For the past several weeks, it feels as if we’ve been holding our collective breath as COVID-19 races across the country with rapid fury. All the while, businesses and the economy as a whole have come to a halt.

While it is still the reality of today, enough time has elapsed for measures to be put into place. Adjustments were made and a new normal has unfolded.

We are now able to breathe a bit and begin to look at what may face us ahead.

At the beginning of the year, we did a 3-part Crystal Ball series, attempting to predict what 2020 would look like for Retail Finance and all things Branch Transformation. While some of it still may hold true (Big Data, Branch Will Change) nobody saw COVID-19 coming and especially what the retail impact would be.

While the light at the end of the tunnel is still difficult to ascertain, the big question of “What’s Next?” is prevalent.

The Branch

We’ll first get the elephant in the room out of the way.

The branch will NOT be going away. Not now, not ever. A substantial amount of articles have been written about it and many more will follow. The Digital Transformation that has taken hold of Banking has not eradicated the branch, but simply altered it.

COVID-19 will bring cleanliness and cashless options to the forefront, likely fueling the continued decline in transactions, but this was trajectory anyway. So, it will likely just be escalated.

The branch will evolve into an advisory center and will need to bring engagement and experiential more to the forefront than ever before. BUT, these were trends already taking root.

Now, change has merely intensified.

The Branch As Advisory Centers

We predicted this at the beginning of the year here, and are now doubling down on the prophecy. The branch may have less transactions, but there will be an ever-growing need for advice, particularly as customers try to understand their short and long term options. There’s only so much that can happen on your computer or smartphone. People will want detailed discussions in person about their finances and the branch will be the site to do that.

Universal Tellers

Now, more than ever, the entire branch staff will need to transition to a Universal Model. A Universal Teller does transaction first, then acts an advisor, a counselor, and a financial expert. Their goal is to give customers the needed guidance and advice to make sound decisions.

Training will be key to evolving your branch staff roles to more advisory and less transactional.


ITM’s – The use of Interactive Teller Machines will have a boost. The hot tech item, deployed by some, contemplated by many, will have a new dawn as a technological answer to the “personal touch” conundrum. Though there will be a play for these in Drive-Thrus and around town, the in-branch placement will continue to be a challenge. They may be better suited in-branch for a more tech forward company, and less so for a more transactional branch. One alternate in-branch idea may be a 24-hour vestibule if the branch has the appropriate square footage.

Recyclers – While not a new technology, many FI’s will need to decide on a fresh investment of Recyclers deployed across their network. With the ability to manage cash in and out without a Teller or the additional touch, these machines will likely see a boost. If any manufacturer can retro-fit or launch a new line that figures out how to sanitize the cash within, that will be your new market leader.

Video – Branch based video solutions, while not new, may very well have a resurgence. It provides customers in the branch or drive-thru the ability to talk to a real person and have questions answered while not being physically near that person. That will be a big strategic advantage for any FI.

Digital Signage

This will continue to be a good option for an elevated branch experience. Allowing your message to be delivered to customers who can learn of products and services without touching or talking to someone will have a place.


What’s old will be new again. Many banks were setting their drive-thru’s out to pasture, doing away with them entirely or replacing them with the right tech. Drive-thru’s will have a resurgence, particularly if the question of cleanliness can be addressed. Fast food restaurants will likely pioneer the idea of “contactless” and thus banking will follow suit. The cash and the tubing will need to be sterile.

Teller Stations

Any branch that still deploys Bullet Resistant Glass is either doing it for completely legitimate reasons, or simply hasn’t updated their branch for many, many years. Traditional Teller Lines gave way to Teller Pods/Stations years ago. While these won’t necessarily go away, there may be some modifications such as expanding the overall space to allow for a little more “social distancing” between Teller and customer. Additionally, there may be the deployment of “sneeze guards”- basically, acrylic shields- between the two for a little added protection.

Strategic Initiatives

Digital Investments

Now more than ever, Digital Products and Digital Transformation take the forefront. This is nothing new, but is something that will need to be revisited.

Don’t get confused by what needs to happen here. As a Community Bank or Credit Union, your products need to solve for the need, but you will never be able to outcompete the big national and regional players.

You likely cannot make yourself into a Digital first and/or Digital powerhouse, but you can differentiate yourself with the right Omni-channel approach.

Hub & Spoke

An FI that does not have a fully fledged hub and spoke branch plan will quickly find itself lost, vulnerable, and on the outside looking in.

The branch will continue to evolve and it will do so quickly. Not knowing which type of branch is best suited in which market, which neighborhood, or even which street corner will leave an FI out in the cold.

Flagship branches will need to be the shining example of what that FI can do in retail, with other Specialty, Micro, and Storefront branches acting as the spokes across markets, providing convenient access to advice and cash. More locations means more brand impressions and prominence in your marketplace.

Growth Strategies

Mergers and Acquisitions

Just like back in 2008 and thereafter, there will be another rash of mergers and acquisitions. It’s not like this has ever gone away or is no longer part of an FI’s growth plan (or CEO’s retirement plan). The topic will be pushed to the forefront, with many smaller FI’s simply struggling to grow, struggling to survive, and particularly struggling to keep away the barbarians at the gate.

Real Estate

Land will become cheaper. Buildings will become cheaper. Properties will become more available. And it will be easier to own them all.

LEVEL5 never did more Real Estate business in our three decades than back in the Financial Crisis of 2008. While many FI’s kept their heads down, and others ceased to exist for a host of reasons, others found the downturn as an opportunity. Many FI’s saw the availability and cost of land as a catalyst for growth and aggressiveness.

You still must act fast. Too many times have we recommended a site to a client for them to contemplate and have someone else to come along before they could act. This will be no different, except perhaps escalated.

Branch Expansion

Back at the first of the year, we predicted that costs will rise. Well, check that.

The overall cost of building a branch, refreshing a branch, and expanding with multiple branches will become more cost-effective.

Gas & Oil Going Down – When the cost of Gas & Oil goes down, the overall cost of transportation logistics goes down, and thus the cost of goods goes down. Raw materials will see a decrease as the waterfall of costs will trickle downward and be very different than what was predicted just several months ago.

Labor – When the economy slows, there will be less overall projects. The Laborers who perform these projects will have more time due to less demand. Overall labor costs will be pushed down. Simple supply and demand.

Design – Similarly to labor, the costs for Design will slip downward. Design firms will have less projects, and need more work. The costs of designs will slip slightly and there likely will be an uptick in delivery of these designs as the individuals will simply not have as much on their plate.

We’ll continue to stay ahead of trends and share with you the “new normal” as it begins to unfold. If you’d like to learn more about how we see the rest of 2020 unfolding and how you can stay ahead of the trends, Contact Us today.