The persistence of covid tech (and why it’s a good thing)

When President Biden declared the pandemic over, there was some hand wringing. It is? Covid certainly isn’t the problem it once was. Even if the worst is over, the ghosts of how it changed our behavior haunt us, and a lot of the lingering side effects of covid have to do with the technology we all used to get through it. 

It’s probably safe to say every community bank changed its day-to-day operations because of covid. Many of those changes involved technology not specific to banking, but geared toward staying in touch and doing business from afar. Zoom and its equivalents will never completely go away. It’s too useful, and covid isn’t the only communicable illness one should avoid bringing into the office. Anecdotally, I’ve seen co-workers opt to stay home and work with a cold they might have dragged to work with them in the days of yore. Long live being able to work at home as needed to stop the spread of anything. 

This flexibility should continue to extend to bank customers. I haven’t had the need to physically visit the community bank that holds my most important accounts since covid exploded. They have yet to drop the option to Zoom with a banker. Frankly, I like the excellent customer service I receive during the rare times I actually need to talk with a banker, but I don’t miss having to use up a lunch break just to shake their (hopefully sanitized) hand. 

As an aside, you might ask, “Hasn’t the phone always allowed for this?” Sort of. My most recent remote banking experience involved some info I needed to complete a form. Sharing this form with a banker online so we could both be looking at the same thing while talking through it made the virtual meeting exactly as productive as the in-person variety. If your post-pandemic office plan doesn’t include a lot of video calling for bank employees and customers, you might reconsider. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking virtual meetings are now a must-have service when considering a bank. 

And I am, dear reader, a mere retail customer. Take the convenience I now expect to enjoy and multiply it for commercial customers. 

Large-scale remote meetings also appear to be here to stay. During the pandemic, I interviewed David Carter, who works for Lumi, which provides tech for large companies’ annual meetings, including some banks. During covid these became remote. At the time, Carter predicted a lot of companies wouldn’t bother returning to in-person annual meetings. I followed up with him to see how his prediction is holding up. 

“In the [annual meeting] space, virtual meetings are the rule and in-person are the exception,” Carter said. “In-person does happen, but when they do, it’s usually a hybrid meeting. It does vary globally from region to region, but here in the USA the virtual meeting is king.”

 I did some traveling recently, and it was the first time I’d been on a plane since the pandemic. I’m late to that party, which has been going on for a while, so I didn’t go forth worrying very much about covid, but the various ways traveling has changed due to covid also have become permanent. This tied into banking when I needed to pull out some cash. It occurred to me I hadn’t touched anything that wasn’t mine throughout the course of travel. Items were purchased by waving a card over the reader, menus were viewed on a phone via QR code, etc. But when it came to the ATM, my grubby paws had to be all over it. I could see smudges on the screen from previous users. I’m not exactly scared of germs, but I wondered why I had to touch this machine all over the place. 

Early during covid, when we had little real knowledge about how it spread, I remember looking at the ATM like it was a leper. I’ll admit to wearing a disposable glove when our ignorance about the virus was at its highest. It didn’t occur to me until this round of travel, but why can’t I request cash from a machine with my phone? If I may make my own prediction, the next generation of ATMs will all be touchless and manipulated via a phone app. 

We may lament that covid tech has made the world less touchable. The bright side is we are using tech to decrease the spread of all communicable viruses, and that’s a long-term win.