There is little doubt that the coronavirus pandemic will leave lasting impacts on organizations well after things begin to normalize.

But it remains to be seen whether operations and business models predominantly return to the way they were, or reach a “new normal.”

There are digital-first proponents suggesting that the coronavirus saga will be the event that moves the needle forever toward mobile banking.

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It’s hard to believe that digital won’t have at least some impact. One bank executive recently told me that this crisis would have been exponentially harder for his bank to deal with only a few years ago.

However, the fact that many customers already do much of their banking digitally has allowed them to reduce branch access almost overnight, and still serve most customers.

Some bankers have had a few disgruntled customers since branch access has been limited, but nowhere near what they feared.

Some argue that the crisis has been the catalyst to finally show millions of bank customers that they can handle most of their banking needs entirely away from a branch.

On that point, however, I have long suggested that there is often a difference between what a customer can do, and what a customer prefers doing.

An equal amount of banking friends have told me that, if anything, reduced access to their branches has shown them how much customers still desire branch access.

In truth, what customers desire is access to bankers. Customers do not miss the buildings. They miss personally interacting with and being assisted by actual bankers.

Even most digital-first customers are not digital-only customers. They want physical access to a branch and bankers to be available whenever they need it.

Someone described to me the desire for physical access to a primary bank as the difference between an “online friend” and an actual friend.

Someone might have hundreds of social media friends, but they tend to have only a few actual friends they can count on to be there in person when needed.

I would also contend that this quarantine condition has reminded many people that we are, indeed, social beings.

Another banker jokingly said to me that she would never again complain about being in a meeting. She misses being able to be in the same room with her teams.

It seems an increasing amount of people are reaching their capacity to stare at computer screens and use video streaming programs to get “face-to-face” with folks. These are wonderful tools that will likely have a growing place in how teams communicate in the future.

However, these online tools will not become the primary way people conduct business for some time to come.

In being there for their customers, banking leaders have been asked to change everything from business plans, operating procedures, staffing models and customer support services on the fly and in real time.

From the megabanks to the community banks on the corner, these institutions are working to keep millions of small businesses afloat. Many banks are deferring payments, lowering rates and often providing additional financing (at extremely low rates) for customers to be able pay the money owed to their own suppliers, for example.

These efforts were not brought on by a government edict. In a time in which days matter — and government agencies take weeks to respond — the nations’ banks are standing among the economy’s first responders.

Bankers across the country can also help customers begin to understand and navigate the various programs the government is in the process of implementing through the $2 trillion stimulus package to support small businesses and individual citizens.

There will be millions of small business owners across the country who will never look at their banking relationship the same again. In times of crisis and pressing need, people learn who truly is there for them.

This is such a time. And bankers are proving themselves worthy of the important roles they play.

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