The last year or so has been extremely challenging for the banking industry. From trying to find ways to serve customers remotely, to keeping employees and clients safe, to scrapping strategic plans and learning to move on the fly through new digital channels — it’s been tough. Now, though, as we begin to emerge from this pandemic, we are faced with a new challenge: getting back to business.
This is much easier said than done. No one knows exactly how to move or where to begin. What is the right thing to do? When? We’ve never experienced anything quite like this before, and as a result, the entire industry seems to be lolling about in a kind of analysis paralysis that’s left banks largely at a standstill even as the world reopens. Perhaps the hesitancy is coming from a need to be thoughtful, a desire to cater to customer needs and make sure everyone is feeling comfortable. That’s admirable. But what banks are failing to realize is that customers will feel comfortable if you make them comfortable. We shouldn’t be waiting for customers to come back to normalcy, we, as the banking community, have got to lead them back.
Banks today need to move on, to move forward. That means taking a good hard look at the last 18 months and saying, “What have we learned, and where do we go from here?” Sure, digital needs to be better. Branches need to be reimagined. But how do we take all that and push it into the future? The answer lies in pulling the customer relationship back into focus. Ultimately, digital is not a replacement for human interaction, it’s complementary. We now know that digital can support us in times of trouble, that the infrastructure is extremely important to have in place. But leaning on digital alone to connect with customers long term is going to be a step too far for most banks, and for most communities. We cannot let this experience make us lose the person-to-person connection. It’s time to bring it back.
That means being proactive. Open your branches, reach out to customers, talk to them. Create an inviting atmosphere and get back into the business of relationship building. Find out what your customers need today, how things have changed for them, and what they think the next year will look like. Instead of stepping up to the plate, many banks still have their doors closed. They are still operating as though we are in the throes of the pandemic, as though this really is the new normal. But it was never meant to be. We’ve spent the last year and a half waiting for this moment, waiting to be able to embrace to real normalcy. And, of course, it’s going to be a different kind of normal. Hopefully, a more informed kind. But we cannot continue to do business as though the country is shut down, either. Because that’s simply not true.
The Olympics took place in Tokyo this summer. Athletes from all over the world traveled to Japan to compete in the games, but also to show the world that we are emerging from the darkness. And, more importantly, that, as we emerge, we must remember to find the connections we have been missing, to come together without fear. This is a message that should be proliferating throughout our daily lives and our work, as well. Humans need each other. That’s true in life, and it’s true in business. There’s an incredible opportunity for banks to help their customers regain their footing, to begin thinking about future plans again, and to play a critical role in their transition out of this experience. Those that rise to the occasion will deepen their relationships and trust in the bank, and in the brand. No matter how slick your digital channels are, there is no substitute for the value that brings.