By Monica C. Meinert
As the nation turned the calendar page to May, many states began to ease stay-at-home orders and reopen economies that had been brought to an abrupt halt earlier in the spring by the coronavirus pandemic.
Like other critical infrastructure businesses, banks remained open throughout the pandemic, with bankers serving as economic first responders: assisting homeowners with finding forbearance options for their mortgages, working round-the-clock to deliver Paycheck Protection Program loans to small business customers and supporting customers as they shifted much of their banking activity to digital channels. For many, this work was conducted on kitchen tables or in makeshift offices setup in laundry rooms and basements. Bankers adapted quickly and overcame obstacles to serve their customers during the pandemic and will continue to do so throughout the nation’s economic recovery.
As of early May, bankers were expecting a near-term return to offices and normal business operations. In an ABA survey of banks conducted around that time, 42 percent expected to be back within 30 days, 31 percent said 60 days, while just 10 percent said they didn’t expect to be back for closer to three months.
Before normal business operations can resume, however, banks will need to answer several tough questions: Will everyone come back at once, or will there be a phased-in return process? Will employees be required to wear face masks to work? How will the bank maintain social distancing between customers in a small lobby? And perhaps most importantly, how will they know which rules and regulations apply to their institution?
A community-focused approach
During a recent ABA webinar, ABA SVP Paul Benda noted that banks should look to local authorities for specific details about when and how to transition back to physical offices. For example, while many areas have been referencing guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention throughout the pandemic, Benda notes that when it comes to actually implementing that guidance, some areas may choose to limit capacity based on square footage or by a percentage of the establishment’s maximum occupancy license, or require markings on the floor to ensure customers maintain proper social distancing.
“That level of tactical, granular guidance is generally going to come from your state and local authorities,” Benda says. However, federal guidelines and regulations—including those issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—still apply.
Determining which risk mitigation measures will be necessary for a given market depends significantly on the level of community transmission of the virus in that area. For example, both the CDC and OSHA have based their…