As the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold earlier this year, many people drew comparisons between the current medical emergency and those of the past, such as the Spanish Flu or the SARS-1 outbreak.
But for Danijela Doslo, branch manager of the Stanley Park TD Branch in Kitchener, Ontario, the urgency and uncertainty of the situation conjured up memories of a different kind.
"I spent part of my teenage years in a war-torn former Yugoslavia, so in times of fear and uncertainty, I find I go on 'autopilot' and can manage the rapid changes particularly well," Doslo said.
But what Doslo didn't anticipate was how the current situation would impact her emotionally.
"When the pandemic was first declared, it brought up a lot of emotions and memories from my past and reminded me of what's most important: to take care of the people around me and to not lose sight of the bigger picture beyond the current crisis," she said.
It was this sentiment of caring for others which drove Doslo's approach to her day-to-day work. As the manager of one of Canada's busiest TD branches with over 290,000 transactions since November, Doslo has a lot of people – more than 60 colleagues and numerous customers – to think about on a day-to-day basis.
A unique branch with a unique set of challenges
Situated in the Stanley Park neighbourhood in Kitchener's east end, Doslo's TD branch is not only one of the busiest in the country, it also serves the highest percentage of seniors of any TD branch in Canada, in part due to the large population of retirees in the surrounding community.
As the COVID-19 crisis escalated and the threat it posed to seniors became more evident, Doslo worked closely with regional leadership to determine how her branch and her colleagues could help protect the safety and financial health of the senior customers who relied on the branch for their banking needs.
"Customers of the Stanley Park branch only visit the Stanley Park branch," she said.
"Some have been with us for decades – I work with advisors who've been at this branch for 12 or 15 years serving the same customers and, in some instances, the customers' children or grandchildren as well.
"When physical distancing measures were implemented, and the number of people allowed in the branch was restricted, we started having lineups out the door of over 50 people. And even though we had a designated seniors' hour, our branch is home to so many senior customers, that we saw senior customers coming in at all hours."
To help manage the needs of their customers while protecting the safety of their more vulnerable customers, Doslo and her team took proactive measures and began educating customers about the digital banking options available with TD.
"One of the first things we did as the COVID-19 situation escalated was to make sure our customers could access their banking online, starting by ensuring they had a debit card – some of our customers were still using bankbooks only," Doslo said.
In addition to providing customers with the essential information needed to sign up for online banking, Doslo's team took it a step further by guiding customers through the basics of online banking, either through hands-on help in-branch or by pointing them to TD digital banking tutorials available online.
"For customers who wanted digital banking but weren't comfortable getting started on their own, we would take them into a private space in the branch to use tablets we have available and help them log into EasyWeb for the first time, show them how to change their passwords for privacy and security, and then walk them through the many features of our online platform, including how to check their balance, pay bills or access their bank statements.
"Once they had a good understanding of how it all worked, we would show them how to log out to protect their personal information, which is most important," Doslo said.
New approaches for a changing world
But the proactive outreach to customers didn't stop there. The Stanley Park branch was processing high volumes of payment deferrals each day and realized they had a duty to deliver even more guidance and assistance to their customers on a personalized basis. To do this, they came up with something they called the "Daily Advice Moment."
"With every customer appointment, we took a 'moment' to review how financially prepared they were for this crisis and if anything could be done to help them better their financial future, looking at details like their savings plans, refinancing opportunities, reviewing mortgage pre-approvals to ensure they were in good standing, as well as offering information about available financial relief options, either from TD or through federal government relief programs," Doslo said.
Taking those extra 'moments' with each customer – despite being busy and operating with limited staff to comply with physical distancing measures – proved to be helpful for customers who were struggling financially or didn't know how to better prepare for the uncertainties of the future.
"Some of our customers had questions we felt like they were too afraid to ask but desperately needed answers for. Through these advice moments, we were able to proactively start those difficult conversations for them in a safe and trusting space," Doslo said.
Taking the time to connect with customers has been a common theme throughout the current crisis, and Doslo and her team believe this theme will continue to have an impact on how they work into the future.
"Despite physical distancing and being in a more stressful environment than we've ever been in before, the COVID-19 crisis has given us an opportunity to come closer together as a team and as a community, to think not only in terms of what needs to be done but also what could be done to help each other and our customers. That's one great silver lining that keeps us going each day."