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'Almost every Oregonian has been forced to shift to online and mobile banking to handle many of their most common transactions.'

We keep hearing that there will be a "new normal" once Oregon reopens from the COVID-19 outbreak. It's true that behavioral shifts in all facets of life are to be expected, and in the case of banks and credit unions, it is already happening.

With branch lobbies now closed to meet the state's social distancing requirements, causing some locations to close completely or significantly limit in-person services, almost every Oregonian has been forced to shift to online and mobile banking to handle many of their most common transactions. That will have a more permanent effect as Oregonians become more comfortable with these forms of digital banking technology.

The digital revolution has helped define the last decades, changing almost everything that we interact with on a daily basis. Nowhere is that more obvious than with banking. Consequently, fewer people visit branches regularly, and that has meant fewer branches across the system and the development of more robust and sophisticated digital products.

Even with this evolution, though, money remains one of our most valued resources, and many still prefer the personal touch of an in-branch visit. In fact, even today more than half of those who use a bank or credit union opt to visit their branch to conduct business face-to-face.

These-in-person interactions will continue to be something most financial institutions offer. In this new world, however, digital banking will play a more outsized role than it did before. In fact, the digital future will almost certainly become the focus of most financial institutions. While that would have happened eventually, social distancing and stay-at-home measures are accelerating the transformation quicker than anyone would have expected.

Suddenly, members who have always preferred making deposits with tellers, are making deposits through ATMs and mobile check deposits. Services such as mobile check deposit, online bill pay, digital document signing and digital payment through third-party services like Apple Pay have quickly become a necessity more than a convenience. And that behavioral shift will not be undone once life returns to something more resembling normal.

For financial institutions, this has meant more proactive outreach to help bridge the gap for those who are less familiar with digital banking, and to develop new resources to support a much larger digital demand. Added availability of virtual appointments, via phone or teleconference, with real credit union representatives has taken on more importance, too.

The development of these tools is already changing banking habits. We are seeing more use of digital offerings than ever before — and for a wider range of transactions. And many members are making the leap to digital effortlessly, finding that these tools make routine banking easier and more convenient once they give them a try.

Banks and credit unions won't be closing branch operations altogether once the social distancing guidelines begin to lift. In fact, new opportunities will emerge. As most transactions move to self-service digital channels, branches can shift focus to more personalized financial services, such as financial planning, debt counseling, broader financial education efforts and more.

The last few weeks have been trying for all of us, and there is no doubt that we will all learn some lessons and change some behaviors. But for financial institutions and those who rely on them, the "new normal" once this crisis ends will likely be a better experience than ever before.

Leasa Wilkens lives in Northwest Portland.


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