As the spread of coronavirus accelerates throughout the world and increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases are reported in all 50 states, small and large businesses alike are attempting to adapt and respond in these unprecedented times.
Social distancing guidelines are officially in effect for nearly nine out of ten Americans. As coordinated efforts to flatten the curve have begun in earnest, a greater percentage of the population is being forced to work remotely.
The repercussions of the current public health crisis extend all the way from small businesses to the largest corporations. Many big banks are waiving fees for customers and, in some cases, offering one-time bonuses and other financial concessions for employees, particularly those who may have already been laid off.
So, how exactly should mid-sized financial institutions adapt to the new normal? How does working remotely not only affect the needs of your customers, but also the productivity and efficiency of your hardworking employees?
We had a chance to speak with some industry professionals who are adapting to the new reality, and have compiled some actionable tips and insights for weathering the COVID-19 storm.
Make Sure Employees Are Set up to Work Remotely
Virtually all banks and credit unions, regardless of asset size, have comprehensive disaster relief and risk mitigation plans in place due to compliance requirements. This does not, however, mean that every person who may need to work remotely during periods of emergency are necessarily set up to do so in their home environment.
We spoke with one AP professional who reported that their small IT team was “working overtime,” visiting one employee’s home after another, ensuring relevant staff was equipped with the necessary equipment to effectively telecommute and maintain their workload.
The new reality of disaster relief planning is that employers, both small and large, must now plan for how to transition everyone into a telecommuting environment if required. That includes considering the processes, equipment and workflow required to make it all happen successfully.
Educate, Inform and Stay in Touch With Your Customers and Members
When asked why it was so important for her bank to figure out ways to help their customers during this time, Natasha Sutton, Assistant Controller of Bryant Bank in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, replied immediately with the bank’s motto: “Because we care.”
It’s this kind of personal care and attention that draws people to community, mid-sized financial institutions, where they’re treated as individuals rather than numbers. This particular base of customers, or members in the case of a credit union, has come to expect a certain level of personal service and clear communication.
In uncertain times such as these, it’s more important than ever to make sure your base feels seen, heard and understood. Reach out with targeted messaging that directly addresses the collective hardships we’re enduring, and communicate how your financial institution is actively working to alleviate these challenges.
Offer By-Appointment, In-Person Meetings Only
The spread of coronavirus represents a threat to public health and safety more than anything else. Closing physical branches may not be ideal or convenient, but in this kind of environment, the words safety first cannot be stressed enough.
Many mid-sized banks that remain open report “rotating crews” of staff, and have closed their lobbies except for scheduled, by-appointment meetings. Frame any adjustment your bank makes for your customer base so they see it as the safety precaution it represents. Let your clients know that you’re providing this service to adhere to safety guidelines for the benefit of both employees and customers.
Take it one step further and describe what the in-person process involves. For example: One person enters the door and there is only one customer in the bank at a time; distance is maintained; the teller wears appropriate protective equipment. Transparency is especially important in uncertain times and will not only alleviate your customers’ concerns, but help build trust and loyalty.
Provide Convenience and Offer Concessions Where Possible
Many mid-sized banks and credit unions build and sustain their business by maintaining personal relationships with their customers and members. Now is the time to let them know you are there for them in their time of need.
Besides keeping drive-through windows open and making sure everyone is informed of any changes, you might consider waiving fees for any late payments or overdraft fees that arise from complications related to the pandemic.
Provide Personal Support to Team Members and Staff
In a conversation with an accounts payable professional from a mid-sized bank in the South, we learned how the current public health and financial crisis is affecting far more than an individual’s personal productivity.
This everyday hero was balancing the duties of being a mother and an accounts payable professional with responsibilities that don’t suddenly come to a halt because of a virus. On top of juggling personal and professional obligations, many employees face additional stress when a spouse’s job or business is severely impacted by the crisis.
Make sure that employee productivity is viewed in light of providing the support they need to weather this storm both financially and mentally. Foster community and regularly check in on employees at all levels of the organization to let them know that they’re seen and heard.
In closing, be sure to let your valued employees know that you are listening to their needs and concerns, and that you plan to help them adapt to the current landscape and ease the transition into new processes and workflows.
Several experienced professionals we chatted with elaborated on how transitioning to an automated AP system with AvidPay prior to the pandemic has allowed them to fully implement a disaster-relief plan that keeps timely payments flowing to vendors with no service interruption and little-to-no need to visit the branch in-person to carry out tasks.
Mid-sized financial institutions are an important part of the lifeblood of a healthy economy. As the new realities of pandemic, social distancing and telecommuting set in, forward-thinking banks and credit unions may find that remote working reveals new opportunities for greater efficiency, organization and ultimately, even growth.