Technology your remote and hybrid employees need

Remote and hybrid working was once the exception but, for some community bank employees, it’s now the norm. What technology is needed to keep remote workers productive, connected and, most of all, engaged?

By Elizabeth Judd

Two years ago, Beneficial State Bank began piloting a secure video-banking platform through which employees could meet customers, open accounts, gather signatures and offer necessary guidance to close loans and other transactions.

The adoption of this technology came just in time for the pandemic years. During early 2022, approximately 85% of the bank’s roughly 200 employees were working remotely, says Randell Leach, president and CEO of the $1.5 billion-asset community bank, which is based in Oakland, Calif.

“Working remotely makes sense, given we’re seeing about 75% less foot traffic in our branches than we were pre-pandemic.”
—Andrew Silsby, Kennebec Savings Bank

One advantage of banking via video is that clients with unique needs can receive personalized service. “It’s given us more flexibility,” says Leach. During the completion of a loan application, for instance, an in-person client can be paired with an expert within the bank, regardless of whether they’re physically in the same county or state.

Finding the right tech tools for a remote workforce has also been a high priority for Andrew Silsby, president and CEO of Kennebec Savings Bank (KSB) in Augusta, Maine. He sees remote work as central to how his $1.4 billion-asset community bank will operate. At KSB, 21 of 182 full‑time employees have been granted permission to work remotely—permanently.

“I feel we’re in the midst of a technological revolution,” says Silsby. “Customers, employees and the world around us have changed their habits. Working remotely makes sense, given we’re seeing about 75% less foot traffic in our branches than we were pre-pandemic.”

A slew of new tech tools is spurring bankers to reimagine how they can accomplish work and deliver stellar customer service. From videoconferencing services like Zoom, Cisco’s Webex or Microsoft Teams to chat-desk routing software that operates exclusively behind the scenes, the community banking technology paradigm is changing, and the evolution is nowhere near over.

A seamless experience for customers

The types of technologies a bank needs for a remote or hybrid workforce fall into two broad buckets: those for serving customers and those for helping employees perform their jobs better, according to Prabhash Shrestha, ICBA group executive vice president and chief digital strategy officer.

When it comes to serving customers, the phone remains critical. Silsby has found that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is an indispensable technology for remote or hybrid workforces.

Beyond VoIP, Shrestha observes that RingCentral, 8×8, Vonage and others offering the latest call center and service-desk technologies play important roles in delivering outstanding customer service.

Community banks also need to ensure the smooth delivery of loan, onboarding and account-opening paperwork to the customer—even when that “customer is sitting on the couch in a robe,” says Karl Falk, CEO and founder of Botdoc, an ICBA ThinkTECH Accelerator alumnus. He explains that Botdoc lets banks “engage in a secure session to chat, send documents, collect documents, e-sign and collect payments between two parties with no pins, no passwords, no logins, no accounts, and no apps or software to download because of end-to-end encryption.”

Given the ever-evolving face of fraud, community banks are also keen to uncover ways of verifying the identity of remote customers.

“In a digital remote work environment,” says Joel Williquette, senior vice president of operational risk policy at ICBA, “‘know your customer’ is more important than ever before. There are technology services available to help banks identify new customers or run existing customers through identity checks to validate that IDs are not synthetic or the product of identity theft.”

Some of these issues look different given strides made in cloud computing. Increasingly, Shrestha explains, cloud-based systems are proving more appealing than systems that rely on bank servers or data centers.

Security is among the technology attributes that take on heightened importance when employees are working remotely. A 2021 survey by Samsung found that 63% of IT decision-makers were concerned about data security during remote work, while only 6% of employees said the same.

For Shrestha, the key question is: “If we provide devices to be taken home or from a remote location, how are these devices secured?” One way to improve security is ample training for staff. All employees, he says, must be trained on a range of issues, including how to combat phishing scams.

User experience is paramount

Another important tech attribute is ease of use. “The banking staff may not have used technology other than in the bank itself,” Shrestha says. “When remote, now they have to figure out the laptops, the connections and other things they otherwise never would have dealt with.”

Community banks are also seeking tech tools so employees can easily interact with one another. Shrestha notes that when everyone works from a branch, email and phones were “perfectly fine.” Now, banks are turning to web-based collaboration tools such as Teams and Slack.

When asked which tech tool his remote workforce would not part with, Beneficial’s Leach points to this type of collaboration software, which lets “teams self-direct on how they engage and have chats, make comments, send messages and share files.” He continues, “If we turned that off, we’d be turning off a lot of how our teams interact together.”

Don’t forget the fun

Tech tools with features designed to build camaraderie and even bring a sense of fun hold a special allure for community bankers.

Williquette recommends seeking ways to make remote workforces “feel part of the team and included.” One way to do this, he suggests, would be “work-sponsored virtual happy hours, where everyone learns to mix a new drink or participate in team trivia contests.”

Shrestha notes that some collaboration tools let employers recognize a job well done, either by “offering kudos” online or by assigning points that can be converted into gift cards or other rewards.

If having fun with technology is a plus, so is imagining how the latest tools can shake up old ways of banking.

“Community banking has always been about a geographical community, but technology and this pandemic are redefining what ‘community’ is,” says Silsby. “We have a lot of snowbirds in Maine who spend their winters in warmer climates, and they continue to bank with us. It doesn’t matter if they’re in the town next door or in Arizona or Florida. They’re still part of our community.

“From this standpoint, technology is very freeing.”

Compliance for remote workers

The compliance requirements for remote workers are essentially the same for those onsite. The difference? The number of scenarios in which data might be compromised mushrooms once employees leave the confines of a traditional office.

Greyson E. Tuck, attorney for Gerrish Smith Tuck in Memphis, Tenn., recently did half an hour’s work at his local Panera, where many other patrons had their laptops out, too. In this type of environment, he says, considerations range from prying eyes glimpsing sensitive documents to IT security. For instance, is an employee connecting to the internet via public Wi‑Fi, a VPN or a mobile hotspot? And how secure is this connection?

To minimize risks, community banks need to educate a far-flung workforce and codify standards in written remote-working policies. These policies, Tuck says, should “address all areas of remote working, the most important of which is data integrity and security.”

Elizabeth Judd is a writer in Maryland.