Banks accelerate new branch strategies in increasingly digital post-COVID world

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After the novel coronavirus forced banks to close their branch lobbies, Pittsburgh-based F.N.B. Corp. added an online tool allowing customers to make in-branch appointments with a banker for the first time. The customer response was swift and unexpected: The bank went from 21 appointments in January to more than 2,700 during April, according to CEO Vincent Delie.

F.N.B.’s experience is emblematic of how the pandemic is forcing consumers to rethink many behaviors — including the way they use physical bank branches. In the age of social distancing, even customers who long relied on their local branch are turning to digital options. And that is opening the door for banks to rethink their branch footprints.

“Every generation wants convenience,” said Mike Carter, executive vice president of advisory firm Strategic Resource Management. “What has happened now, people who didn’t understand how convenient digital banking is, they got a taste of it.”

Experts and bankers say physical locations will continue playing an important role in bank strategies, but the pandemic will change the way branches look and operate for good.

“In the future, the bank branch will be a lot like going to the dentist or seeing a doctor — you’ll make an appointment to go in and discuss something,” Carter said in an interview.

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