With many businesses and storefronts closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you haven’t heard many cases of a new location opening its doors during this time. But that’s exactly what Julie Sarich and her team in Lethbridge did on April 28 with the opening of the new Servus Crossings branch. Opening a branch during a pandemic is a unique task, and Julie describes how the in-person banking experience has shifted as a result.

Julie Sarich, Crossings Branch Manager, shares her experience opening Lethbridge’s newest Servus branch and some of the creative ways she and her team are serving members during this time.

1. How has COVID-19 changed the way you interact with members in-branch?

“We were nervous to open during COVID-19,” Julie says. “But everyone is focused on making it a positive experience.”

To comply with the recommended physical distancing guidelines there have been slight changes to the way Servus branches look, such as floor decals indicating the appropriate two metre spacings. While things are different, Julie’s main message echos that of many frontline essential employees – we’re all here because we want to help people.

Julie has found people are already familiar with what to do/not to do since other essential businesses have implemented similar guidelines, and according to her everyone has adjusted to the “new normal” well.

“Everyone understands there are limitations at this point,” she says. “Even down to being patient while we take extra time to clean each wicket or our ATMs between transactions — members have been very respectful of physical distancing and of following all the new safety procedures.”

2. How has everyone managed these changes?

“We’ve all experienced a lot of change,” says Julie. Including her branch staff who had to close their previous branch location (West Lethbridge) in only three short days.

“Overall, this pandemic is one of the biggest things to have ever impacted all people in such a short period of time,” she says. “But even though things are different, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad.”

Julie is finding the positive in looking forward to the future. “I hope when we get back together it’s a more loving world and more caring society where we focus on our communities further and appreciating time together.”

3. How are we changing our banking habits as a result?

Many of us are changing the way we go about our daily tasks as we prioritize our and our family’s health during this time. That includes how we go about our banking. Julie recognizes her team’s need to be flexible to how members feel comfortable banking now and in the future.

You can still come to the branch, for example,” she says. “But if you don’t want to leave your car, we have a drive-thru ATM."

For those who may not know what remote banking transactions are possible, Julie and her team are lending a hand to educate. “If we have the member in the branch, we’re encouraging them to sign up for online banking or at least Teleservice,” she says. “We’re supporting them by offering a level of independence, in case we can’t be here or they’re not able to come into the branch.”

Julie and her team can help get members set up with an online banking username and password and are going the extra mile to take the time to walk people through how to do basic transactions like pay their bills or transfer money.

“Mostly it’s getting over the hurdle of trying to do something new, then they realize how easy it really is,” Julie says. “We want members to feel confident that they can still financially take care of themselves no matter what.”

4. As we begin the road to re-entry and restrictions begin to lift, how will you and your team be getting back into the community?

Part of the excitement of opening a new branch is getting to know the people in the community, and while traditional activities are being postponed, Julie and her team are already looking to get creative. “We’ve had to think outside the box for sure,” she says. “We want to welcome people into our new location, but we know we must be cautious about numbers.”

For the time-being, technology is helping her connect with the branch’s new neighbours. “Right now, I use Facebook Messenger to connect with local community associations,” says Julie. “We’re brainstorming how to create virtual events to benefit the community that our Servus team can participate in.”

Julie and her team are also exploring ways to provide recognition to individuals who they observe practicing good physical distancing. “We’re thinking about how we can partner with other businesses to ‘ticket’ people for good behaviour as part of a fun community-engagement initiative,” she says.

Julie and her team at the new Crossings branch are enthusiastic about calling this new neighbourhood their home and look forward to helping existing members, along with residents and businesses feel good about their money.