Designing a Pandemic-Proof Compensation Plan

The ability to pivot and adapt to a changing landscape is critical to the success of an organization.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a unique challenge for banks in particular. Government stimulus through the Paycheck Protection Program tasked banks with processing loans at an unheard-of rate, turning bankers working 20-hour days into economic first responders. Simultaneously, the altered landscape forced businesses to adopt a remote work environment, virtual meetings and increase flexibility — amplifying the need for safe and reliable technology platforms, enhanced data security measures and appropriate cyber insurance programs as standard operating procedure.

Prior to Covid-19, a major driver of change was the demographic shift in the workforce as baby boomers retire and Generation X and millennials take over management and leadership positions. Many businesses were focused on ways to attract and retain these workers by adapting their cultures and policies to offer them meaningful rewards. The pandemic will likely make this demographic shift more relevant, as the workforce continues adapting to the impending change. 

Gen X and millennial employees are more likely than previous generations to value flexibility in when and where they work. They may seek greater  alignment in their career and life, according to Gallup. The pandemic has forced businesses to either adapt — or risk the economic consequences of losing their top performers to competitors.

Many employees find they are more productive when working remotely compared to the traditional office setting, which could translate into increased employee engagement. In fact, the Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace” study finds that employees who spend 60% to  80% of their time working remotely reported the highest engagement. Engagement relates to the level of involvement and the relationship an employee has with their position and employer. Gallup finds that engaged employees are more productive because they have increased autonomy, job satisfaction and desire to make a difference. Simply put, increase engagement and performance will rise.

The demographic shift and a force-placed virtual office culture means that designing programs to attract and retain today’s workers require a well thought out combination of strategies. An inexpensive — though not necessarily simple — method of employee retention includes providing recognition when appropriate and deserved. Recognition is a critical aspect in employee engagement, regardless of demographic. Employees who feel recognized are more likely to be retained, satisfied and highly engaged. Without appropriate recognition, employee turnover could increase, which contributes to decreased morale and reduced productivity.

In addition to showing appreciation and recognizing employees who perform well, compensating them appropriately is fundamental to attracting and retaining the best. The flexibility of a non-qualified deferred compensation program allows employers to customize the design to respond to changing needs.

Though still relevant, the traditional Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan has been used to attract and retain leadership positions. It is an unsecured promise to pay a future benefit in retirement, with a vesting schedule structured to promote retention. Because Gen X and millennials may have 25 years or more until retirement, the value of a benefit starting at age 65 or later could miss the mark; they may find a more near-term, personally focused, approach to be more meaningful.

Taking into consideration what a younger employee in a leadership, management, or production position values is the guide to developing an effective plan. Does the employee have young children, student loan debt or other current expenses? Using personalized criteria, the employer can structure a deferred compensation program to customize payments timed to coincide with tuition or student loan debt repayment assistance. Importantly, the employer is in control of how these programs vest, can include forfeiture provision features and require the employee perform to earn the benefits.

These benefits are designed to be mutually beneficial. The rewards must be meaningful to the recipient while providing value to the sponsoring employer. The employer attracts and retains top talent while increasing productivity, and the employee is engaged and compensated appropriately. Banks can increase their potential success and avoid the financial consequences of turnover.

Ultimately, the pandemic could be the catalyst that brings the workplace of tomorrow to the present day. Nimbleness as we face the new reality of a virtual office, flexibility, and reliance on technology will holistically increase our ability to navigate uncertainty.

Five Questions to Ask When Weighing Banking Software

A contract for banking software should be the start of a working relationship.

When your bank purchases a new banking system, you should get more than a piece of software. From training to ongoing support, there’s a tremendous difference between a vendor who sells a system and a true partner who will work to enhance your banking operations.

But how do you know which is which? Here are some questions that could help you determine if a vendor is just a vendor — or if they could become a more-meaningful resource for your bank.

Do they have real banking expertise?
A software vendor that lacks real-world banking experience will never have the institutional knowledge necessary to serve as a true partner. The company may have been founded by a banker and their salespeople may have some cursory knowledge of how their solution works in a banking environment. However, that is not enough. You need a vendor that can offer expert insights based on experience. Ask salespeople or other contacts about their banking background and what they can do to help improve your bank.

Do they want to understand your issues?
A vendor won’t be able to help solve your problems if they aren’t interested in learning what they are. You should be able to get a sense of this early in the process, especially if you go through a software demonstration. Does the salesperson spend more time talking about features and system capabilities, or do they ask you about your needs first and foremost? A vendor looking to make a sale will focus on their program, while a true partner will take time to find out what your challenges are and what you really want to know. Look for a vendor who puts your needs above their own and you’ll likely find one who is truly invested in your success.

How quickly do they respond?
Vendors will show you how much they care by their turnaround speed when you have a question or need to troubleshoot a problem with your banking system. Any delay could prove costly, and a good partner acts on that immediate need and moves quickly because they care about your business. It can take some companies weeks to fully resolve customer issues, while others respond and actively work to solve the problem in only a few hours. Go with the software provider who is there for you when you need them most.

Do they go above and beyond?
Sometimes the only way to address an issue is to go beyond the immediate problem to the underlying causes. For example, you might think you have a process problem when onboarding treasury management customers, but it could actually be an issue that requires system automation to fully resolve.

A vendor that can identify those issues and give you insights on how to fix them, instead of bandaging the problem with a quick workaround, is one worth keeping around. This may mean your vendor proposes a solution that isn’t the easiest or the cheapest one, but this is a good thing. A vendor that is willing to tell you something you may not want to hear is one that truly wants what’s best for your organization.

Do they continue to be there for you?
Some software companies consider the engagement over once they’ve made the sale. Their helpline will be open if you have a problem, but your contact person there will have moved on to new targets as you struggle with implementation and the best way to utilize the software.

Find a vendor that plans to stick with your institution long after agreements have been signed. They should not only provide training to help facilitate a smooth transition to the new system, but they should remain accessible down the road. When a new software update becomes available or they release a new version of the system, they should proactively reach out and educate you on the new features — not try to sell you the latest development. Although you won’t know how those interactions will go until after you’ve made your purchase, it pays to evaluate the service you’re getting from your vendors at every stage of your engagement.

Finding a software vendor that you trust enough to consider a partner isn’t always easy. But by looking for some of the characteristics discussed above, you can identify the most trustworthy vendors. From there, you can start building a relationship that will pay dividends now and into the future.

Creating the Next Opportunity for Your Bank

Health, social, political and economic stressors around the world are bumping up business uncertainty for banks everywhere.

Some bankers may find a hunker-down posture fits the times. Others are taking a fresh look at opportunities to achieve their business objectives, albeit in a different-than-planned environment. What is your bank trying to accomplish right now? What are you uniquely positioned to achieve now that creates value for your institution, your shareholders and your customers?

The best opportunities on your bank’s list may be straightforward initiatives that may have been difficult to prioritize in a non-crisis environment. This can be a good time for banks to review their suppliers and vendors, their risk management, cybersecurity and compliance plans and protocols.

We’ve seen bank clients of ours with rock-solid foundations find themselves with the ability to leverage these times to pursue growth, to increase their technology offerings and explore niche markets, such as an all-digital delivery of banking services. These institutions are creating their own opportunities.

From straightforward to downright bold opportunities, BankOnIT and our client banks across the United States have observed that skillful execution requires one constant: a solid technology and systems foundation.

Here are a few examples of various objectives that we see our clients pursuing:

Embrace and Excel at Digital Banking
Digital banking, not to be confused with online banking, is more than a trend. Banks with user-friendly digital experiences are meeting the needs of millennials and Generation Z by offering activities that were once only accessible from the banking center. It removes geographical barriers and limitations of the traditional bank, such as operating hours and long lines.

Technological hurdles are grievances of both digital and traditional banks. The simple solution is unrestricted technology capabilities that improve reliability and increase security, especially when introducing features like artificial intelligence and digital banking.

A Growth Plan with The Ability To Compete
Customers’ expectations are shifting; banks need to be technologically nimble in response. With a high-growth plan in place, one BankOnIT client viewed outsourcing the network infrastructure to a partner with industry knowledge as the key to success. The result: opening four bank offices in seven months.

“We have all of the benefits of a large bank infrastructure, and all of the freedom that comes with that, without being a large bank,” said Kim Palmer, chief information officer at St. Louis Bank.

Partnering with Fintechs To Reach Niche Markets
The trick to accessing new markets will vary from bank to bank, but your strategy should start with the network infrastructure technology. This will be the foundation upon which all other technology in the institution is built upon. Cloud computing, for example, provides digital and traditional banks with resources needed to improve scalability, improve efficiency and achieve better results from all the other applications that rely upon the network foundation.   

Banks should look for partners that help them tailor their banking operations to benefit consumers who are conducting business in the virtual world. Technology at the forefront can keep business running smoothly during the global pandemic. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan-based Mi Bank, for example, is able to accommodate customers during the pandemic, just like before.

“We can leverage technology to allow our customers to function as normal as possible,” said Tom Dorr, chief operating officer and CFO. “BankOnIT gives us the flexibility to function remotely without any disruption to our services. Our structure allows us to compete with the bigger institutions without sacrificing our personal service.”

Is your technology reliable, scalable, and capable of sustaining your goals post-pandemic?

A Solid Foundation
Take the opportunity to review your institution’s goals. How do they line up with the opportunities to act in the midst of this unplanned business environment? This may be your opportunity to build a solid technology, systems and compliance foundation. Or, this may be your time to seize the opportunities that are created from turning technology into a source of strength for your institution.

A Pandemic-Proof Process Transformation Game Plan

Initiatives without execution are dreams that never become plans.

At MX, we’re helping banks use financial data to improve the financial lives of more than 30 million people. Banks need a secure foundation to build on at a time when profits have stalled, laying the groundwork for ways to increase revenue, offset losses and impact to your bottom line.

To get a better understanding of what financial institutions are focusing on, we recently surveyed more than 400 financial institution clients for their top initiatives this year and beyond. We believe these priorities will gain even more importance across the industry. The top five initiatives are:

  1. Enabling Emerging Technologies, Continued Innovation
  2. Improving Analytics, Insights
  3. Increasing Customer Engagement
  4. Leveraging Open Banking, API Partnerships
  5. Strategically Growing Customer Acquisition, Accounts

But identifying the initiatives to prioritize is merely the first step. Banks need to align their top initiatives throughout their organization to lay down the project’s foundation. Sustainable transformation is not accomplished by simply plugging in a new technology or process. True transformation requires a shift in the way the organization operates day to day. Without a commitment to changing the way you do business your efforts will be stunted and you will not achieve the outcomes promised in the initial business case.

The first thing banks need to do is ensure that their organizational goals translate top down, from executive leadership through department levels, all the way to individual contributors. If certain priorities don’t align from top to bottom, it’s important to address these outliers right away to ensure everyone is moving ahead in the same direction.

Banks will also want to make sure they’re effectively tracking their performance against the company strategy and organizational vision through Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and department metrics. Look at the top initiatives in the industry and see how they align within your bank’s own organizational goals.

This practice might reveal that that not all initiatives work together. Three critical questions to ask during this process are: Are we focused on understanding and solving the needs of our customers? How do we shift priorities to align with where we should be going as an organization? Where is overlap or conflict of priorities between all stakeholders?

Here’s a brief overview of how banks can create a game plan to guide their process transformation:

1. Align OKRs With Vision
Break down your bank’s vision into objectives. This can be anything from helping employees develop the right skills to acquiring the right technologies and so on. From there, break those objectives down into quarterly Objectives and Key Results and translate them across each department and individual employee.

2. Specify Metrics
Ensure your bank has the right metrics in place for measuring your OKRs. The more clarity your bank can get around what you’re measuring and why, the easier it will be to understand if your efforts’ progress and success.

3. Find Champions
Identifying champions within your organization is a great way to move things forward. These critical stakeholders will be just as motivated as you to get certain things done. If you’re considering new technologies or new programs, work with them to translate the need and opportunity to the executive suite.

4. Identify Trusted Partners 
Now’s the time to lean on trusted partners for support. Your customers are actively looking to you for alternative digital solutions to manage their money. Instead of going at it alone and trying to build everything in-house, it may be faster to partner with financial technology firms and other third parties that can get your products to market more efficiently.  

At MX, we’re working closely with our partners and clients to ensure they have the tools they need to optimize their digital experiences and complete their top initiatives, even in these challenging times. Banks must create comprehensive strategies around their digital channels and offerings, so they can continue to lead during uncertainty and change. This is a valuable opportunity for all of us to be better to one another and to the communities we serve.

Level 5 Banking

Over the past six months, nCino has partnered with the team at Bank Director on a unique and immersive study of banking. It was originally intended to peer into the future of the industry, but the more we looked ahead, the more we realized that the future of banking is not a revolution, but an evolution. 

Banking is undergoing a vast and vital transformation. The distribution channels of today may soon be obsolete, and technology and innovation are moving ever faster. But this doesn’t mean that the traditional tenets of prudent and profitable banking are outdated. If anything, we found that technology accentuates their importance.

Leadership. Leadership is the most important tenet in banking, but what is leadership? Interviews with dozens of bankers across the country suggest that one keystone character trait is more important than any other: an insatiable curiosity and indomitable will to never stop learning. Best-selling business author Jim Collins refers to this in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” as Level 5 leadership.

One industry leader who displays this trait is Brian Moynihan, chairman and CEO of Bank of America Corp. “Brian has a deep knowledge because he wants to learn about different things, not just about banking,” says Dean Athanasia, president of consumer and small business at Bank of America. “He looks across every single industry. He’s looking at Amazon, Walmart, the brokerage firms. He’s looking at all these companies and breaking them down.”

Growth. The second tenet we examined is growth. Mergers and acquisitions have been the principal vehicle for growth in the banking industry since the mid-1980s. But as the consolidation cycle has seasoned and digital distribution channels offer alternative ways to acquire new customers and enter new markets organically, we must accept that there are many avenues to growth. 

We’ve seen this firsthand at nCino, as institutions of all sizes successfully leverage our technology in the pursuit of growth and efficiency. But the day has not yet arrived that technology alone can help a bank grow. This is why the majority of banks view it as a way to supplement, not replace, their existing growth strategies.

Risk management. Another tenet we examined is risk management, a core pillar of prudent and profitable banking. Robust risk management is necessary for banks to avoid insolvency, but an equally important byproduct is consistent performance. The banks that have created the most value through the years haven’t made the most money in good times; their real strength has been avoiding losses in tough times.

Technology can help by improving credit decisions and making it easier to proactively pinpoint credit problems. But it must be paired with a culture that balances risk management and revenue generation.

“There are always going to be cycles in banking, and we think the down cycles give us an opportunity to propel ourselves forward,” says Joe Turner, CEO of Great Southern Bancorp, a Springfield, Missouri-based bank that ranks near the top of the industry in terms of total shareholder return over the past 40 years.

Culture. Culture and communication go hand-in-hand, and those financial institutions that are most successful are the ones that empower their employees with information, technology and autonomy. We learned this lesson the hard way during the financial crisis, when the banks that got into the most trouble were the ones that stifled the flow of information about unsavory business practices and questionable credit quality.

Since then, we’ve also seen a clear connection between a bank’s culture and its performance. “We’ve actually done a correlation analysis between employee engagement and client satisfaction scores in different departments,” says Kevin Riley, CEO of Billings, Montana-based First Interstate BancSystem. “It’s amazing the correlation between engaged employees and happy clients.”

Capital allocation. In an industry as competitive as banking, there aren’t many ways to produce extraordinary results. Running a prudent and efficient operation is table stakes. True differentiation comes from capital allocation — distributing an organization’s resources in a way that catalyzes operating earnings. The best capital allocators don’t view it as a mechanical process. They see it instead as a mindset that informs every decision they make, including how many employees they hire, how much capital they return or which third-party technology they choose to implement, among others.

Ultimately, navigating a bank through such a dynamic time is no easy feat. Leaders must embrace change and technology. That isn’t an option. But this doesn’t mean that the timeless tenets of banking should be discarded. The institutions that thrive in the future will be those that blend the best of the old with the new.

Three Steps to Mastering Digital Connection

Before the coronavirus crisis, I heard bank leaders talk about “becoming digital,” but less than 15% considered themselves digital transformation leaders.

The pandemic has pushed banks to close the digital experience gap. Executives must take a hard look at what their customers expect and what digital tools (and products) they need to weather this crisis.

Digital transformation can’t happen without mastering the art of digital connection, which requires both technology and authentic human connection. To do this, banks must harness the power of data, technology, and their people to create customers for life. Here are three steps to help your bank master the art of digital connection.

Maximize Customers Data to Transform the Experience
If a customer walked into a branch for a typical transaction, the teller would have immediate visibility into their entire relationship and recent interactions — and would be empowered to recommend additional, relevant bank products or services. They would feel known and well-served by your teller.

Your digital infrastructure should provide the same humanized experience through email, customer service and other interactions with your bank. But unorganized, siloed data causes problems and impedes creating this experience. To maximize your customers’ data, you’ll need to:

  • Consolidate your view of each customer.
  • Ensure that teams have access to a high-level view of customer data and activity, from marketing to customer service.
  • Group them by segments in order to deliver relevant information about products and services. This step requires a solid understanding of your customer, their financial needs and their goals.

Invest in Technology That Reaches Customers Today
To inform, educate and engage your customers during this time of transition, you need sophisticated, best-in-class banking technology. Many banks have already come to this conclusion and are looking for help modernizing their banking experience.

A key component in meeting your customers where they are is quite literal. While some of your customers are well-versed in online banking, others have exclusively used their branch for their financial needs. The information these two audiences will need during this transition will look different, based on their previous interactions. Compared to customers who are already familiar with digital banking, those who have never done it before will need more specific, useful instructions to help them navigate their financial options and a clear pathway to 1-on-1 assistance. This kind of segmentation requires modern marketing technology that works in tandem with banking and lending tools.

Amplify Human Connections to Build Trust
Many banks have trouble letting go of the branch experience; customers have had the same reservations. In an Accenture survey of financial services, 59% of customers said it was important to have a real person available to give in-person advice about more complex products.

Now that going into a branch is not an option, your bank must find a way to use technology to amplify the human connections between your customers and staff. Especially now, sending meaningful, humanized communications will position your bank as a trusted financial partner. To transform your digital experience, and keep people at the center of every interaction, you must:

  • Personalize your messages — beyond just putting a customer’s name in the salutation. Data allows emails to be very specific to segments or even individuals. Don’t send out generic emails that contain irrelevant product offers.
  • Humanize your customer experience. Communicate that you know who you’re talking to each time a customer picks up the phone or contacts your help line.
  • Support a seamless omnichannel experience. Provide customers with clear avenues to get advice from your staff, whether that’s by email, phone or text.

Investment in innovation comes from the top down. Your bank must buy into this opportunity to transform your customer experience from leadership to all lines of your business. The opportunity is here now; this shift toward digital interactions is here to stay.

There’s no longer a question of whether a fully digital banking experience is necessary. Banks must leverage modern technology and the human connections their customers know them for to improve their overall customer experience. Excellent customer experience comes from delivering value at every touchpoint. This is the new bar all banks must meet.

Five Digital Banking Initiatives for Second Half of 2020

As the calendar nears the midpoint of 2020 and banks continue adjusting to a new normal, it’s more important than ever to keep pace with planned initiatives.

To get a better understanding of what financial institutions are focusing on, MX surveyed more than 400 financial institution clients for their top initiatives this year and beyond. We believe these priorities will gain even more importance across the industry.

1. Enabling Emerging Technologies, Continued Innovation
Nearly 20% of clients see digital and mobile as their top initiatives for the coming years. Digital and mobile initiatives can help banks limit the traffic into physical locations, as well as reduce volume to your call centers. Your employees can focus on more complex cases or on better alternatives for customers.

Data-led digital experiences allow you to promote attractive interest rates, keep customers informed about upcoming payments and empower them to budget and track expenses in simple and intuitive ways. 

2. Improving Analytics, Insights
Knowing how to leverage data to make smarter business decisions is a key focus for financial institutions; 22% of our clients say this is the top initiative for them this year. There are endless ways to leverage data to serve customers better and become a more strategic organization.

Data insights can indicate customers in industries that are at risk of job loss or layoffs or the concentration of customers who are already in financial crisis or will be if their income stops, using key income, spending and savings ratios. Foreseeing who might be at risk financially can help you be proactive in offering solutions to minimize the long-term impact for both your customers and your institution.

3. Increasing Customer Engagement
Improving and increasing customer engagement is a top priority for 14% of our clients. Financial institutions are well positioned to become advocates for their customers by helping them with the right tools and technologies.

Transaction analytics is one foundational tool for understanding customer behavior and patterns. The insights derived from transactions and customer data can show customers how they can reduce unnecessary spending through personal financial management and expert guidance.

But it’s crucial to offer a great user experience in all your customer-facing tools and technologies. Consumers have become savvier in the way they use and interact with digital channels and apps and expect that experience from your organization. Intuitive, simple, and functional applications could be the difference between your customers choosing your financial institution or switching to a different provider.

4. Leveraging Open Banking, API Partnerships
Open banking and application programming interfaces, or APIs, are fast becoming a new norm in financial services. The future of banking may very well depend on it. Our findings show that 15% of clients are considering these types of solutions as their main initiative this year. Third-party relationships can help financial institutions go to market faster with innovative technologies, can strengthen the customer experience and compete more effectively with big banks and challengers.

Financial institutions can leverage third parties for their agile approach and rapid innovation, allowing them to allocate resources more strategically, expand lines of business, and reduce errors in production. These new innovations will help your financial institution compete more effectively and gives customers better, smarter and more advanced tools to manage their financial lives.

But not all partnerships are created equally. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency recently released changes surrounding third-party relationships, security and use of customers’ data, requiring financial institutions to provide third-party traffic reports of companies that scrape data. Right now, the vast majority of institutions only have scrape-based connections as the means for customers to give access to their data — another reason why financial institutions should be selective and strategic with third-party providers.

5. Strategically Growing Customer Acquisition, Accounts
As banking continues to transform, so will the need to adapt including the way we grow. Nearly 30% of our clients see this as a primary goal for 2020 and beyond. Growth is a foundational part of success for every organization. And financial institutions generally have relied on the same model for growth: customer acquisitions, increasing accounts and deposits and loan origination. However, the methods to accomplish these growth strategies are changing, and they’re changing fast.

Right now, we’re being faced with one of the hardest times in recent history. The pandemic has fundamentally changed how we do business, halting our day-to-day lives. As we continue to navigate this new environment, financial institutions should lean on strategic partnerships to help fill gaps to facilitate greater focus on their customers.

Five Reasons to Consider Banking Cannabis

Like nearly every industry, the banking sector is facing major economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Operational strategies designed to capitalize on a booming economy have been rendered obsolete. With the Federal Open Markets Committee slashing interest rates to near zero, financial institutions have needed to redirect their focus from growth to protecting existing customers, defending or increasing earnings and minimizing losses.

While this will likely be the status quo for the time being, bank executives and their boards have a responsibility to plan ahead. What will financial markets look like after absorbing this shock? And, when rates begin to rise again — as they will, eventually — how will you position your financial institution to take advantage of future growth?

The booming legal cannabis industry is one sector banks have been eyeballing as a source for low-cost deposits and non-interest income. While ongoing conflict between state and federal law has kept many financial institutions on the sidelines, others have made serving this industry part of their growth strategy. According to new market research, the U.S. legal cannabis market will be worth $34 billion by 2025. While we don’t claim that sales will be immune to the financial shock caused by the pandemic, they have remained somewhat steady — due in large part to being deemed essential in most states with legal medical cannabis programs. With much of this revenue unbanked, it’s worth taking a closer look at how this industry can be part of your bank’s long-term strategy. Here are five reasons why.

  1. Cannabis banking can provide reliable non-interest income. As net interest margins compress, financial institutions should look to non-interest income business lines to support overall profitability. Cannabis companies are in dire need of quality banking solutions and are willing to pay upwards of 10 times the amount of traditional business service charges. Assessing substantially higher base account charges, often without the benefit of an earnings credit to offset those charges, means there are untapped cash management fee opportunities. Together, these fees can fully offset the operational cost of providing a cannabis banking program.
  2. New compliance technologies can reduce costs and support remote banking. Many banks serving cannabis customers are using valuable human capital to manage their compliance. However, new technologies make it possible to automate these processes, significantly reducing the labor and expense required to conduct the systematic due diligence this industry requires. New cannabis banking technologies can also enable contactless payments, and handle client applications, account underwriting and risk assessment — all via remote, online processes.
  3. Longer-term, cannabis banking can provide a source of low-cost deposits. The pressure to grow and attract low-cost deposits may wane momentarily but will continue to be a driver of bank profitability long-term. Increasing those deposits today will protect future profitability as the economy improves.
  4. Comprehensive federal legalization is on the back burner — for now. While your bank may want to wait for federal legalization before providing financial services to this industry, there’s a significant first-mover advantage for institutions that elect to serve this industry today. The ability to build new customer relationships, earn enhanced fee income and gain access to new sources of low-cost deposits early on could be a game-changer when legalization eventually occurs.
  5. You don’t need to be a pioneer. Having spent most of my career leading retail operations at a community bank, I know financial institutions don’t want to be the first to take on something new. Although it is still a nascent industry, there are financial institutions that have served cannabis businesses for several years and are passing compliance exams. Banks entering the industry now won’t have to write the playbook from scratch.

The coronavirus pandemic requires banks to make many difficult decisions, both around managing the financial impact and the operational changes needed to protect the health of customers and employees. While adapting operating procedures to the current environment, banks should also begin planning for a future recovery and identifying new potential sources of growth. Cannabis banking can provide a lucrative new revenue stream and the opportunity for financial institutions to grow deposits with minimal competition — at least for now.

Repatriating Office Employees While the Pandemic Continues

It is the greatest human resources challenge of the modern corporate era.

In early March, U.S. companies — including most banks — sent their employees home to work as the Covid-19 pandemic gained strength and many states issued shelter-in-place requirements and business lockdowns. Most banks kept their branches open for limited customer access, and continued to staff their operations centers, but sent most of the remaining people home. Now, banks are starting to repatriate these employees as state restrictions are eased, and the economy begins to reopen.

There are a number of factors to consider as your bank prepares to repatriate its office staff, including how to keep them safe and changes that will have to be made to the workplace. Some employees may be leery of returning to their old offices since the Covid-19 infection rate is still rising in many states, even though the national rate is slowly declining. New precautions need to be put in place to protect your staff from infections, and these will need to be communicated clearly to them.

It seems highly likely that U.S. companies will have to learn how to live with the Covid-19 virus for the foreseeable future.

Darin Buelow, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and leader of its global location strategy practice, says the only comparable experience in recent memory was the hectic week after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York. Most of lower Manhattan was closed, and the big Wall Street banks had to make alternate plans so they could operate when the financial markets reopened on Sept. 17.

The banks had to figure out how they were going to get ready for the market reopening, and to do so without trying to cram and jam all their employees back into lower Manhattan,” Buelow says. “This prompted them to [move to] their business continuity sites, if they had them, in the suburbs. And if they didn’t, very quickly look for those locations where they could try to get trading desks and phone banks and everything else they needed to occupy offices.”

Of course, this was in the days before widely available video conferencing services. Many households still had dial-up internet service, so relying on a distributed workforce wasn’t an option. “But it was short-lived, and Manhattan was deemed to be okay again,” Buelow says. “What we’re experiencing now is new for all of us.”

Buelow has five suggestions that bank management teams should consider as they prepare to bring their employees back into the office.

Prioritize Employee Health and Safety
To make employees feel safe while the pandemic continues, banks should provide them with personal protection equipment (PPE) while also conforming with new, Covid-19 hygiene standards that have started to emerge. Banks should be stockpiling PPE supplies now, even if they don’t anticipate bringing their people back until the fall or later. Banks that have kept their branches and operations centers open have already had to take these precautions, although they now be applied on a larger scale. “Demand is increasing because there are more companies that are planning on having those stockpiles ready to go for when reentry happens,” Buelow says. “But also, the supply curve has been increasing. We’ve got more companies engaged in producing those products now, and they’re really starting to ramp up.” Of course, this could change if a surge in infections occurs this fall as the economy reopens, leading again to scarcities.

There are various Covid-19 hygiene standards that companies can rely on as they prepare their workplaces for reentry. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released a set of recommendations — “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for Covid-19” — as have the International Facility Management Association and the Building Owners and Managers Association International. And of course, banks should be checking state and local guidance and requirements as well.

Modify the Workplace
Most offices will have to be reconfigured to provide enough room to maintain social distancing precautions, and this could limit the available space for people to 25% of its normal capacity. “If they try to get up to 50% capacity, most layouts are going to be problematic, and it may be difficult to achieve six-foot distancing,” Buelow says.

Banks with employees in high-rise office towers will have to work closely with their landlords to address a number of issues. “Many [banks] are going to be in multi-tenant situations,” Buelow says. “Landlords have responsibility, oftentimes, for the lobby, for lobby security, maybe lobby temperature testing, maybe lobby hygiene, bathroom hygiene and ventilation. Increasing ventilation is something that’s being debated, the merits of that, the feasibility of that to remove airborne contaminants from offices. Not an easy thing to do, but the landlord has to be part of that conversation. Modifying the workplace is not just what to do in your own space and your cube farm, it’s also engaging with the landlord.”

Elevators in high-rise office towers pose another challenge because they will only be able to take a small number of people at a time to maintain some level of social distancing. “Imagine in a multi-tenant building that has an elevator design platform, which presumes that people are going to pack those elevators [from] 8:00 to 9:00 in the morning,” says Buelow. “Even if your company decides that it’s only going to bring back 10% or 15% [of its employees], if there are other companies that have a much higher number than you and you’re not the only one using those elevator banks, it’s going to slow it down for everyone.” Buelow says that some companies are already modeling how long it will take employees and customers to reach a desired floor using their building’s elevators. He knows of one major company that estimated it would take two hours in the morning and evening for people to enter and exit the building.

Prepare the Workforce
Communication is a critically important piece of the office worker repatriation process. Returning employees will need to be trained on any new Covid-19 safety procedures or mechanisms that have been put in place, as well as proper PPE use. Equally important, employees will need assurances that their health and safety are the bank’s top concern. “I think most companies are going to be very proactive, transparent and genuine in their communications to their employees,” Buelow says. “I think it’s important to communicate with employees that the company is going to place their health and safety above everything else. Be open about the timing of when you think you’re going to be looking at coming back. We’ve seen companies say things like, ‘We know it’s not going to be before Labor Day.’ Or, ‘We know it’s not going to be before 2021.’”

Buelow says some companies have assured employees who are afraid of returning to the office that there will be no repercussions if they continue working from home. “‘And when you feel comfortable coming back, we would love to have you, assuming the state and local regs allow it and we feel like we’ve been able to put in place the changes that we feel are necessary, in order to make it a safer workplace,’” he says. “I think it’s just all about communication and change management, and helping employees understand where the company’s priorities are.”

Develop Pandemic Management Protocols
These involve all the processes the bank will rely on to keep employees and customers safe. Some of these processes will be in response to federal, state and local mandates, while others will be developed by the bank itself.

“We’re already living in a country that has pandemic management protocols [PMPs] in place,” says Buelow. “You have to wear a face mask if you’re going to go to the grocery store. You might be gated on your way in, you might be subject to temperature testing. So those PMPs are a fact of life in many U.S. cities right now. And it could be that way for some protracted period of time. What we’re saying is that companies need to have new protocols and new procedures and new policies to deal with pandemic times.”

Buelow offers one example of a PMP that could become a common occurrence as employees start returning to the workplace. “What if you develop a fever while you’re at work, in the office on the 17th floor, at 3:00 in the afternoon?” he says. “Where do you go? What’s your routing? Who do you notify? What does day one look like on the first day of reentry? What can employees expect? What’s the protocol for testing and screening? What’s the work-at-home policy? I think there’s new policies that have to be written, new procedures and protocols that have to be developed and followed.” 

Use Technology to Enable New Ways of Working
It seems likely that companies will be forced to rotate their office staff until either an effective coronavirus vaccine has been widely distributed, or some level of herd immunity develops and naturally drives down infection rates. And there are a variety of technology tools that can help manage Covid-19 risk in the workplace.

If you’re going to do temperature screening, for example, you’ll need a way to track and manage that information while protecting the employee’s identity. “There are technologies out there to help with … contact tracing or contact awareness so that somebody who has a fever at 3:00 in the afternoon, who were they sitting near?” Buelow says. “Who did they brush up against? Who did they eat lunch with?”

Another technology, deployed either as a wearable or a mobile app, would enable employers to detect who an infected person came in contact with so it wouldn’t be necessary to quarantine an entire floor or department for two weeks out of an abundance of caution. “Deloitte has an application that just hit the street, called MyPath, which does a lot of these things,” Buelow says. “It’s a tool that companies can use for these kinds of self-certifications at home and contact awareness, and case management, and a number of other things to help clients and companies with all of the technological aspects of reentry.”

There is also a technology that monitors how rooms are being used and whether social distancing restrictions are being observed. “Are people congregating in rooms where they shouldn’t be having too many people in a particular room?” says Buelow. “Removing chairs or draping them so that people don’t use them doesn’t do any good. If a meeting is called in a conference room with 20 people and they just roll 20 chairs in there, they’re not socially distant anymore.”

The process of repatriating office workers includes a lot of unknowns. For example, how will they feel about working in a very different environment which may still pose an infection risk despite all the precautions? “We’re not really sure what reentry is going to look like,” Buelow says. “If the employer creates a space that is so antiseptic, and everyone’s wearing masks, and nobody’s in meetings with anyone else, and they’re behind barriers, it could actually discourage integration. If you had to wait in the lobby for an hour-and-a-half for an elevator, on top of all of that, would you really want to come back on Tuesday after your Monday experience? So, that remains to be seen, and it could further delay reopening.”

Leverage Tech to Release HELOC Demand

Even though bank may still have limitations on physical operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they can still leverage technology to prepare for what a potential boom in home equity line of credit (HELOC) lending.

Inflation will happen and rates will once again rise, making the market ripe for HELOCs. Community and regional banks need to be savvy enough to compete against larger banks and rising fintech nonbank lenders for this growing market share, and they can do this by using technology to properly harness the data. Data is new currency.

According to a J.D. Power study on HELOC satisfaction, 88% of consumers say they started the HELOC process without being prompted by a bank employee. That percentage is even greater for millennials: 94%. This a trend that is likely to continue.

Fast-paced technology allows consumers online options to do their banking from their smartphone, and many don’t want to speak to a banker unless they cannot get the answer online. They are signing up for loans, transferring funds to another account or opening new accounts — all transactional services that can be done with a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, without having to visit a local branch.

This same technology can be applied to the HELOC application process, which banks can use to greatly improve interactions with consumers. So why aren’t more banks embracing this technology? Why do we keep seeing phone numbers or “email us” prompts under the HELOC section of a bank website? It seems home equity lending is stuck in the 1990s.

This has to change to capture customers’ attention. The rise in home prices means millennials have more equity in their homes, and 59% gather their information online — 50% through smartphones only, according to the J.D. Power study. Banks have not been actively marketing to this group, making it a crucial area for improvement with the use of technology.

For any technology to be successful, banks need to change their approach or mindset regarding their HELOC application process. There are many options that can be used on the front-end of the HELOC experience as more banks streamline their digital processes. Others are using their loan origination system as a robust starting point in this process; one that should be easy, fast and intuitive.

Technology can automatically order the necessary data, like credit, income, flood and instant title reports. If the title data is not readily available, it can use intelligence logic to select the best data property report provider, based on turn time and price. That information is then delivered in one report that is custom-tailored to each lender’s unique loan fulfillment requirements.

Other technology can help with the front end, digital marketing and other aspects of the business, from the top of the funnel to eClosing. The constant change means that systems put in place three years ago were probably more expensive than some banks were willing to invest. Those systems might not have featured all the functionality a bank needed; now, they are outdated. Even if banks previously considered and decided against possible systems for whatever reason, it is paramount that they take another careful look today.

Some banks may be content with their current level of home equity loans; however, as the market starts to ramp up, they risk leaving significant business on the table or losing a customer to a non-bank fintech. Recent advancements mean there are innovative and inexpensive systems available that do not require a total retooling of a bank’s existing technology stack. What is the price on shaving 25 days off the process? What price can your bank can put on saving 25 days in the process? With the right approach, these new tools can help banks be cost neutral, or even save money.