While we discussed our framework for deciding WHEN to call bank employees back to the branch lobbies and workplace, in this article, we cover HOW. The two decisions are interrelated since the sooner you look to reopen, the more risk you take, and the more resources you have to invest in a reopening plan. Since every bank will have a slightly different strategy, we polled more than 100 banks from around the country to get this crowdsourced checklist of the top 20 ideas.

Office/Branch Priorities: A bank should have a clear understanding of the priorities in which they would like to open their offices and branches.  Do your rural branches take priority because there is a greater need, or do your metro locations take precedence in order to help the most people? Do branches with drive-thrus have a higher or lower priority of opening?

Senior Time & First Responder Time: All banks should consider having special hours to better support seniors and first responders. This aspect should be built into any plan.

Know Your Customers You Are Trying to Serve: Reopening may not mean serving every customer all at once. A phased approach could be by geography, it could be by customers type, by transaction type, or it could be by intent. For example, some banks are thinking about allowing potential customers to use their branches during the initial phase and some or keeping their lobbies open only for existing customers. Some banks are just serving retail customers, while others are just opening to handle those transactions that cannot be done on mobile or online.

A phased approach could be serving just the customers with the greatest need and that you can handle for the first couple weeks before expanding staff and resources to handle the wide spectrum of geography, transactions, and customer segments. To figure out what customer types they are going to handle first, many banks are conducting the traditional Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis to help them decide.

Returning to Work

Staffing Models: Our traditional staffing model has radically changed both in terms of numbers and hours employees are needed. Banks need to revise each branch staffing model in-line with their expected hours of operation considering not only demand but at-risk employees. Many banks are shortening their hours to allow their employees to handle more support functions and to reduce staffing requirements. At-risk employees may want to be assigned to lower risk roles.

Staffing Model Contingency Plan: All banks need a staffing contingency plan should a COVID-19 case be found. At a minimum, banks should have a group of employees on call to support certain branch and office locations to fill in quickly should an employee suspect that they are infected. The current best practice is to have a “Blue” and a “Yellow” team for each location and then rotate the other team in if just one employee on that team calls in sick. Banks should have a clear procedure for the number of days of quarantine, the required tests, and the requirements to come back to work defined ahead of time.

Customer Triage for Training and Support: Once the branch is open, many banks are thinking about reducing their customer-time-in-branch metric to limit the probability of COVID-19 transmission. This means that banks need the ability to triage customer needs. Some activities, such as those related to transactions, should be prioritized while some activities, such as new account opening, mobile banking training, and others, are best accomplished at home. Banks should figure out the best method for redirecting and scheduling customers for remote support and then have the required training and technology, such as the ability to conduct a web meeting to execute the plan.

Physical Changes and Logistical Support: Unfortunately, there is no company rulebook for a pandemic. As a starting place, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued several sets of recommendations for dealing with Covid-19 in recent weeks that will serve as a starting point.

Some questions to ask yourself – What physical changes will be needed to make the workplace safer, and what logistical support will be required? Will you need to add temporary plexiglass or other partitions at banker stations or between workspaces? Do you need to add sneeze guards, no-touch trash cans, disposable towels to clean work surfaces? Should there be floor markings helping traffic flow? How can you modify traffic flow and procedures to reduce the amount of surface touch, such as keeping doors open, handing out free pens, etc.? Do you need signs that masks are required? If support services are reduced, such as dry cleaners or nearby lunch spots, what logistical help can the bank provide its employees?

One smart bank taught us to label often-touched areas like doorknobs and light switches to not only to remind employees to disinfect their hands after but to highlight those areas that will be cleaned multiple times per day. Another bank we learned is currently in the process of upgrading their air conditioning system to be able to take high-efficiency air filters to reduce the spread of airborne pathogens.

Security: Wearing masks present a problem for physical security. The current best practice is to have an employee outside the door, not only to monitor traffic but to interview customers to gauge their level of anxiety. Customers that don’t seem to fit the standard profile should be further evaluated by trained staff and security support. Further, employees need to educate customers to drop their masks and wave to the camera before reinstating their masks and conducting their banking.

Coordinate with the Community: Local authorities, hospital capacity, testing availability, and other required resources should dictate how and when you reopen. A branch reopening plan should go down to the county level to approach the needed specificity in geography.

Develop a Phased Approach: It is likely that coronavirus cases, local orders, ICU capacity, and other resources will not be uniform within your footprint or state. Therefore, a phased approach is likely required as the risks are different. Further, a phased approach helps the bank focus resources and attention to specific areas, thereby helping to reduce the risk profile.

Resources: The bank should ensure that it has adequate levels of personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning supplies, and supporting materials to support a reopening. While this is common sense, many banks are still not creating dynamic forecasts of their resources and metrics that get updated each day. Many of these resources, like PPE, testing thermometers, thermal imaging cameras to scan customers, take time to order.  Banks with large operation centers or offices are contemplating purchasing their own testing machines, of which the ID Now machine by Abbot Labs seems to be the most popular.

Metrics: Send the workforce back will require a new set of metrics to track to ensure the effort is going as planned. Management teams should decide ahead of time when metrics are not going in the right direction, and when a plan should be reversed or scaled-down.

Develop Tracking Procedures: In order to collect metrics, banks need procedures in place to allow them to adequately track their employees and health status. Some banks are requiring each employee to attest each day to the following: If they have been in contact with any known COVID-19 carrier in the last 14 days; if they have been in contact with someone that has traveled internationally in the last 14 days; have they experienced any fever, cough, soreness, chills or loss of taste in the last 72 hours; and have they had any difficulty breathing or fatigue in the last seven days. In addition, the procedure and form require a daily temperature reading.

Give Notice: Provide employees five to fourteen days to arrange child/parent care and to arrange other household administrative items. Simple things like haircuts and dry cleaning now take some planning. Some banks, such as JP Morgan Chase, are considering both testing for the virus and antibodies before allowing employees to return to work.

Product Pricing: Consider if product pricing, such as remote deposit capture machines, needs to be reduced or eliminated for a period in order to better serve the customer and the banking channel.

Marketing & Communication: Marketing becomes more critical than ever in a changing environment. Marketing needs to not only determine the messaging for any reopening plan but needs to train its customers on where to find ever-changing information about the plan. Marketing will shift to more brand awareness, become more educational and informative, and be less about product promotion. More digital advertising, video, and graphics will be required to quickly convey complicated information such as Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness.

In terms of communication, both internal and external, workplace changes need to be clear and any restrictions communicated. Warnings around potential wait times, rules around the number of employees or customers allowed in the lobby at one time, restrictions on the number of people in the restroom, ADA accommodations, and social distancing guidelines custom for your work environment are just some of the more popular messages that are starting to go out.

Employee Training: It is likely that employees will need to be trained on new procedures associated with your reopening plan. For example, many banks are training their employees not to use other worker’s phones and equipment and to eliminate group meetings in conference rooms. In addition, with reduced staffing, bankers will need to be better cross-trained and more knowledgeable on a wider range of products. Banks need to plan for adequate time and set a method on how this will take place. It is highly probable that banks will be doing more remote training going forward while also decreasing in-person training class density. These trends should be considered for any reopening plan.

Technology: Banks should consider what new technology is required to support the reopening effort. For example, if your bank is attempting to open a business checking accounts to support its Paycheck Protection Program loan effort, then the technology to all bankers to talk to the Company’s multiple business owners/beneficiaries at once, allow screen share AND allow integrated e-signature is helpful to support the product offering. Online account opening, chat, chatbots, scheduling technology, video conferencing, and more should all be considered to augment and support reopening efforts.

Have Written Policies and Guidelines: Since there is a high probability that a reopening plan that occurs in the next one to two months will result in potential legal liability, not only having a plan but having it in writing will help reduce risk. Consider adding CDC guidelines into your bank’s return-to-work policy to clearly spell out who is able to return to work and when. It should also contain safety expectations of employees returning to work and any needed documentation.

Banks also need a plan for employees who are on protected leave. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes provisions that may impact certain segments of your workforce. When banks officially reopen, for example, employees with school-aged children may not be able to physically return due to school closures. Document how to handle various situations that may arise.

Returning to work also merits documentation around compensation. Those employees on incentives may need a new plan as production goals will likely no longer apply, while documentation should also include how the CARES Act affects your bank’s unemployment claims? Finally, if your bank does not have a written remote work policy or provision, it should. If it does, it may be time to update it with the reopening plan and cover items like work-from-home eligibility, frequency, approvals needed, the expectation of hours, communication procedures, employee reporting, or performance requirements, and violations or abuse.

Insurance and Risk: Banks should be crystal clear about the risks they are taking to reopen. Banks need to consult their risk professionals, to include their Chief Risk Officer, counsel, security, and insurance specialist to make sure their plan is reasonable and comprehensive. Banks need to be clear about how to handle future employer liability issues arising out of reopening.


It may be several months or longer before workplaces begin to feel “normal” again, but spending time considering and implementing the above should help ensure your organization is well equipped to handle the transition as efficiently and well as possible.


Tags: Published: 04/28/20 by Chris Nichols