Remote tellers, restaurant-style pagers: Branch design in the COVID era

January 07, 2022 Windstream Enterprise 4 min

Editor’s Note: In-person bank visits are declining due to a number of factors, including an increasingly younger member demographic. Branches have been forced to quickly transform their customer experience, and technology has become a key component in providing services outside of the traditional teller. For the member wanting convenient access anytime and anywhere, cloud-based solutions from Windstream Enterprise—like SD-WAN Concierge™ and UCaaS—are bringing banks into the future.

Summary: Take the fact that foot traffic in banks is on the decline, combine that with pandemic social distancing and an explosion of remote-enabling technology, and you’ve got a recipe for some dramatic change.

At Landmark Credit Union in Brookfield, Wisconsin, waiting for a teller feels much like waiting for a table at a restaurant. 

To enable social distancing at the three new branches the $5.8 billion-asset credit union built this year, Landmark is trying to do away with teller lines. Instead, it hands out the same pagers that many chain restaurants use to alert patrons when a table is ready. Members can also make an appointment online, where they can see bankers’ availability for key services like loan closings and account openings. 

“This allows members to schedule a time that works best with their schedule and eliminates the wait time that is typically associated with walk-in appointments. We also continue to expand our self-service capabilities within our branches,” Chief Experience Officer Brian Melter said. 

Pinnacle Credit Union in Atlanta is taking a different approach to social distancing; at its next branch, it expects many of its tellers will be able to work from home. 

The new branch will have a mix of spaced-out teller lines and interactive teller machines, operated remotely. Depending on the type of machine, customers would still be able to provide signatures and show their IDs to authorize transactions. The $89 million-asset credit union expects tellers to be able to perform at least 95% of normal transactions remotely. 

“We are betting that there is still a need for at least a half-staff branch in the future because the personal touch is still important,” said Matt Selke, CEO of the $89 million-asset credit union. 

It’s a balancing act. Even if it can enable nearly all of its tellers to work remotely, the credit union’s customers still want in-person access to bank staff.

It’s a balancing act, Selke said. Even if it can enable nearly all of its tellers to work remotely, the credit union’s customers still want in-person access to bank staff. 

“We will have more traditional teller lines than we once thought—albeit more spread out—with the option of ITMs in another section of the branch,” Selke said. 

Even as vaccination rates rise, prompting people to pack into concerts and sporting events once more, there is still a push to wear masks and socially distance to protect the unvaccinated, as well as to guard against breakthrough cases and new coronavirus variants. These concerns are front and center when banks and credit unions consider new branch layouts. 

Those that are building new branches have an opportunity to experiment with floor plans that provide more space between teller lines or options for self-service. 

One factor that helps provide social distance is the growing adoption of drive-thru or digital banking. This enables banks and credit unions to provide more personal space without a bigger floorplan. 

“Even though newly constructed branches are smaller in size, new concepts are more open allowing for more room inside the facility to allow social distancing because many institutions want to keep at least a minimum teller presence,” said Glenn Grau, senior vice president of sales for PWCampbell, a branching consultant based in Pittsburgh. 

Members can access one-on-one help in the branch from employees who are available over video.

Another example of this philosophy on branch design comes from the $1.4 billion-asset Credit Union 1, which recently opened a new branch in Anchorage, Alaska, where it is headquartered. 

This facility, which opened on Nov. 1, has seen strong adoption of the interactive teller machines and received praise for its lack of traditional teller lines. Members can access one-on-one help in the branch from employees who are available over video. 

“We were thinking future-forward throughout the process, and then current events of COVID happened and we were already in motion with a better way for Alaskans to bank in that environment. The financial center and state of the world couldn’t have lined up more symbiotically,” said Rachel Langtry, the credit union’s chief operating officer. 

The $305 million-asset Greater Community Bank in Rome, Georgia, had begun a “considerable expansion renovation” in one market before COVID-19 hit, and ultimately decided to go forward with that plan for a bigger physical presence, said President and CEO David Lance. 

The bank created space for one-on-one conversations, zoom rooms and more open space to provide a comfortable and safe environment for the employees as well as the customers, he said. 

But the momentum of these newer branch concepts is coming up against a different trend of reducing branch numbers overall. Younger consumers are more comfortable with technology and have less need to visit their bank or credit union in person—but they still want to be able to visit a branch when the need arises. 

“There’s an ongoing discussion about how many and what type of branch works, but it looks like there will be fewer,” said Peter Duffy, a managing director at Piper Sandler. “Technology is the way millennials bank. They want to see a branch nearby but don’t use it.” 

This article was written by Ken McCarthy from American Banker and was legally licensed through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to

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Key Takeaway
Creating the ideal bank experience is a balancing act. While customers are visiting brick and mortar locations less often and embracing remote digital capabilities – particularly since the arrival of Covid, the demand for in-person service remains.

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