Retail banking in COVID-19 times Scenarios for resilient leaders

A typical crisis plays out over three phases: respond, when a company deals with the present situation and manages continuity; recover, when it learns and emerges stronger; and thrive, when it prepares for and shapes the “next normal”.



Pascal Martino - [Sponsoring] Partner - Strategy & Regulatory Consulting - Deloitte

François Bade - Director - Strategy & Regulatory Consulting - Deloitte

Xavier Turquin - Senior Manager - Strategy & Regulatory Consulting - Deloitte

Published on 17 December 2020

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Retail banks need to learn and emerge stronger from the current COVID-19 crisis. They need to anticipate how the pandemic could accelerate or redirect the industry over the coming years.

So, what is the future of retail banking? While this is still uncertain, scenario thinking can help us make better-informed decisions.

Scenarios are stories about what the future may look like, created through a structured process to broaden thinking, challenge conventional wisdom, and drive better decisions today. They are not predictions about what will happen; instead, they are hypotheses about what could happen, designed to open our eyes to new opportunities or hidden risks.

The year 2020 blew up all our certainties. Today, the only remaining inevitability is that COVID-19 will change the way we do retail banking. Key trends are already affecting the industry; banks will quicken their digital adoption, deploy remote operating models in the long-term, and accelerate cost reduction.

While these forces are affecting banks, the shape of the future remains blurred. This is because it is highly dependent on the pandemic’s overall severity and the level of collaboration within and between countries. Based on these two factors, four distinct scenarios emerge.

We will explore how these four scenarios could vary across consumer attitudes, technological adoption, and the configuration of workforce and processes.


In this scenario, the pandemic is controlled with an effective healthcare system and a strong political response. No major bank suffers significant capital concerns. Incumbent banks face a new post-crisis operating environment. Many temporary changes become permanent, which generates a new age of banking efficiency and technological innovation.

Shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors

  • Channel mix shifts towards digital for simple transactions; however, customers prefer physical channels for more involved advisory conversations and complex needs.
  • The number of secondary deposit accounts and cash reserves grows post-crisis, as customers protect against future infection waves.

Technological adoption

  • Digital transformation programs accelerate, as there is renewed excitement around modernizing banking infrastructure.
  • Digital self-service transactions become a priority investment, but advice remains human-led.

Operating model evolution

  • Banks face pressure to cut operational costs, without divesting major products or business-lines.
  • Work and the workforce migrate back to pre-crisis configurations, but banks pursue strategic opportunities for some work categories to remain remote-based.
  • Banks invest to address any gaps in digital and remote channels exposed due to high user volumes.
  • Banks focus on rebuilding branches as advisory centers, as less-complex services move to digital channels.


In this scenario, the pandemic persists, placing a growing burden on global governments that struggle to handle the crisis. Banks and other businesses take the initiative to combat the spread of the virus and support recovery, sacrificing near-term earnings and dividends to support their employees and community. The most enterprising institutions can leapfrog ahead in their aspirations, leveraging their social capital to align consumers, ecosystem players, and regulators. Shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors

  • Trust grows for banks that “stood with the consumer”. They enjoy lower attrition and an advantage when capturing new post-crisis relationships.
  • Consumers prefer digital engagement with a human touch, maintaining the need for physical channels.

Technological adoption

  • Investment attention turns to frontline consumer-facing solutions. Banks focus on capabilities driving customer capture and product innovations.
  • Demand and adoption of digital channels increase, with more self-service options and a remote workforce focused on specialized services. As banks are able to keep more options open, the transition to digital for consumers is natural.

Operating model evolution

  • Retraining and contact center capacity increases, as initiatives that were part of organizations’ COVID-19 response become business as usual.
  • Institutions embrace a more remote workforce and optimize their real-estate footprint, changing the cost mix to reduce occupancy costs at the expense of people costs.


The pandemic is severe and unfolds inconsistently across the world. Asian countries manage the disease effectively, whereas Western nations struggle with deep impacts—human, social, and economic—driven by slower and inconsistent responses. Big tech firms jump at the opportunity, gaining market share by providing innovative, customer-centric experiences. Customers accept the increase in data sharing that these experiences require, driving a leap forward in artificial intelligence (AI) and digital tools across financial services. Shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors

  • Consumers demand simple products and easy digital experiences; consumer switching increases for better experiences and the most comprehensive digital offerings.
  • Consumers become more trusting of tech firms and digital platforms, enabling big tech to expand into segments of retail banking.
  • Consumers cede greater control over their financial decisions to self-driving algorithms; data sharing and algorithmic decision-making become more popular, as consumers gain familiarity with AI-based tools.

Technological adoption

  • Digitization focuses on front-office experiences like digital end-to-end self-service and advice.
  • Digital self-service is emphasized for advice offerings; barriers to adoption fall and more consumer journeys are digitized.
  • Banks increasingly consume core capabilities from big tech or fintech partners, accelerating the move away from proprietary platforms.
  • Banks, big tech firms, and consumers share data and become more comfortable with cloud and application programming interface (API) connectivity.

Operating model evolution

  • The “remote worker” emerges, who can also provide flexible coverage for non-core hours and overtime.
  • Greater digitization reduces the people costs of customer-facing operations.
  • Branch consolidation is accelerated, as consumers are slow to return to physical locations for face-to-face interactions.


The virus continues to mutate and a vaccine proves elusive. The pandemic becomes a prolonged crisis. Countries grow isolationist, which limits trade flows and reduces geopolitical alignment. Moreover, government surveillance is commonplace to monitor civilian movements. States collect personal and social information not only to eradicate the pandemic but to also implement effective prevention methods. The smaller institutions struggle, provoking a flight to quality.

Shifting consumer attitudes and behaviors

  • Consumers focus on saving as continued uncertainty drives a need for cash and low-risk liquid investments to secure their financial position.
  • Demand for consumer credit collapses as major purchases are abandoned.
  • Consumers adopt digital channels as banks scale back physical channels and human-led advisory.

Technological adoption

  • Focus is on enterprise-level digitization that accelerates the deployment of efficiency-oriented technology, creating a disparity between firms that can make scaled investments and those that cannot.
  • The economy becomes cashless to reduce the risk of contagion; merchants invest in technologies to enhance point-of-sale and e-commerce checkout.
  • Self-serve digital advice and remote advisory channels proliferate, driven by prolonged social-distancing measures and an institutional desire for lower operating costs.

Operating model evolution

  • Banks may not be able to retain their full workforce. The need for governments to curb growth in unemployment creates pressure on banks to limit future job cuts.
  • There is a complete shift to remote working and the cost mix shifts to reduce occupancy costs, putting significant pressure on corporate real estate footprints.
  • Servicing agents become generalists and cut across multiple channels to provide enhanced experiences; they mainly handle complex issues, as basic issue resolution is automated.


These scenarios illustrate potential ways in how the retail banking landscape could unfold over the medium term. However, irrespective of which scenario develops, banks can implement some no-regret actions to better position their recovery:

  • Accelerate time-to-market in their front office and redefine call center strategies, as contactless channels will become a source of differentiation;
  • Accelerate modernization and digitalization as clients are shifting toward digital; and
  • Set up flexible working models (e.g., remote work options).

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Retail banking in the age of COVID-19

In the wake of COVID-19, Deloitte and Salesforce hosted a dialogue among some of the world's best-known scenario thinkers to consider the societal and business impact of the pandemic. The results of this collaboration can be found in The World Remade: Scenarios for Resilient Leaders. The scenarios described in this article are inspired by this dialogue and applied to retail banking.

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