Arkansas Banks Alter Lobby Access, Push Customers to Digital Channels


Arkansas Banks Alter Lobby Access, Push Customers to Digital Channels
In this file photo, Roger Sundermeier, senior vice president and chief branding officer for First Arkansas Bank & Trust, shows off an new interactive teller machine at a branch in Cabot. (Karen E. Segrave)

The Arkansas Bankers Association said Tuesday that Arkansas banks are taking "aggressive steps" to keep customers and employees safe amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The association said banks are aiming to deliver more products and services through enhanced mobile and digital channels even while brick-and-mortar branches remain open, some at limited capacity.

"I applaud the thought and attention to detail our member banks are taking during this difficult time," ABA Board Chairman Rob Robinson IV said in a news release. Robinson is also community president and senior credit officer for Simmons Bank. "Our banks have always placed the interests of their customers and communities as their mission focus, that does not change in today's challenging environment."

According to the ABA, federal and state regulation requires financial institutions to have continuity plans and processes in place to address pandemic response scenarios. 

Each bank's plan may differ slightly, the ABA said. Many include encouraging customers to use drive-through, digital and ATM/ITM channels for basic transactions; temporarily closing or limiting lobby access; having customers call ahead to make in-person visits; enhancing cleaning and sanitary practices; allowing some staff to work remotely; and implementing travel restrictions for workers.

On Monday, First Arkansas Bank & Trust of Jacksonville announced it would begin serving most customers at physical branches only in drive-throughs. Customers who needed specialized products or services, including access to safe deposit boxes, lending, mortgages or wealth management, would be seen by appointment only. The company also encouraged customers to use its live teller service through interactive teller machines.

Centennial Bank and Simmons Bank made similar moves. Centennial made lobby access appointment-only, conducting most business through drive-throughs and directing customers to digital channels including its website and smartphone app.

"The banks in Arkansas are some of the strongest in the nation," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. "They are leaders in innovation and sound banking practices and the public should feel confident that our banking system will carry us through the current challenges."