Beyond the COVID Variants: What Can Banks Do About Delta, Epsilon & Lambda?
By David Abbou
Many of the biggest financial institutions in the U.S. have been planning a long-awaited return to the office for employees — But new variants like Delta, Epsilon, and Lambda have spiked COVID infections over the past month — and forcing banks to delay their plans and keep employees working from home.
With over 706,000 COVID-19 vaccines administered in the past week, over 351 million doses have been given to U.S. citizens, driving up the percentage of vaccinated Americans to 55%. However, this figure is still a long way off from the 70% to 85% vaccination rate infectious disease experts believe is necessary for a return to normalcy - and that’s before taking into account the spread and impact of new variants.
What do we know so far about these new COVID variants? How can financial institutions be ready to adapt in ways that prioritize the health of their employees while giving customers the safest and simplest options to meet their important banking needs?
Still the most dominant variant in the U.S. and nearly twice as contagious as previous variants according to the CDC.
May be more damaging and cause more severe illness than previous strains in unvaccinated persons.
Even vaccinated people can transmit this strain - but those receiving both doses available thus far are typically infectious for less time than unvaccinated people.
The Epsilon variant was originally discovered by scientists in Southern California last winter.
Currently this variant is most spreading most significantly in Pakistan and is proving resistant to vaccines
Mutations if this variant can weaken current vaccines by up to 70% break through antibodies naturally produced in someone who had previously been infected with COVID-19.
Currently classified as a variant of interest by the CDC - however
First identified in Peru according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Lambda spread fast: It was responsible for approximately 81% Covid-19 infections in Peru by Spring 2021 and was also reported in 28 other countries and territories.
Similar to Delta, Lambda appears to be more transmissible than the original COVID-19 type, SARS-CoV-2.
How Should Banks Approach These Emerging COVID Variants?
While findings are constantly being updated about these variants the CDC recommends layered prevention strategies, including social distancing practices and wearing masks as the main ways to reduce the risk of transmitting these variants.
With infections surging yet again the only certainty is uncertainty. Whether that reality is ‘back to normal’ or ‘here we go again’ banks must move ahead and be prepared to support both customers and employees while preparing for both best- and worst-case scenarios.
How can banks make sense of these emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants and ensure they are ready for the implications and directives that may be imminent?
Navigating ‘Back to Normal’ Vs. ‘Here We Go Again’
With COVID variants spreading and reigniting fears across the country from both employees and consumers, many of the largest banks in financial institutions are delaying return-to-office plans. The largest banking employer in the U.S. Wells Fargo has not only moved their scheduled date to bring employees back to offices and branches from Sept. 4 to Oct.4, they’re also offering staff 8 hours of paid time off to get vaccinated.
How can banks make the right business decisions in order to support their customers while protecting the safety of their employees?
You only need to look at what happened in 2020 and 2021 so far to know that predicting how long these COVID variants will impact businesses is an exercise in futility. The novel coronavirus outbreak resurged numerous times and governments and medical experts the world over are still trying to understand how to grapple with it.
Banks were understandably caught off guard back then and took months to adapt - today, there’s a year-and-half-long history lesson that can help guide banks to deal more efficiently with new COVID variants like Delta and Epsilon Lambda - which could prove critical.
The Top Priority for Banks Navigating the Delta Variants? Be Agile
Regardless of citizen stance on vaccination, tackling crucial yet unpredictable challenges such as the Delta variant makes a multi-pronged, flexible strategy paramount for banks on how to manage both employees and the customers they serve.
Here are some important steps banks can take to manage both of these realities:
Banking Employee: Return-to-Office Vs. Work-from-Home
Take a hybrid approach: A recent study by McKinsey shows top executives are shifting to a hybrid approach for all roles not absolutely essential to be performed on-site. Rather than sticking to a set number of days for all employees and departments, varying work-from-office routines for non-essential staff allows banks to reduce risk of transmission while staying productive.
Empower your remote workers: COVID concerns can heighten employee anxiety and lower productivity - applying a more flexible approach that supports employees in choosing where they feel safe can prove far more effective and improve staff performance.
Enable social distancing: Review office floor plans and stagger lunch breaks in kitchens or cafeterias. This helps decongest public places such as branch offices and shows employees that above all banks are looking out for their health and that of the wider community.
Create a protected workspace: Make masks mandatory at branch locations and have them readily available and accessible at all main entrances. Install plexiglass dividers between desks for office employees to help minimize risks of infection.
Minimize manual paperwork: Getting documents signed at the branch and passing paperwork from amongst employees and customers only increases risks of spreading these COVID variants. Making sure all banking forms and documents are signed digitally helps eliminate these risks.
Customers: Digital vs. In-Person Banking
Enhance safety by reducing congestion at the branch: Many centrally located branches are high-congestion zones. Handling paperwork and physical ID cards between customers and staff can only increase risks of spreading COVID variants. Banks can support customer safety by allowing them to complete common requests remotely while reserving in-branch visits for more essential and consultative services such as getting advice on mortgages and investments.
Align your branch strategy with current customer expectations: In our recent survey of U.S. banking customers, 72% said they prefer all-digital banking processes in the future. This trend is not just here to stay - rising concerns about new COVID variants will only intensify, and for many customers make them deal breakers. Banking executives can align their process with these expectations by allowing customers to digitally sign and complete forms, agree to new terms and conditions, and verify ID for most banking tasks today.
Predicting the spread and impact of these new COVID variants may be out of banks control - but they can control how quickly they can apply lessons learned from the most recent pandemic and implement digital banking processes that boost business productivity and efficiency while helping customers and employees stay safe.
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