Walking into a bank branch and talking to a teller is one of those how-we-handle-our-money moments that vanished as “stay-at-home” orders went into place.
So, frankly, as branch lobbies closed, some credit union customers found it a thrill in late March and April to be able to talk to a real teller on a video screen at drive-thru locations such as the Berkley branch of the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.
“It’s really nice to have someone to talk to,” said Tarissa O’Malley, assistant vice president of branches for Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.
“You’re interacting with a person, however, you’re not in the same space with that person,” O’Malley said.
“The members feel safe if they can stay in their car — 6 feet away.”
Truth be told, the teller on those video screens often are miles away, not in a specific branch. In the case of that MSUFCU branch, the video teller was working out of East Lansing.
It’s part of the “new normal” in the world of finance. As factories resume making cars, trucks and gadgets, we’re not going back to managing our money just like we used to do just six months ago.
Financial institutions, like other businesses, know that going forward they will need to put into place practices that can serve them well in the next year or two as we see peaks and valleys — and potential hot spots — in the evolution of COVID-19.
Banks, like others, need to be flexible enough to ride out any possible outbreaks in given communities in November or December, experts say.
As a result, some physical-distancing practices — such as an emphasis on drive-thru services, ATMs, mobile banking and offering curbside services when necessary — might be around for a while.
“The banks will adapt to the needs of their customers based on how things continue to open up,” said Rann Paynter, president and CEO of the Michigan Bankers Association in Lansing.
“Never has the industry been more prepared to service their customer in these ways,” Paynter said.
Financial institutions were deemed as essential services and stayed open after Michigan’s stay home order took effect on March 24. Even so, banks had to adjust quickly to a new way of doing things.
Bank lobbies closed and no longer offered ready access to a teller. Many employees continued to work but some worked from home to handle customer concerns.
“When a meeting is necessary to assist the customer, then appointments are made and they are being served that way,” Paynter said.
Bank lobbies in Michigan might open at some point. Bankers didn’t have a specific timetable in Michigan as of mid-May.
Other states can offer a glimpse of some options being reviewed.
For example, the physical setup at the teller window could change at some branches, much like they’ve changed at grocery stores.
“You will see many branches with plexiglass at the teller window,” said Rose Oswald Poels, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Bankers Association.
And financial institutions will need to review policies for customers who wear protective face masks into a branch.
“The industry is really struggling with masks,” Oswald Poels said. “Obviously, someone coming into a bank with a mask is a frightening situation.”
It’s possible, she said, that customers will be asked to remove the mask in front of a security camera.
As the Michigan economy reopens, we will gradually see some changes ahead.
Face at the bank may be on video for awhile
PNC Bank didn’t have any plans as of May 13 to shift away from modified branch operations or employee work schedules in Michigan.
“Those employees who have been working from home, will continue to do so and those who must be on-site will continue to follow the two-week, split-team rotations currently in place,” said Marcey Zwiebel, director of corporate public relations for PNC.
“We expect this to continue through at least June 7, but have not established a more specific date for potential changes to be implemented,” Zwiebel said.
Help with rates, payment options to continue
Roughly 41% of Americans now believe that COVID-19 will highly impact their financial situation six months from now, according to a survey by Freedom Debt Relief and Atomik Research, a debt resolution company.
The financial stress will make it necessary for many banks and credit unions to offer ways to refinance some car loans to lower rates, as well as offering ways to skip payments.
Goodbye ATM, hello apps and online banking
Many consumers likely may want to limit their trips to the ATM — just as they’re limiting trips to the grocery store — as the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 lingers.
But bankers say they don’t expect to see consumers withdrawing thousands of dollars at a time.
“When the pandemic first began, we did see some customers withdraw larger than normal amounts of cash, but we are not seeing that anymore,” said Beth Oates, vice president and regional communications manager for Fifth Third Bank.
Paynter said banks in general only saw a tiny fraction of customers trying to hoard cash.
“People recognize that the safest place for their money is in a bank that has FDIC insurance, not a coffee can that’s in their freezer or in their mattress,” Paytner said.
In general, many bank customers know that they’ll be able to access their money in a variety of ways.
Oates said Fifth Third customers have shown a willingness to use all of their banking options, including mobile banking, depositing checks via the mobile app, and banking online. Customers are also using Zelle, which is free to Fifth Third customers, for sending and receiving money virtually.
“We don’t see that changing as more companies reopen their doors,” Oates said.