As the COVID-19 pandemic finally fades in the U.S., cities, counties, and states are working to fully reopen their economies and businesses. Many people are excited to return to their pre-COVID habits, and businesses—including banks and credit unions—can expect to see foot traffic steadily climb. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely things will truly be “back to normal” any time soon. COVID-19 has changed how many people view safety, how customers visit businesses, and what resources a company needs to function. We will discuss some reopening strategies financial institutions will have to consider during their reopening.

Reduced traffic at a financial institution

As things fully reopen, many banks and credit unions (as well as other businesses) are planning for the lower foot traffic to continue, with some even believing they may need to close certain locations.

There is evidence for this. A study by Boston Consulting Group found that around 24% of people globally planned to do less banking at physical branches. However, for U.S. residents, that percentage was only 16%, with just 3% saying they planned to stop banking in-person entirely.

While banks and credit unions may need to adjust, it’s hardly a disaster. Some may want to wait to see if any changes are really needed once everything has fully reopened. Others may not have seen any real change in lobby activities during the pandemic.

Financial institutions that adapted for COVID-19 face difficult choices. During 2020, many banks and credit unions heavily invested in digital services, reformatted their lobbies, and/or downsized staff. These businesses need to determine whether they want things to go back to before the pandemic. During reopening, they may find themselves understaffed and wish to push customers/members to continue using their digital services and limit the strain on their streamlined staff.


Strategies for safety and public health

After enough time, people won’t be thinking about things like sterilization and social distancing in public places. However, during the months of reopening, safety will still be the first thing on many people’s minds and businesses need to continue to take public health seriously.

Mask requirements, line gaps, and lowered capacities are currently the norm in many places. As reopening continues, the big challenge for institutions will be the inconsistency between different businesses. For instance, many people will likely leave their masks at home when running errands because many of their planned stops didn’t require that they be worn.

During this transition, financial institutions need to be clear about their communication, show additional understanding and focus on the things they can actually control. Here are some ideas for banks and credit unions to consider at different stages of the reopening:

  • Continue to post any COVID-specific requirements/restrictions at the lobby entrance
  • Remind customers/members that they should remove their sunglasses or hats in the building if they are wearing a mask (for security purposes)
  • Make sure any COVID guidelines for the lobby (e.g., masking requirements) are posted publicly on the website
  • Publicly post any regular professional sterilization services used on-site
  • Sterilize surfaces between customers/members interactions and make sure hand sanitizer is available for everyone (consider making these permanent practices)
  • Track the number of customers/members in the lobby to prevent going over capacity
  • If keeping a mask policy beyond local mandates, make sure disposable masks are available to people that are no longer bringing their own

Whatever way they reopen, it’s important that financial institutions clearly list their safety measures and dates of planned changes. It might also be useful to briefly list the reasons behind their precautions. This helps customers/members to understand what is happening and why changes are being made. Check out this great example of a COVID-19 reopening plan from Colony Bank.


Reopening changes for staff

For many financial institutions, COVID-19 has already forced staffing changes, like layoffs or new work-from-home policies. As we discussed with changes to in-person banking, businesses will need to decide whether the reopening means a return to the pre-pandemic structure or a move to something new.

As long as the investments in technology and processes have already been made, banks and credit unions might find it cheaper to continue to have staff work from home. If plans include having staff return to the branch or office, it may be best for staff members to come back in small groups and have added health measures in the workplace. (These measures could include things like spacing work desks further apart or eliminating group meetings in small offices.)


Reopening changes to interactions

As part of lobby restrictions and safety measures, reopening strategies financial institutions face can also reinvent “typical” banking.

One of the biggest changes over the past year has been the requirement of appointments for all non-teller services. Depending on staff reductions, branch traffic, and new digital services, institutions may choose to make this change permanent. If allowing walk-ins is preferable, the institutions need to promote or advertise “No appointment needed” in their lobbies, website, and emails—at least for a couple of months—to ensure customers/members know this is once again an option.

As mentioned earlier, institutions can encourage continued mobile banking, but they can also add and promote equipment like ATMs, ITMs, and other self-service devices outside of the lobby. This would both reduce the number of people waiting to get into a full lobby and provide an outdoor option for customers/members that are still trying to limit being indoors at businesses.

If your branch is considering using self-service ITMs, be sure to read more about the upgrade process here.


Paying close attention to financial institution’s customers

As we move towards the end of pandemic restrictions, it is absolutely essential that employees at financial institutions pay close attention to what customers want and feel most comfortable with. Trying to ensure customer satisfaction will probably mean managing the expectations of both the people that want safety measures removed as soon as possible and those that would like them to continue for a bit longer.

Whatever reopening process is used, it’s important that staff acknowledge all complaints and have a simple, polite explanation for why a safety measure has been added or removed. In every business, it’s extremely important to make sure the customers feel they are heard and that their input will be considered when decisions are being made.


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