When the New Role of Operations Workgroup convened at the beginning of June, much of our dialogue focused on the disruptions driving operational change within banks and credit unions. Having debated topics ranging from tech giant competition to mounting customer expectations, the group concluded that COVID served as the ultimate disruptor for operations, upending standard operating procedures, pushing the boundaries of FI business continuity plans, and shaping the future of services.
"COVID got people's motors running to see what we can do," said Lynn Hurd, Vice President of Operations NH Mutual Bancorp in Meredith, N.H.
And while mask mandates lift and the country reemerges into a new sense of normal, the aftereffects of COVID continue to impact banking services. For example, chip shortages have led to a slowdown in credit and debit card availability, creating hurdles in getting them to customers who need them. What's more, the forced remote work environment brought on by COVID now has bank leadership questioning the amount of branch office space they need, and which staff can work at home. Hoteling-an approach where remote staff share office space, so they have a home base when they do come in-has risen as viable option for many financial institutions.
"At my bank, we've created a digital department because of COVID and embraced a remote workforce-not something I would ever have expected before the pandemic," Hurd shared.
Beyond the direct impact to FIs themselves, the workgroup pointed out the mounting repercussions for their customers, particularly those small businesses who rely on manufactured goods for their sales. Difficulties face businesses like car dealerships and furniture stores where the pandemic has slowed production, creating limited availability of product-one that isn't meeting current demand.
And as we all know, what impacts our customers impacts our financial institutions. So, the conversation quickly moved to how banks and credit unions have evolved and will continue to shift to support their customers in today's landscape.
"For our FI, one of the things we were able to do was offer wires through online banking for consumers in addition to businesses," said Kathy LaGrave, Vice President Operations Innovation Officer at Ion Bank in Naugatuck, Conn. "Every FI has done something different to overcome the challenges we have had, and we're still looking at how we're handling ongoing disruptions."
This ingenuity speaks to how banks and credit unions have risen to the challenge of COVID, but as the dust settles on the pandemic, many are left asking what the future of their institution may look like. Where do digital imperatives, technological innovation, and industry collaboration fall in near- and long-term priorities? How will the branch continue to evolve with remote teams and a more digitally savvy customer base? Where does talent acquisition come into play for FIs as customer needs continue to shift?
Each FI may answer these questions differently, but collectively, the group concluded there's no going back to pre-pandemic behaviors. COVID has created long-lasting effects that will direct industry next steps. While these developments bring with them challenges, they equally create new opportunities, and the workgroup acknowledged that this is the time to capitalize on those to strengthen the positioning of their banks and credit unions in the marketplace.
The New Role of Operations Workgroup's forthcoming white paper will more fully address these topics and offer some insights into where opportunities may lie for FIs. In the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and comments on exactly where you think this new norm may be taking FI operations.