With COVID-19 (Corona) Virus in the news, community banks and credit unions are evaluating how best to respond. In any business where face-to-face contact with the general population is expected, easy answers are not always available. According to the Federal Financial Institution Examination Council (FFIEC), pandemic planning, in advance of imminent risk to particular institutions, helps minimize the disruptions to services to consumers, businesses, and communities when such contingencies occur. To unpack how a community financial institution can prepare for a pandemic, let’s break the key issues into smaller pieces.
Ensuring Distance and Limiting Contact
How can a financial institution protect its employees? Working remotely is a great option for employees who do not need face-to-face interactions with customers or members. If you plan to have employees work remotely, how will they be able to securely connect to the network? There are many questions you’ll need to answer to ensure your institution can support employees and keep the institution safe:
- Do you have a dedicated VPN device?
- Do you have a firewall to allow this connection?
- Can the firewall/device handle the number of devices actively connecting remotely at one time?
- Do you have enough licenses (if needed) for each user to connect remotely?
- Do your employees have enough bandwidth at home?
Take these points into consideration when building out your plans to have employees working outside of the physical branch or office location. These tools can help support a strong connection and protect the institution from outside security threats.
While working remotely is an option for some, it is not the case for all. So how can everyone limit the chance of person-to-person transmission of the disease? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends maintaining a 6-foot distance between individuals. To manage this in an institution, moving customer-facing employees to the drive-through only for interactions with your teller line is an option. To limit the virus being transferred from paper, pens, etc., have the employees wear disposable gloves. In theory, an employee is much less likely to touch their face if they are wearing gloves, so it is important to stock your drive-through with boxes of disposable gloves and hand sanitizer. To show your customers or members that you care for their safety, buying individual packaged wet wipes and sending those with each transaction is a nice touch and shows your commitment to protecting everyone.
In addition, make sure the institution is keeping up with the CDC recommendations for Covid-19 and pass these along to your employees. Put posters up in your bathroom reminding people to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. There are several studies available online that shows that soap and 20 seconds of scrubbing makes a significant difference in lowering your risk of transferring germs. And while it may seem draconian, institutions may need to impose a “no handshake and hugging” policy to set the expectation that you are keeping everyone’s health in mind.
Be sure that high traffic areas are cleaned regularly with chemicals that are proven to kill viruses. If the cleaning crew comes once a day, be sure they are wiping down all surfaces with the appropriate chemicals. If the cleaning crew comes less often, consider increasing their visits or assigning someone the job to wipe down all surfaces where employees work on at least a daily basis to decrease the likelihood of spreading the virus.
Developing New Methods to Serve Customers Effectively
Keep in mind that the teller line isn’t the only place where customers and members interact with staff, as Customer Service Representatives and lending officers can attest. Break down the steps required for each process and define when face-to-face contact is truly required. Maybe it is to obtain a driver’s license, create a signature card, or sign off on a loan.
- How much of this can be done from a distance without creating awkward moments?
- What does the law require?
- What options does your institution have?
- Which of these can you gather through the drive-through?
- Which could be obtained via fax, email, digital uploads, eSignature-type software, etc.?
Your institution will need to review all critical processes to identify each step required to provide services while limiting contact as much as possible. Implement as many of these options as you can and follow up by testing each option and determining what works best for your institution’s unique needs.
In speaking with an institution recently, they stated they were having each department work from home on different days to test out their abilities in case they have to implement their pandemic plan. This approach has many great advantages. One, they are preparing their employees and their technology to ensure everything works. Two, they are performing a pandemic test, so as long as they document the results, they can provide their auditors and examiners proof of their preparedness at their next audit or exam.
Many community financial institutions pride themselves on the personal touch of face-to-face meetings and building business through face-to-face relationships. It is important to remember that having technology options available as backups for times of need doesn’t mean your institution is abandoning its roots long-term. It means you are taking the necessary precautions to minimize disruptions to service and protect both your employees and the public at large.