As part of our ongoing series to help the communities we serve, Ammon Heisler Sachs architects (AHSa) is compiling leading resources to help you develop a forward-thinking plan for your interior spaces in the face of our current challenges. This post will be covering financial institutions and how we anticipate social distancing is going to affect customers, financial representatives, and automated banking equipment—all while offering insights as to what this means for your planning.

Banks and credit unions across the United States have been presented with a unique challenge during COVID-19. From an architectural and design perspective, banks and credit unions find themselves adapting to support social distancing guidelines. However, many financial institutions are left trying to delicately balance customer relationships and advantageous business decisions.

Branch modification should be welcoming while still making customers, members and staff feel comfortable conducting business during this re-entry period.” – Hal Sachs, AIA, LEED AP, AHSa Principal

There are a lot of questions that financial institutions must seriously consider regarding the health and safety of their customers, members and employees to better prepare for the future: Will cafes operated by financial institutions, with close interactions between customers/members and their representatives, still be desirable? What policy updates will be needed to maintain employee training, customer education, branch management and routine sanitization of interactive banking equipment?

Some of the most important things to consider while re-entering and designing branches for the future:

    • Is your branch configurable to allow for physical distancing while queuing in lines or at transaction counters?
    • Do you have a plan in place to sanitize high touch surfaces like Check Desks, Counters, PIN Pads, and ATMs?
    • Do you have physical barriers in place between tellers or between customers and tellers?
    • Are your tellers currently required to share equipment like TCRs, MFDs or Currency Counters?
    • Will you allow the public to use your bathrooms?

Today, we’re going to help you navigate these challenges and more, starting with a few things we believe financial institutions should consider.

How Financial Institutions Can Adjust

While we envision architecture and interior design as an extension of your brand, we also understand that COVID-19 has forced many industries to rapidly adjust. It’s not going to be easy, but there are plenty of considerations financial institutions can think about to better serve their members and customers right now and in the long-term. This includes adapting to new customer norms, restructuring all contact operations, and showing empathy to drive brand loyalty.

Some of our clients have encouraged a safer working environment by temporarily closing branches while keeping drive-thrus and ATMs open. Others have made visible statements on their websites, stationing a header at the top of their homepage to provide information on the bank’s current status to maintain transparency.

We have also seen clients encourage customers to utilize their suite of banking services online and through their mobile app to bank from the security of their home, which is a growing trend that may stick beyond 2020.

Ultimately, the responsibility will fall on members, customers, financial institution representatives, and leadership teams to keep working environments clean and safe. Signage with facts and guidelines placed appropriately around your interior space will promote customer education. At the same time, employee education programs will guarantee that all parties involved are working cohesively for mutual safety.

What does this mean for interior spaces?

One of the most critical components of any design project is an adequate planning phase. Use space to your advantage and make sure branches are adequately prepared to handle an eventual surge in returning employees and customers.

Moving forward, health and safety measures in facilities may need to be implemented like automatic operating doors, glass walls between customers and tellers within offices, and updated sanitizing policies on ITMs, ATMs, TCRs and other banking equipment. The handling of checks and cash will need to be reevaluated to further minimize physical contact. One option is to require gloves by employees in the initial stages of reopening.

To handle traffic while social distancing, queuing markers on the floor will keep customers waiting in line separated safely. Limiting teller pods to single stations or modifying teller pods by installing divider screens may be required. Replacing a teller pod with teller lines can also provide some distance between customers and tellers. Adding transparent dividers between customer/members and tellers will also provide a safer interaction.

Communication is pivotal throughout all of this. Let your customers know that the proper safety recommendations are being followed and that actions to reopen will align with the state and national recommendations. Maintaining these standards proves to customers that their best interests remain top of mind, allowing them to feel comfortable with your bank in times of uncertainty.

Preparing For What’s Next

By working together and listening to the needs of our clients, their customers and communities, we’re designing and working towards safer spaces for the future. If you have further questions on challenges your team is facing, don’t hesitate to contact our team and start a conversation. We are offering free consultations to assist you and your customers and members. We will also be following up with a short survey on June 30 in an effort to better understand your challenges, concerns and questions, and to get your feedback so we can navigate these new challenges safely together.