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The challenges of the pandemic spurred innovation at Commerce Bank.

The circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic created tremendous challenges for just about every business, and Commerce Bank was no exception. For a business that engages in thousands of face-to-face interactions with customers every single day, the need for social distancing had a wide-ranging and unprecedented impact.

The team at Commerce was undaunted, however. Driven by their mission to help people and businesses solve financial challenges so they can focus on the things that matter most, team members set out to deliver on that promise under the new circumstances dictated by the pandemic. The result has been the acceleration of a number of innovations that have proven to be so successful they will continue to be used long after the pandemic is over.

One example is the Commerce Bank CONNECT® app. This app, which launched in June 2020, allows customers to connect via their smartphones with a banker that they choose. Regardless of the issue or question, the banker can connect customers with the right solutions because they get to know them over time.

Stacy Regnier, senior vice president and business transformation program manager, led the team that developed CONNECT. As she notes, “It’s really not about the technology at all; it’s about the ability to easily connect our customers to their banker whenever they need them and for whatever is on their mind.”

“Let’s say you’re thinking that you might want to put in a pool this summer and you need information about a loan,” says Regnier. “You can use the CONNECT app to reach out to your banking partner, who provides the experience, guidance and advice to help you through those big decisions. You have a person available to you, right through your phone.”

Regnier says Commerce had already begun working on CONNECT prior to the pandemic. “We’ve been working on digital engagement solutions for some time; that’s how our customers want to engage with us,” she says. “It’s all about finding ways to combine digital tools with the human connection that our customers really want.”

When the pandemic hit and everything went into lockdown, Regnier says, the tenor of the project changed. “Our original plan was to launch in late 2020,” she explains. “When the world changed, we realized the power of what we were building. Customers who preferred to meet with their banker face-to-face in a branch weren’t able to do so. We pivoted to get the CONNECT solution in the market by June, in order to provide those customers access to their bankers.”

The Commerce Bank team has also been working on a separate innovation that became more valuable during the pandemic: ATM enhancements. These enhancements provide a suite of new features and services, such as the ability to provide cash in any denomination. They also offer batch processing for check deposits, making it easier and faster to deposit multiple checks.

Most relevant for the era of social distancing is the enhanced video features available through the ATM. Customers who need help at the ATM can be connected via video with a live banker with the simple press of a button. “Eventually these ATMs can be used in much the same way as a customer engages with a banker through drive-up at our branches,” Regnier says. “A limited number of ATMs with these enhancements are being tested in Kansas City and St. Louis now, and more are planned.”

Like the CONNECT app, ATM enhancements were already in development prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic led the team to put more emphasis on their video capabilities. “We realized video needed to be more front-and-center,” Regnier says. “The pandemic made us all recognize the value and necessity of face-to-face interaction with others.”

Another area where Commerce has used digital technology to address the challenges of the pandemic is for their lockbox processing service. This service, available for commercial customers, provides the ability to have payments sent to a Commerce facility where they are efficiently sorted and processed.

Prior to the pandemic, customers that were interested in these services would typically visit the Commerce lockbox facility in Kansas City in person. After COVID-19 arrived, such visits became impossible, so the Commerce team had to create an entirely new way to provide information about the lockbox facility and services remotely.

The team shot a video that served as a virtual tour of the facility, but rather than have the video serve as a standalone, it was developed so it could be used as part of a live virtual presentation. This approach allowed customers to ask as many questions as they wanted and gave the Commerce team the opportunity to provide additional information.

“We really wanted to make it feel like the experience of being at our facility in person and seeing all the different steps that payments go through,” says Samantha Werner, senior vice president and a leader on the Treasury Team who was part of the group that developed the new approach to the lockbox facility tour. “We made it interactive so that we could go beyond just having a static presentation.”

One advantage of the virtual version of the lockbox facility tour was that it required a much smaller time commitment from customers. For Kansas City-based clients, an in-person visit would typically take half a business day; customers coming from out of town would have to also add in travel time. But the virtual tour only requires 90 minutes and involves no travel.

As a result, the Treasury Team will keep the virtual tours as an option even after the pandemic is over. “It’s worked out really well,” Werner says. “One customer we met with would normally have had just three people participate in the tour if it had been done on-site. Since we did it virtually, they were able to have 11 people join.”

Regnier believes the various innovations Commerce teams have developed during such a challenging time say a lot about the caliber of the bank’s people. “I’ve been really proud of the resiliency and creativity everyone at Commerce has shown during the pandemic,” she says. “It’s a reflection of our culture. We’ve always focused on the customers and on solving problems for them. We had to find ways to continue meeting their needs during the pandemic, and we innovated to solve those challenges. We didn’t let COVID stand in our way.”

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