The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought much uncertainty to our world. The toll it has taken on individuals and businesses has been significant, and the economy has been devastated.

The International Monetary Fund’s World Uncertainty Index, which is based on data gathered in Q4 of 2019 and published in January of 2020, indicates that the level of global uncertainty is historically high.i These results are especially concerning given that it was published before COVID-19 drove global production to historic lows, overwhelmed hospitals in some of the world’s largest cities, and negatively impacted the lives of millions of families.

In the United States, the toll the virus has taken on individuals and the economy is devastating. The real unemployment rate, which includes those not looking for work, has exploded to highs not seen since the 1930s with more than 30 million workers filing unemployment claims since mid-March.ii

Many industries are experiencing significant declines in demand resulting from policies enacted to prevent viral spread, yet financial institutions seem to be better positioned to weather the storm. Banks have taken numerous steps to implement business continuity plans, including safeguarding the health and safety of employees; implementing travel bans; promoting remote work (and using alternative methods to serve customers); and directing efforts to help those most impacted by COVID-19, including their customers and communities. Some have even created marketing campaigns to share their response.

But the pandemic and resulting economic downturn continue to evolve. As such, financial institutions must remain alert, paying careful attention to ongoing developments and being mindful of customers’ needs.

This article explores the results of a survey conducted to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on customers’ financial decisions and perception of their financial institution’s response.

While sentiment is rapidly shifting, we hope these insights serve as a benchmark to help financial institutions better engage with customers and identify new opportunities in a post-COVID-19 environment.

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COVID-19’S CONSIDERABLE IMPACT ON CUSTOMERS

Key Insight: Those most impacted need guidance to attain financial success

The COVID-19 crisis has brought with it much change, not least of which is the current economic downturn. Nearly 79 million Americans, or 48 percent of the private workforce, are employed by small businesses that have been severely impacted by the isolation or quarantine of consumer groups.vii Many of these businesses have had to take drastic measures to alleviate short-term cash flow pressure and retain long-term viability. Those drastic steps (e.g., layoffs or furloughs) have resulted in economic strain to tens of millions of Americans. Our survey validates this, with 71 percent of respondents suggesting that COVID-19 has had an impact on their finances. We found this to be the case, no matter the income bracket, and across age groups.

The impact on young adults is particularly acute; the younger the respondent, the more susceptible they are to the economic effects of COVID-19. Individuals under the age of 37, particularly those in Generation Z (Gen Z, ages 18-26), are more likely to re-evaluate their financial decisions. In fact, 59 percent of Gen Zs and Millennials (ages 27-37) will put a financial decision on hold in response to COVID-19. Buying or selling a vehicle (19 percent), applying for a credit card (16 percent), and buying or selling a house (14 percent) are all decisions that have been impacted. Sixty percent of Gen Z respondents are more likely to take action to secure a better financial future, including investing in the stock market (17 percent), meeting with a financial advisor (16 percent) or taking out a personal loan (14 percent).

Other groups are also feeling the effects of COVID-19. For respondents with incomes between $100,000-$125,000, 74 percent felt COVID-19 would have a medium to major impact on their finances. Tailoring response plans to customer segments who experience a higher level of sensitivity to the economic impact caused by COVID-19 will be critical to the success of individual banking institutions’ mitigation efforts.

Despite the impact that COVID-19 is having on most respondents’ finances, a slim majority (51 percent) indicated that the pandemic has not made them consider changing any financial decisions. For individuals who make less than $50,000, for example, typical spending habits are expected to continue, with an emphasis on necessities. Sixty-seven percent of those making $25,000-$49,000 said they were not putting any financial decisions on hold.

PREFERENCES AMIDST THE PANDEMIC

Key Insight: Customers should be eased into new communication habit


The pandemic has forced many people around the globe to self-isolate or quarantine themselves at home. In the United States, strict stay-at-home orders have had significant impacts to the way people work and procure services. Within the banking industry, one of the largest changes is that online banking has become a more critical service than ever before because in-person banking is largely unavailable and the use of ATMs may not be viewed as vital.

Our research found that respondents prefer to accomplish banking tasks via a website (53 percent), followed by communicating with an associate over the phone (45 percent), and using a mobile application (44 percent). This is particularly true for individuals between the ages of 18 and 50, 68 percent of whom prefer a mobile user experience. On the other hand, almost twice as many update to read “Baby Boomers (ages 51-69) and Silent Generationers (ages 70+) prefer online banking over a mobile experience.

At first glance, preferences are shifting to online or mobile self-service applications; however, this may merely be a side effect of the pandemic. Our research found that more than 60 percent expect to return to their normal banking habits once the crisis ends. So while customers across all age categories are capable of accomplishing tasks online, it is not the preference for many (especially those over age 50).

A surprising number of respondents expressed an interest in engaging with associates. In fact, the desire to speak to a live person has significantly increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 45 percent of respondents indicating a preference for speaking with an associate on the phone (compared with just 4 percent before the pandemic — a considerable difference). And 15 percent of respondents are open to meeting with an associate virtually using their mobile phone, tablet, or computer. We also found that customers may be open to non-traditional communications that can still provide a personal touch, such as online chat, which 30 percent of the 18-50 age bracket indicated they would consider.

The crisis has undoubtedly forced many institutions to consider new ways of communicating with clients. But while digital banking has become a necessity for many, financial institutions must ensure all customer groups are comfortable completing banking tasks online. Indeed, our research proves there is no one-size-fits-all solution; banks should adapt their communications approach to account for their customers’ varied needs — keeping in mind that many desire real-time and face-to-face interactions during uncertain times. Creating personalized and informative online or virtual experiences will be critical in gaining the approval of those over 50 years of age. Innovation should embrace scalability, as our data indicates customer preferences will continue to fluctuate during and after the pandemic.

SUPPORT, SATISFACTION, AND SWITCHING

Key Insight: The “right” support is critical to maintaining relationships

Thirty-three percent of respondents feel heavily impacted by COVID-19 and are seeking a trusted banking partner who knows how to meet their needs during and after the crisis. Responding to the needs of customers will be key to maintaining and growing those relationships.

As might be expected, the more severe the impact of COVID-19, the more likely a respondent is to change their habits. Twenty-four percent of all respondents are less likely to visit their bank’s branch after the crisis subsides, yet 14 percent said they are more likely to visit a branch. Of those respondents who expect to visit a branch more than before, 24 percent have considered meeting with a financial services associate as a direct result of COVID-19.

Surprisingly, several respondents expressed an interest in a traditional drive-through experience (via write-in response). It is clear that many customers are seeking some form of human interaction — even if that interaction is online. This provides an opportunity for financial institutions to enhance the “human” element provided through a variety of digital channels.

Satisfaction with a financial institution’s response to COVID-19 is also something banks should take into account. Three quarters of respondents, including all of those making over $125,000 a year, are satisfied with their bank’s response to COVID-19.

Yet those facing a major financial impact were most critical of their financial institution’s response, with 11 percent of that group indicating they were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied.

Among age groups, Gen Z is the most unsatisfied with their current bank’s response, with nearly 20 percent unsatisfied or very unsatisfied. Interestingly, those willing to use chat (22 percent) and virtual communications (15 percent) are also unsatisfied, possibly because they feel the need for more options during the pandemic. For unsatisfied customers — particularly those most impacted by COVID-19 — consider new ways in which to demonstrate empathy.

Fortunately for banks, there is a low chance that customers who are impacted by COVID-19 will switch financial institutions due exclusively to their bank’s pandemic response. Although economic changes do not have much impact on customers’ decisions to switch financial institutions, other factors do: one- third of those aged 51-69 said they would switch banks because of a poor experience (significantly higher than respondents aged 18-50, at 11 percent).

In making the decision to switch, 71 percent of all respondents included a bank’s reputation in their top three factors when picking a new financial institution. This underscores how important it is for banks to continually track the evolving needs of their customers and to foster loyalty by developing well- crafted response plans.

EXPECTATIONS FOR RECOVERY

Key Insight: Most are optimistic about recovery time

Americans are more optimistic about their personal financial situation than they are about the economy as a whole. Across age groups, a majority of survey respondents believe the economy will take anywhere from six months to one year (30 percent) or one to two years (26 percent) to recover. Younger respondents are most optimistic; 68 percent of those aged 18-26 believe it will take less than a year for the economy to fully recover. On the other hand, 87 percent of individuals in the 70-75 age group expect the economy to take six months or longer to recover. Perhaps this correlates with older generations’ exposure to previous financial downturns, given that there were 11 recessions between 1948 and 2011.viii The most recent economic downturn, The Great Recession, lasted 18 months.ix

The good news is that few people are putting large financial decisions on hold for a long period of time, regardless of the economy’s recovery. While one third of respondents expect to put large financial decisions on hold for up to three months, only 12 percent expect the economy to recover by that time.


For those putting financial decisions on hold, the delay will be short. Over half of those putting financial decisions on hold believe those purchases will be delayed for less than six months, including buying and selling a vehicle (36 percent), buying and selling a house (26 percent), and applying for a credit card (22 percent).

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR A NEW BANKING PARADIGM

The events of the past several weeks have had an immense impact on the world. Our survey demonstrates that financial institution customers are no exception. Their financial behaviors are, and will continue to be, affected by COVID-19. It is impossible to tell what the next several weeks and months hold, but what is clear is that we’re entering into a new paradigm in which the way consumers interact with financial institutions (and other businesses) will change.

So what does this mean for financial institutions? Leaders have an opportunity to take meaningful action based on these recommendations:

Humanize Digital Interactions

Our research indicates that many customers desire some form of interaction — and will continue to post-COVID-19. There’s an opportunity for financial institutions to improve the call center experience for associates and customers and optimize digital channels, including self-service ones. Adding a human element to interactions on digital or virtual channels will go a long way to maintaining customer loyalty. This might include using voice- and video-based chats, creating persona-based interactions, applying data to optimize the customer experience — even simply making it easy for those new to digital channels. While many are focused on mitigating the risks associated with COVID-19, leaders should be thinking about what’s next: the new paradigm. There’s a tremendous opportunity for financial institutions to win the hearts and minds of customers and position themselves for a bright future.

Be a Leader in What Matters Most

While customers are not likely to switch banks due to COVID-19 or the economic downturn, they are willing to switch for other reasons. Focus on creating customer-centric experiences that build confidence and trust; assure customers you are there for them during what may be a very difficult time. This may mean offering extra support and financial flexibility, such as payment relief, for those especially impacted. Keep in mind that, for older customers, privacy and security are important. Younger customers want smarter personalization and an experience that is tailored to their needs.

Offer a More Digital, Physical Experience

A surprising number of our survey respondents expect to visit a branch after the pandemic ends. Chances are, your branches are not set up to support social distancing — whether mandated or preferred. Minimizing the amount of people in one branch will likely be important in the near term. Explore strategies to reduce physical interactions by leveraging a touchless, mobile-first experience.

Continue to Improve Existing Offerings

Most customers are prepared to act on their financial decisions before the economy fully recovers. Optimize existing flows and systems to encourage customers prepared to make financial decisions in the next several months. This might involve adjusting current service channels, improving tools for associates, and enhancing the content, tools, and educational insights available to customers.

Methodology

Our nationally representative survey asked how COVID-19 has impacted personal finances and shifts in banking behavior to comply with new norms. Additional questions sought to better understand preferences for emerging technology and innovation in the financial industry.

Recruiting for this sample was based on 2010 U.S. Census data for region, sex, household income, and age via Cint. The survey was only offered in English, and it was executed on March 31, 2020.

i International Monetary Fund, “Finance & Development, Vol. 57, No. 1,” March 2020, retrieved from https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2020/03/ imf-launches-world-uncertainty-index-wui-furceri.htm

ii NPR, “A Staggering Toll: 30 Million have Filed for Unemployment,” April 30, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-

updates/2020/04/30/848021681/a-staggering-toll-30-million-have-filed-for- unemployment

iii CNBC, “Jobless Claims Soar Past 3 Million to Record High,” March 26, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/26/weekly-jobless-claims.html iv Macrotrends.net, “Dow Jones -10 Year Daily Chart,” April 26, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.macrotrends.net/1358/dow-jones-industrial-average-last-10-years

v Statista, “Fears of Personal Financial Impacts of Coronavirus by Country 2020,” April 2, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1093711/personal- financial-impact-from-coronavirus-worries-worldwide-by-country/

vi Bloomberg News, “A Global Consumer Default Wave Is Just Getting Started,” March 30, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/ articles/2020-03-29/a-global-consumer-default-wave-is-just-getting-started-in-china vii Small Business Administration, 2018 Small Business Profile. Retrieved from https://www.sba.gov/sites/default/files/advocacy/2018-Small-Business- Profiles-US.pdf.

viii National Bureau of Economic Research, US Business Cycle Expansions and Contractions. Retrieved from https://www.nber.org/cycles.html.

ix US Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Recession of 2007-2009. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2012/recession/.

Steve Holdych

Steve Holdych

Co-CEO

Steve is a Co-CEO who supports CapTech's growth in an executive leadership capacity. He brings a unique blend of business development and technology expertise to our clients.

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Bree Basham

Bree Basham

Managing Director

Bree leads our Customer Experience practice, creating digital strategies and solutions using modern technologies to deliver meaningful and measurable experiences for our customers.

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