FARGO — Bank lobbies are almost completely reopened for business, according to Fargo-Moorhead industry leaders. The coronavirus pandemic had caused in-person visits to financial institutions to become something of a rarity for several months.
Kim Settel, Gate City Bank's executive vice president of retail banking and lending, said they did a staggered rollout of lobby openings throughout the month of June.
“We did that very strategically,” Settel said. “We looked at internal and external factors, so certain counties that had low case instances.”
Retail leadership, she said, worked closely with local and state governments to ensure Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations were followed. The temporary closure allowed the bank time to enact its business continuity plan, which included a pandemic subset, and called for the installation of personal protective equipment and best safety practices.
Those include plexiglass barriers wherever there is in-person contact, floor tape to measure social distancing, regular sanitation, and recommended mask-wearing for customers. Employees, she said, wear masks to “lead by example.”
The reopening began June 8, she said, and by June 29 all 43 locations in 22 communities across North Dakota and Minnesota were officially open.
“It was all done very intentionally,” Settel said. “We were fortunate, but also very well-prepared.”
Gate City Bank has more than 770 employees and $2.6 billion in assets. During the pandemic, the banks’ drive-ups were open, and in-person appointments were available when necessary.
Gate City’s customers had grown accustomed to a plate of freshly-baked cookies waiting for them in the lobby, and Settel said they’re now handed out individually after being stored in a more controlled environment.
“We thought this was a great opportunity to bring something from the pre-pandemic normal into the new normal,” she said.
Settel said only two branches were temporarily closed while awaiting COVID-19 test results, but that was “early on.”
“We have a plan in place if that were to occur again,” she said.
Bell Bank, which has 25 locations in three states and $8 billion in assets, reopened its lobbies Monday, May 18, according to an email from Lynn Johnson, executive vice president of retail banking.
“We closed the lobbies at our bank branches that have a drive-up on March 21, however, lobby services were available by appointment,” Johnson said. “For those few branches that do not have a drive-up, we kept the lobbies open.”
The decision to reopen in May, she said, had everything to do with being prepared.
“We wanted to make sure each branch had all of the precautionary measures in place and adequate supplies before we reopened,” Johnson said. “Once we met those requirements we set the open date.”
Precautionary measures include plexiglass stands, mask and glove availability for employees, floor tape for maintaining social distance, and regular sanitation of common areas.
Bell Bank saw a very slight decrease in teller transactions during the lobby closures, Johnson said, and a slight increase in calls to their customer service department.
The pandemic, and the disruption it has caused daily life, didn’t force Bell Bank to disrupt its business practices, she said, in fact it allowed for some unique interactions.
“In some cases, our tellers were out in the drive-up lanes, helping customers who had never used the drive-up or ATM before,” Johnson said.
Johnson said no Bell Bank locations were closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak.