The Royal Bank of Canada has retrained hundreds of employees to develop personalized financial relief plans for personal banking customers who are in the greatest financial stress from the economic fallout from the new coronavirus.
In mid-March, the country’s largest banks hastily rolled out programs that allow clients who have lost their jobs or their income to defer payments on mortgages and other loans for up to six months. They created self-service online portals to receive repair requests to automate as many approvals as possible. RBC has processed over 250,000 requests to date.
But the bank is now turning its attention to its next phase of customer support. In the past two weeks, RBC has retrained approximately 200 staff who normally assess and redeploy new loan applications to help create tailor-made contingency plans for clients hardest hit by the crisis. The plans are designed to be a second level of support for customers who were already struggling when the COVID-19 crisis erupted, or who are now expecting their financial difficulties to last more than six months.
Individual plans are similar to what banks normally offer, on a much smaller scale, to customers suffering from job losses, illness, regional economic downturns or natural disasters. The measures made available include refinancing and debt restructuring, extending mortgage amortization periods, or providing interest rate relief. “It requires a more qualified advisor, it takes more time, more information from the client,” said Neil McLaughlin, manager of personal and business banking.
The volume of requests for help that poured in to RBC as the coronavirus crisis intensified “has started to level off,” he said, but RBC expects a new wave of customers happen. “I think there will be a new wave of customers looking to come back based on the length of the lockdown and social distancing measures,” he said.
“Where are we going from here?” This is something that I think we are probably still working on, “he added. What is it like in two months and in three months? ”
As economic conditions deteriorate and job losses increase, RBC contacted more customers before calling the bank for help. These calls are up 40% from a year ago. And the bank is starting to use artificial intelligence and use data from call centers to report customers whose cash flows are shrinking before the problem gets worse. “There’s a huge amount of data in there,” said McLaughlin. ” It is to give [account managers] a truly organized view of who is most distressed. ”
Efforts to deploy relief programs have been complicated by the large number of bank workers working remotely and by additional measures in branches that have remained open to comply with health guidelines. Approximately 77,000 of RBC’s 85,000 employees work from home. But 9,000 employees are still in branches, where the number of incoming customers is controlled, plexiglass screens are installed and deep cleaning takes place twice as often.
Another 5,600 call center and basic operations workers work remotely, but about 15% of the staff in those areas are still working. Two RBC employees tested positive for COVID-19 in the bank’s Meadowvale office building in Mississauga, but McLaughlin said the bank had learned from the experience.
“On the operational side, we had to make sure we could clear up those environments,” he said. “This underlined that social distancing will be part of the solution and we have to pull this lever. “
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