Switching to online banking is forcing some Colorado banks to rethink their branches

Whether it’s transferring money through Zelle, depositing checks remotely, or setting up new accounts entirely online, the pandemic has accelerated consumers’ level of convenience with digital banking.

“The bank, like every other business that has remained open, must have changed in no time,” said Jenifer Waller, president of the Colorado Bankers Association. “It was surprising how comfortable customers were with their banking without this in-person contact. “

This accelerated digital transition, long anticipated but slow to come, has made consumers and bankers realize that physical branches may not be as necessary as they once thought, or at the very least, they should. have a different look and feel.

“We want our customers to feel like this is a one-stop-shop,” said Patrina Pettry, US Bank’s Denver market leader for personal and business banking, as she said. was visiting one of two new branches recently opened by the Minneapolis-based bank. in the Denver subway.

The American bank, like many of its competitors, was already seeking to reduce its branch network before the pandemic. When its branches closed last spring, the state’s third largest bank decided to keep some of them closed – about 19 in the Denver subway and seven in other parts of the state.

But it doesn’t completely abandon the new branches and opens a new location in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver and one in the Southlands neighborhood of Aurora. It also plans to renovate many of its existing locations to better reflect a post-pandemic world.

The new storefront at 3480 W. 38th Ave., for example, is only 3,600 square feet, a fraction of the 11,500 square foot branch it replaced after the block was shaved to accommodate new developments. There is no drive-thru service and don’t look for ticket counters, those have also disappeared. Inflated ATMs, called interactive ATMs or ITMs, allow customers to customize the denominations they want to receive and access cash simply by swiping their debit cards.

For those who prefer to deal with a human, Consultants, who carry digital tablets and are equipped to handle a variety of tasks, can take them into an office, stopping along the way at an automated Starbucks coffee machine. And when these consultants are not busy, they can jump into video chats from four terminals in the break room and help clients remotely.

Pettry said US Bank is the first bank to have the option to “co-navigate” in Denver. With the right timing, the bank had developed the technology just before the pandemic. It allows branch employees to assist and coach clients in their online or mobile banking activities via video chat.

“Customers are now going to call and say can you co-sail,” said Marisabel Cooley, Highlands branch manager. “They love it.”

The number of co-navigation sessions has grown from 500,000 last year to 2 million so far this year, she said. And for those who are happier with video conferencing, which has become a gangbuster during the pandemic, the bank also offers Webex. This can be useful when a couple needs to complete a transaction, but no one can physically do it.

“Innovation is driven by the needs of your customers. They determine the decisions we make as bankers, ”Waller said.

As an added bonus, new technologies improve efficiency, allow employees to take on more interesting assignments rather than occupy a counter line and in the long run could help bankers cope with labor shortages.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Left to Right, Highlands Branch Manager Marisabel Cooley, Denver Market Manager Patrina Pettry and Denver North District Manager Tarrah Garcia chat together in the US Bank Highlands branch community room on Thursday, July 1 2021.

An inevitable transition

Even after restrictions eased and people became more comfortable going out, branch transactions are still down 37.4%, said Kelly Kaminskas, president of retail banking and digital at FirstBank, based in Lakewood, the state’s second-largest bank.

They made an average of 6,242 transactions per month and per branch in the eight months leading up to the pandemic. In the first half of this year, the average is close to 3,907 transactions.

While activity may pick up a bit more in the coming months, Kaminskas said she does not expect foot traffic at FirstBank’s 113 branches to ever return to what it was in 2019. .

In contrast, she said the bank’s digital platform received between 8 and 8.5 million visits last month.

“You will see a slowdown in the opening of new branches,” she said, adding that the bank is also seriously looking at where the locations are really needed. He closed half a dozen of them last year.

One of the reasons to keep branches is to welcome new customers. They might never show up again, but many people prefer to start a banking relationship in person. Before the pandemic, only one in four bank accounts were opened remotely, but that share soared to 60% last year, Kaminskas said.

“We saw that people were ready to use this channel, with improvements and innovations in the process of creating new online accounts,” she said.

Unlike many of its competitors, Kaminskas said it did not buy into the branch design overhaul. Most people walk into a branch to make deposits or withdraw money, and many customers like to do this through a human cashier.

“I might be the last to resist, but we don’t have plans for a digital overhaul of our branches,” she said.

But the bank is keeping a close eye on digital trends. Several years ago, FirstBank pioneered video banking, Kaminskas said, but the technology was still difficult and did not appeal to customers.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Dominick Francois of US Bank, right, chats with a customer in the engagement area of ​​the US Bank Highlands branch on Thursday, July 1, 2021.

“The things we are focusing on are how to better authenticate people online, how to improve these digital experiences, and how to help people through these digital experiences,” she said.

Rather than trying to get customers back to branches, banks are increasingly trying to make them more comfortable doing business digitally, and that is becoming part of what happens in branches.

Wells Fargo, Colorado’s largest bank, has seen an increase in activity from its current and new m-banking customers, which it attributes to increased customer awareness of digital services and improvements in the user experience, said regional bank spokesperson Tony Timmons.

“While digital banking has been available for 25 years, these capabilities have become an essential service for consumers during the pandemic,” he said, adding that the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of things like mobile wallets and contactless payments.

PNC Bank, a newcomer to the Colorado market, took a technological approach when it opened its first “Solution Center” at 1590 Lawrence St. in April. The centers are equipped with an ATM and a bank kiosk that allow customers to manage many transactions themselves. Otherwise, mobile consultants, equipped with tablets, can come and assist them in any available space, like US Bank.

PNC, which recently acquired BBVA USA, is considering opening a second center at 7301 S. Santa Fe Drive in Littleton.

“We are seeing that customers continue to rely on access to our solution centers, while increasingly taking advantage of our self-service and technology options that allow them to manage their finances with greater control and level. unprecedented transparency, ”said Ryan Beiser, PNC Director. Colorado regional president.

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