Bankers need to come at this crisis from a different perspective

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Within three hours, five banker events I was scheduled to speak at postponed or cancelled. That’s when things got real for me.

Up until then, I had been philosophizing about possible changes and business disruptions with lots of industry friends. It was all hypothetical . . . until it wasn’t.

I stood there realizing that millions of folks at that very moment were experiencing similar events. Many people likely initially thought, “Well, maybe this isn’t really that big of a deal.”

But when everyone’s worlds are impacted in a similar way, the realization kicks in that it is a big deal.

As national and local leaders begin taking action to address current challenges and, hopefully, avoid more drastic impacts of a pandemic, their very actions can trigger further unrest.

I recall many conversations with bankers in recent times about dealing with change. If they know certain things need to be done in order to position their companies to succeed in the future, they should be prompted to make necessary changes rather than panic and look to assign blame.

The most dangerous thing to do in times of change and evolution is to do nothing. Those who are sitting still, thinking that the exact business model that got them through today will also be the best model for the future, are in for unpleasant surprises.

Similarly, when political and business leaders are acting to address what in many ways is an unprecedented challenge, the very fact that they are implementing change seems to cause people unrest. That’s natural.

As I often tell leaders about guiding their teams through change, “Fear and resistance to change doesn’t mean you are irrational people. It means you are people.”

Effective leaders reassure their people through those periods of fear and hesitation.

In recent weeks, I’ve spoken with many bankers scrambling to ensure that their employees and customers are taken care of during this crisis. In times like this, leaders are also reminded of the primal connection customers have to physical bank branches and bankers.

Even digital-first customers who seldom use a physical branch want to see that branches are open, accessible and functional. Providing that support is going to be more challenging in the weeks ahead for obvious reasons.

For instance, branch employees are just as affected by the sudden need for childcare brought on by mass school closings. Bank leaders across the country are being as flexible and supportive as they can in an attempt to help their teammates address these arising challenges.

Another obvious challenge is keeping employees as protected as possible from contact with the coronavirus. Some banks are moving to drive-thru-only operations where possible. Others are being far more restrictive on branch access.

Many bankers are adjusting their branch hours to address staffing challenges. For example, a friend of mine who manages a very large branch program has reduced location hours and adjusted operations to allow two employees to run a branch.

Chatting with this banker and others about the current situation, a common concern was voiced. In a time in which everyone is giving teammates the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making personal decisions about whether they can and should come to work, there is the danger that some of their best employees will be overutilized.

For bank leaders, constantly thanking their teams and reminding them of how appreciated their commitment and efforts are during this time are vital.

Everyone is being reminded of the importance banks and bankers play in the lives of customers. Stereotypes aside, times of uncertainty highlight those whom citizens truly rely upon.

Bankers across the country are providing support and, also as important, a level of stability greatly needed during this time.

In challenging times, we see the best in people. That isn’t always what leads the newscasts, but it’s out there.

One place to find it is the banking industry. Be proud of that fact and never forget it.

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Crisis Management Coronavirus Community banks Customer experience Customer service Economy Branch managers Active management