The Evolution of Branch Banking in Our New COVID Normal

The top-four ways banks and credit unions are continuing to meet their role as essential services, even amid a COVID spike

Last spring when COVID’s impact began rippling across the country, disrupting many service industries in its wake, many thought we’d be facing a month or two of lockdowns and then life as we knew it would snap back to normal. Instead, the pandemic endured and industries responded with an impressive pivot, especially in branch banking allowing them to continue delivering essential services throughout the pandemic’s changing conditions. Some of these changes sparked by the pandemic will remain long after we finally ease back into a safe future.

In the recent article Branch Banking Amid a Pandemic published across the Banking Business News Network publications, Believe in Banking’s Editor-in-Chief and Adrenaline’s CXO Gina Bleedorn says, “As an essential service, banking has successfully pivoted to our current COVID normal – augmenting digital and mobile platforms, implementing appointment-banking and repurposing channels like drive-up windows – all to meet considerable consumer demand in these unprecedented times. While many have predicted the death of the branch over the last decade, the reality is that the branch banking channel remains strong, even through the pandemic.”

With service at the forefront, financial institutions have implemented four key best practices that are helping the industry cope in the immediate term, and preparing them for their post-COVID future.

1. It’s Not Digital or Physical, It’s Both

While the immediate ramp-up of digital capacities for remote delivery may have been challenging for community banks and credit unions, they’ve been largely successful in meeting consumer demand. But what some did to bridge the physical-digital divide – like deploying ITMs that are untethered from the branch – has positioned them to optimize their branch networks post-COVID. The reality is that while their role may be shifting toward supporting more consultative experiences,  branches remain an important center of banking activity – and will for some time. Despite increases in digital channels for routine transactions, Novantas and McKinsey report that branches are critical for nearly all consumers. Data finds 79% have never opened an account digitally and only 8% of consumers ready for a digital-only bank.

2. Focus on Relationship-Building

Once a place primarily to deposit checks and get cash, local bank branches have evolved from processing transactions. Gina Bleedorn says, “Now [the branch] is not only a beacon for a bank’s brand – a point of presence in the local market – it’s where personal connections and significant consultations happen. Especially during tough economic times… consumers need advice and professional guidance from a trusted banker, and it’s those valuable consultations that happen inside the branch.” The local branch is a more humanized channel of engagement, where a banking relationship most often begins and where it’s sustained, regardless of how branch-dependent consumers are for daily transaction needs.

3. Customer-Centricity at the Core

Putting the customer at the center of organizational change is a critical step for the future – short- and long-term – in the financial services sector. Customer-centricity is powerful way for banking to live out their core values and commitment to consumers and their communities. Yet, while 61% of financial institutions say customer-centricity is table stakes for future growth, only 17% have any process for implementing it inside their organizations. From fostering a people-first culture central to brand mission to understanding your audiences to create deeper connections, customer-centricity means more than customer service. It’s a fundamental shift, placing the people you serve at the heart of your organization.

4. Connected Intelligence

Having access to meaningful information is one thing – knowing how to use it effectively is quite another. There is no doubt that data – both big and small – is all around us. From powerful market research to rich customer insights, data drives good decision-making and helps organizations actualize and operationalize change. In its best form, data intelligence and insights crystalize an understanding of people and empower institutions to create deeper connections with those audiences, internal and external, who matter most—all of which drives performance. From product development to customer experience, knowing who your audience is, what motivates them and what they’re seeking powers a people-first approach so essential for success in financial services.  

For more insights on customer-centricity and leveraging data and analytics to powerful effect, be sure to stay tuned to Believe in Banking as it tracks the big trends, both inside and outside the industry, that are impacting financial services and informing the banking experience. To develop experience-based strategies for customers and members, especially in the face of COVID, contact Adrenaline’s experts at or (678) 412-6903. Believe in Banking Logo