Why Banks Played a Vital Role in the COVID-19 Response
Just like medical or public safety professionals, bank professionals are “economic first responders,” she said. “We have a duty of care. So what tools do we need, and how do we advocate for them if we need them from Washington and the regulators? And what do we have that we can use in a different way?”
The website is just one example of how Citizens Bank of Edmond used technology to spring into action to help its community. Castilla explained that when the crisis struck, the bank was already planning to deliver a program to allow its small-business customers to access services from their cellphones or computers that would normally require a visit to the branch.
“We had just applied for a patent and begun the deployment of this ‘bank in a box’ program, where small businesses could access physical bank services with their phones, when this crisis struck and closed our branch,” she said. “We were able to quickly deploy another site to enable our small businesses to access those services that would normally be required in person.”
The key was its preparation long before the crisis struck, she said. Because the bank had been working to provide a needed service to its community, it was able to activate the program on short notice.
How Tech Can Solve Banking’s Accessibility Problem
Being innovative is “hard work all the time,” Castilla said, and having scarce resources makes it more challenging. But the scarcity of those resources, in some ways, is the engine of innovation.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. We don’t have deep pockets. We don’t have a team of developers,” she said. “So ours is a nontraditional way of innovating, when you look at fintech, but it’s also the traditional way of innovating in terms of how businesses anticipate customer needs and fill them, and rushing to the scene of the need. So that scarcity of resources helps you be MacGyver, helps you use your stick of gum and paperclip to defuse the bomb. And that’s what was happening in this crisis: What tools do we have to use immediately, what more sophisticated tools do we need to advocate for and what flexibility do we need from the regulators?”
The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has underscored the banking system’s lack of accessibility for many small businesses and individuals, Castilla said, and digital innovation is a critical part of the solution. Financial services institutions need to make themselves “ridiculously accessible” to customers, she said, “whether that’s from a digital standpoint or by personally putting yourself out there.”