A pandemic is a very particular and very terrible type of crisis.
Unlike other crises such as earthquakes or cyberattacks which impact the bank’s infrastructure, pandemics directly impact its people – employees, vendors, suppliers – who might be unable to perform their jobs. Further, customers cannot do business in usual ways.
Unlike other crises such as technological breakdowns or security threats to which there is a reasonable expectation of resolution within a certain time frame, a pandemic’s duration can be prolonged. Its severity can be brutal.
Planning for a pandemic should start long before the pandemic is on the horizon. Still, there are practical steps which can be taken to help banks during such a crisis.
This information is a compilation of best practices and, by the nature of pandemics and locations, cannot be all inclusive. Adapt the material to your specific situation and circumstances.
Why Do Banks Need a Specific Plan for Pandemics?
Banks are a fundamental part of society’s infrastructure and operations. Any disruption in the banking system can create serious consequences to the population, to the economy, and to the bank itself.
A pandemic can affect several aspects of the bank’s operations such as cash distribution, check deposits, retail bank branch functions, claims processing, loans, and other services that depend on the bank’s people. A pandemic can also affect other sectors on which banks depend such as telecommunications, IT, and transportation.
You should have a detailed pandemic plan describing the processes and procedures the bank will follow to respond to a pandemic. This plan and procedures can greatly help minimize the adverse pandemic effects on your people and operations.
Situations Banks Can Expect During a Pandemic
We list some potential situations your bank can expect before, during, and after a pandemic occurs in your area. We are sure there are more!
- Shortage/unavailability of staff
- Increase in use of ATMs
- Increase in Internet banking use
- Increase in volume of telephone banking/mobile banking/call center services
- Panic withdrawals of cash
- Increase in need of remote access and telecommuting capabilities for staff to work from home for an extended period
- Increase in requests for additional credit
- Delay in payments and increase in delinquencies
- An increase in phishing attempts (by telephone or e-mail) on your customer’s accounts
- Increased need for cleaning services and supplies
- Possibility of being shut down (or not allowing customers inside) for days or weeks.
Bank Operations During a Pandemic
During a pandemic there won’t be “business as usual.” The bank’s daily operations will be severely impacted, and it will be necessary to identify and prioritize essential functions over non-essential functions.
It is recommended to carefully identify and map all the bank’s functions. This may surprise you – all the services and tasks banks actually do! Also identify and map the roles and key people in each function and their interdependencies in order to prioritize the essentials and secure the proper staffing and resources for their continuity.
For example, during a pandemic, activities such as client acquisition or promotion of new products won’t be a priority; but retaining and maintaining current customers will be. Banks should plan to reprioritize accordingly. If allowed by local laws, banks should consider temporary changes in employees’ roles and activities in order to make the bank more dynamic/agile in dealing with the evolving crisis.
Main Challenges for Banks During a Pandemic
With the COVID-19 pandemic upon us, the main challenges for a bank are to:
1. Ensure the Health and Safety of Employees, Clients and Vendors
During a pandemic, it is necessary to implement measures to allow the continuity of operations with minimal contact between staff, customers, or suppliers for prolonged periods of time.
Some practical measures which could be quickly implemented are:
- Redirect customers from branch/office visits to online/phone banking services. Encourage customers to use your bank’s digital tools and other resources for self- service banking and 24/7 account access
- Set up and publicize a web page to provide specific coronavirus information. For example, see https://www.capitalone.com/updates/coronavirus/ or https://www.techcu.com/Landing-Pages/COVID-19-Concerns/
- Reduce hours of operation
- Use teleconference/videoconference for meetings (even for people in the same building)
- Enable employees to work from home or from alternative sites
- Implement restrictions on visitor or vendor access to the bank facilities
- Implement travel bans for employees
- Enforce quarantine for sick staff
- Define office hygiene procedures in case someone becomes ill in the office
- Monitor and clean ATM screens and keypads frequently!
- Remove shared writing instruments, magazines and newspapers from common areas such as reception areas, waiting areas, kitchens, break rooms, etc. (Viruses can live for many hours on inanimate )
- Install plastic or other barriers for counter staff and those that must interact with the public
- Install sanitizing gel dispensers throughout all areas used by clients inside the branch and in internal areas for employees
- Rearrange furniture in order to allow more space between employees and between employees and clients or vendors
- Ensure the regular disinfection of sensitive areas such as: doorknobs or handles, desk/table tops, tellers’ stations, reception areas and furniture, cash registers, copy machines, elevator buttons, miscellaneous office equipment (i.e. calculators, printers, shredders, fax, binding, and postage machines), keyboards, telephones, vending machines, refrigerators, water dispensers or fountains ).
2. Ensure the Bank Can Continue to Provide Essential Services
One of the most important aspects to consider when planning for a pandemic is that absenteeism can be at debilitating levels, either due to employees getting sick, an employee’s
family member being sick, school closings requiring parents to be home, or employees’ not showing up to work for some other reason.
With a potential shortage of staff, decline in branch activities, and the reduction in human interaction in general, the use of technology will play an extremely important role. It’s necessary to ensure that network systems and telecommunications structure are able to handle a substantial increase in volume.
Some practical measures for the human aspect to be considered are:
- Identify which jobs and tasks can and cannot be done, even partially, without being physically present in the office
- Ensure employees know how to use the various hardware and software dedicated for remote working
- Activate a direct support line so employees can quickly address technical problems while working remotely
- Ensure preparedness for a high absentee rate and make back-up arrangements for key staff and functions
- Cross-train employees and ensure that succession/replacement plans are in place
- Establish a plan on how to react if an employee becomes ill in the office
- Continuously inform and update employees and clients of the new procedures or of any changes to the bank’s operations
Some practical measures for the technical aspects to be considered are:
- Ensure key third-party outsourcers and suppliers are able to maintain critical processes
- Establish procedures for safeguarding data, including backups
- Audit the technology used for remote access and check for the need of increasing capacity, bandwidth and authentication mechanisms
- Address information security risks (associated with staff accessing sensitive information outside the bank’s secure environment)
- Evaluate technical and operational implications in case a location needs to be shut down
- Check the capacity of networks to handle increase in traffic
- Ensure telecommunication structure can handle increase in call volume
3. Understand Some Customers May Find Themselves Facing Financial Difficulties
Deserved or not, bankers have a reputation for being solely interested in the financial bottom line. Well, these are times of crisis. You should encourage customers who may be financially impacted to reach out to discuss how your bank might be of assistance. Then work with your customers to help them however you can. It is the right thing to do, plus you will have a customer for life.
4. Plan For Recovery
It may be tough to think about this today, but the situation will eventually get better. You should start to prepare for recovery now. You need a plan to address how you will:
- Clean and sanitize your facilities and work areas
- Track employees’ health; maintain a healthy workplace
- Reopen facilities, work areas, customer areas
- Keep social distancing and sanitizing processes in place (employees and customers) for the long term
- Catch up with all the paperwork and maintenance tasks that have accumulated
- Inform your staff, customers, vendors, and regulatory agencies of these efforts
During a pandemic, major disruptions can be expected. Banks need to put in place strategies and processes to enable business continuity to provide critical services while ensuring the health and safety of employees, customers, and vendors.
In a pandemic, technology can play a major role in business continuity, and it’s important to ensure capacity and systems can handle increased volumes. Banks must also take into consideration implications on facilities, systems, and procedures in order to allocate the resources needed for critical operations.
Most important, banks must understand that the health and well-being of their customers, employees, associates, and communities is their top priority. The pandemic will eventually pass. How you respond will be remembered for a very, very long time.