they would inside a branch. Many of these ITM’s are being deployed in new and existing drive-thrus but can also be operated in a variety of locations, such as busy parking lots, hotel lobbies, or even hospitals. A well-designed and branded ITM can allow your brand to reach many more customers without the investment of a new building. With remote teller technology, clients are able to have the personal communication with an actual human being without being in the same location, keeping tellers and customers safe without sacrificing the communication. ITMs can also be very flexible, typically having extended hours and don’t require a drive-up attached to the building, which allows for more flexible designs on tight sites.
It’s important to note that remote tellers for ITMs are typically set up in operations centers or dedicated call centers away from the actual branches and machines they serve. Many architectural and engineering factors need to be considered when designing for these spaces, including workstation designs, flexible privacy spaces, overall acoustics, including sound masking and, now more importantly, considering social distancing in emergency situations to keep operations moving. Working with a team of experienced designers can help design spaces that can promote healthy distancing, sound improvement measures, while also optimizing space and encouraging collaboration between the tellers and customers.

A second option being used in today’s designs include reaching out to banking experts via video chats or teleconferencing. Many financial institutions have the ability to set up meetings with specific bankers, mortgage lenders, and wealth management advisors using mobile apps via video conference software, allowing both bankers and customers to be remote, while still being able to receive advice and have discussions about financial matters.

Teleconferences also are useful when a specific banker is at a different branch location, working at the headquarters office, or remotely from home and cannot physically meet with a client at their typical branch. Having the option for customers to use a flexible or hotel room for video calls in retail branches, while their banker is remote, provides another solution for bankers to stay connected to their clients. Thinking about and designing for flexible conference rooms at a branch allows for multiple uses and can help connect bankers with customers in emergency situations.
Even with all of the changes happening in today’s world, people will always need a way to be in contact with their financial institution and need the assurance that they can access their money. As technology improves, and services like remote tellers or videoconference banking continue to be more common, the back end support is also becoming very important for financial institutions. Well-designed call centers, remote teller stations, and flexible branch design that allows for spaces to serve more than one function will become critical in emergency situations like we are facing today. It’s important for banks and credit unions to work with experienced design teams to help provide operation critical designs for their facilities, especially with aging headquarters and operation centers seeing technology changes daily. It can be a struggle for older facilities to provide these new services without finding ways to upgrade their facilities.

While research doesn’t indicate retail branches will become obsolete anytime soon, there is no doubt they were already shifting to become more efficient and serve new banking functions today, but with recent events, we expect more changes to the branch to allow for financial institutions to become even more fluid and find new ways to meet the needs of their customers.
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Adam James, RA
Associate Partner, Architect