man doing remote work on his laptop at home Source: Shutterstock.

Credit unions and banks have found online and mobile channels vital to their operations during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey evaluating early attitudes and actions in response to the outbreak.

The Memphis, Tenn.-based Strategic Resource Management, a full-service consulting firm for credit unions and banks, polled its client and prospect base to understand their early response and evolving strategy for combating the effects of COVID-19.

“Though it is unlikely that any financial institution expected to break the seal on the pandemic continuity plan in 2020, the respondents of our survey appear to be taking the steps required to limit the impact of COVID-19 and, hopefully, expedite a recovery,” Brad Downs, CEO of SRM, said. “Early indicators from our clients have shown that one critical focus will be on any project that can save money without sacrificing relationships with the consumers and businesses they serve.”

Significant trends from responding institutions found 82% evaluated their online and mobile channels as vital to operations during the pandemic. While a growing portion of business has been migrating to digital for some time, credit unions and banks that have invested in digital capacities and capabilities are experiencing less disruption as consumers practice social distancing and comply with shelter-in-place orders.

Additionally, 79% of institutions have provided further education about remote channel use to help consumers who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with digital channels, and needed financial services during a time of high economic anxiety, access their money. SRM pointed out while the extent to which these methods of engagement will become permanent habits is unknown, it is not unreasonable to expect that the longer the restrictions remain in place, the more likely digital convenience will turn a stopgap measure into a habit. Institutions equipped to deliver a positive experience during the COVID-19 pandemic will generate greater customer satisfaction, loyalty and potential share gain now and after the crisis.

Among the other trends revealed were the following:

  • Nearly two-thirds of respondents are allowing more than half of their staff to work from home. Banking, traditionally viewed as unaccommodating to remote work models due to the various regulatory constraints, now sees a considerable part of credit union and bank operations in an actual remote-work model. Given the occupancy costs associated with commercial real estate, remote work (specifically working from home) may become particularly attractive to organizations across most verticals, including banking. For banking, this shift would have implications for branch density, further accelerating the elimination of branches.
  • Over half of credit unions and banks expect “severe” impact (the second highest option on the scale) on their communities with nearly all other assessments split between “extreme” and “moderate.” What is far less clear is how long this impact will persist. Survey responses placed estimates of the expected duration of the economic hangover almost evenly spread from less than six months all the way to 18-24 months.
  • This lack of clarity also plays out in credit unions’ and banks’ approaches to internal projects such as new feature rollouts and system upgrades. Four-fifths of financial institutions expect to delay either most of their projects or non-essential ones. Somewhat surprising, according to SRM, only a very few respondents expect cancellation of most projects, although this could change if the duration or severity of the situation increases.

SRM said it anticipates financial institutions will renew their focus on realizing additional cost savings through vendor relationships, business process improvements and the application of automation. Most financial institutions have already made appropriate, successful shifts to operate in a state of doing more with less. The economic impact and future uncertainty about the length of a recovery will heighten the pressure to uncover cost savings and improve process efficiency.

SRM noted responding financial institutions varied in both size and region and given the constantly changing circumstances around COVID-19, it gathered the information from March 17-27 to capture more than a single point in time view. SRM will continue to research the impacts of the pandemic on financial institutions.