13 Oct Air quality monitoring – a key factor in reopening banksReading Time: 7 minutes
Are Retail Branches Relevant? And After COVID?
Banks have been going through a digital transformation for many years now. Online and Mobile banking options have slowly eroded the need for physical branches. We keep hearing about closure of more and more branches. There was a study in 2019 Banking Report from GoBankingRates, discussing the trends in banking in America. The trends are pretty much similar in all countries globally.
49% respondents like face-to-face in-person banking, over other forms of banking.
With COVID-19, surge of cases and fear of infection, bank branches are once again questioned, even more strongly. However, there is still a lot of evidence and expert opinion that the branches are very relevant and important. The Financial Brand CEO Jeffrey Pilcher quotes 24 different experts in this article.
There are other extensive studies done by McKinsey, PwC and Deloitte. A general consensus is that the same number of retail branches will not re-open. The key observations in the context of branches include:
1. Branch modernization programs shift focus on rebuilding the branch as advisory centers as the less complex services will move to digital channels.
2. The current crisis could condense years of additional branch network consolidation plan into a few months.
What to expect about Retail Branches?
Looking at all these trends, our outlook for retail branches concur with McKinsey’s outlook for six major markets, as follows:
1. Lesser number of Retail Branches will be re-opened
2. “Everyday transactions” will mostly move to Digital – Web and Mobile.
3. “Simple needs” like General Information on products and open account will have a significant part offline, though more online will be the future trend.
4. Branches will focus on “Complex or ad-hoc activities” – including Advice on complex products, questions, complaints, other services, and getting help.
An interesting observation from McKinsey’s “Financial Decision Maker Pulse Survey”, is “Branches will increasingly feature self-service (including intelligent ATMs and in-branch kiosks), with limited cash availability at counters given dramatic recent usage declines“.
Another interesting observation is – since the net in-branch handling of basic banking will go down, employees will be reconfigured to more flexible job configurations, with front-line staff redirected to urgently needed support back-office roles. All this points to the reality that more marginal branches will remain open than previously thought.
Guidance from Experts
The CDC Guidance for Banks discusses all options and the associated risks, with possible mitigation strategies. Another very important guidance is from Ashrae Epidemic Task Force – Commercial in their 17-Aug-2020 update. The key is how do we implement, and more importantly, how do we measure the extent of safety? We require Social Distancing, Personal Hygiene, Clean Environment, Change in Group Behavior and Human Interactions and Monitoring Indoor Air Quality/ Air Cleaning.
Many competing needs, and some of them require a large capital deployment to bring about major changes - particularly Air Quality and Comfort. Air Quality is a very important lever to pull to regulate the infection profile.
Air Quality Monitoring is Key. Humidity plays a big role.
If everyone in any space follows all the social distancing, personal hygiene and the right group behavior, the epidemic can possibly be controlled without any additional effort. However, if we can create a clean space, which actively removes infectious agents from the living / operating space, that would provide a blanket protection for everyone. In a space where people walk-in and walk-out and spend considerable amount of time to work or do a transaction, like in a bank, the variables become many, impacting the indoor quality of air, which may impact infections positively or negatively.
Indoor air pollution is a very important health focus, and an EPA Air Quality Introduction to Health Professionals outlines the various sources of infection and health impact. COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem like never before, and is demanding a clear strategy to address this all across. EPA has given specific guidance “Indoor Air and Coronavirus (COVID-19)” on measures needed to contain.
In addition to all the polluting agents and infectious organisms, as a 2018 study on Influenza has shown, Relative Humidity is a very important factor in managing infections. An article shows what are the impacts of high and low humidity in closed spaces.
Important but Expensive Changes. Can we prioritize? Where do we start?
The CDC guideline specifically suggests various “Engineering Controls” to Isolate people from the hazards:
– Bank managers should work with their facility manager to adjust the ventilation, so the maximum amount of fresh air is delivered to occupied spaces and the humidity is 40%-60%. If possible, increase filter efficiency of HVAC units to highest level.
– Portable high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration units may be considered to remove contaminants in the air.
– More considerations for improving the building ventilation system can be found in the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses.
Ashrae recommendations for the “Engineering Controls” are very detailed (from Page 11). All these guidance’s suggest sweeping changes to the systems, processes and human behavior.
The guidance is to create a clean surrounding and indoor so that the chance of spread of infections is kept low.
The need is to implement a multi-faceted solution, potentially involving:
1. Improving HVAC systems and their operational practices based on ASHRAE 62.1
2. Evaluating building occupied hours and adjust as necessary, and adjust flushing sequence using appropriate cascade of pressure – creating a flow from clean areas to unclean areas
3. Ensuring segregation of intake and exhaust systems to avoid cross contamination
4. Performing all the checks according to ASHRAE standard 180-2018, Standard Practice for the Inspection and Maintenance of Commercial HVAC systems
5. Adding humidifiers/dehumidifiers to maintain RH in the 40% to 60% range. Add humidity sensors and use data loggers to monitor temperature and humidity, especially in high occupancy spaces
6. Adding UVGI and other air-purification systems
7. Optimizing use of external clean air, and external cooling / heating to spend less energy.
These are many options and doing all of them will be expensive and daunting. The need is to find where to spend the next available dollar, to gain maximum impact.
Another sweeping guidance is to let more external air for ventilation. However, this will increase the cost of energy for conditioning / comfort. This increase, not just a one-time cost, but also the recurring costs of operation. Add to this, the cost of maintenance, the companies are going to be strained, with the ever-dwindling revenues/budgets, and these ever-increasing demands.
Need for a Data-Driven System: Not just one time. But On-Going.
Most people spend on just a one-time study with a one-time improvement of systems, but that’s not what we need. The key is to implement a smart solution that oversees all the competing aspects, and implements a continuous optimal condition, keeping all these complexities hidden behind a smart piece of technology. The key is to have a data-driven system, collecting data from across the space and making dynamic deacisions of care and cost efficiency.
The solution is to Setup an Adaptive Control System which monitors all across and optimizes the complex problem:
1. Improve Indoor Air Health (air purity and flow: RH, CO2, Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs], Particulate Matter [PM2.5])
2. Maximize Comfort (temperature and humidity)
3. Reduce Energy usage (HVAC-R and air-purification systems)
4. Help Comply with the standard building codes (city, state, national and global) and reduce global warming
A Perfect Solution. Produce Best Value. Long term
One would think that a good solution will bring about health and comfort along with savings on energy. But that's far from it.
The Challenge of Energy Savings: Cost of energy is a significant operating cost. More importantly, the increasingly strict mandate is to reduce the carbon footprint. However, energy savings are not enough to justify investments.
Need more savings: It is important to find more savings, and interestingly, there are other on-going operational costs that are much higher than energy costs. A very popular view of operational expenses points out that Energy, Admin & People costs are in the ratio 1:10:100. Reduction in admin / operation / maintenance costs will produce significant savings.
Reduce Infection Chances and Reduce Costs: Imagine, instead of having the mechanical maintenance staff to regularly come into the premises every day, if they can remotely view/monitor and manage the HVAC and other air-quality systems. This will reduce the number of people that need to come to the premises every day, requiring them to come only when there are actual issues that require touch. This will also reduce the costs of visits/travel. In some customer deployments, this has produced more than 12% savings on maintenance costs annually.
Proactive Maintenance and Further Savings: In addition, the continuous monitoring allows proactive maintenance to be done, reducing downtimes, and more importantly the time spent on complaint and follow-up calls to get help. This removes employee/staff/student time wastage due to infrastructure failures, will greatly increase productivity along with health and comfort.
A perfect solution would save energy, maintenance costs, reduce the annual capital replacement costs and at the same time improve the health and safety. Such a solution will be a very valuable addition at this crucial juncture with COVID-19 challenging all businesses. The same solution should be able to have a life and relevance beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, offering on-going savings, optimization and efficiency through the future. The system should be capable of saving energy and reducing cost of operations on an on-going basis.
EM.Connect – Solution Overview
We have put together a perfect solution to balance Health, Comfort, Energy, Maintenance and all things savings.
It is a cloud Software-as-a-Service that brings sophisticated building management at affordable prices and less complexity. It provides a central portal for easily integrating all existing equipment along with additional IoT sensors. The web tools for remote management, and a mobile app help synchronize all stake holders for maximum efficiency, health and cost savings.
The key features include the following:
– Operate Smart intelligent devices coupled with air quality sensors & occupancy sensors
– Optimizes the balance between the fresh air drawn in, energy used & comfort
– Create context to real-time device data adding place, people & business information
– Perform trend and pattern analysis to find optimization / improvement opportunities
– Provide alarms, reports and triggers to continuously improve the operations & increase savings
– Provide a central portal for all building portfolio, & tools for remote management
– Mobile app for remote monitoring, control & coordination
EM.Connect is a high-tech service to reopen with increased health, comfort and safety, while significantly reducing energy, operational, maintenance and capital expenses. We have saved over 15% of energy, 10% of maintenance and significant capital replacement costs to help customers become more profitable and efficient.