Don’t Wander in a Post-Pandemic Fog

June 3, 2021  |  Caroline Vahrenkamp

The pandemic and its accompanying economic fluctuations have upended how consumers bank, impacting not only their behavior but also their expectations. Too many financial institutions are assuming their accountholders are the exception. They aren’t. Just ask them.

Two years ago, I wrote Measuring Customer Experience, which describes the value of understanding how your accountholders feel about the experience of using your institution. As a former financial institution executive, I felt measuring that experience was important in 2019.

That was before we had a global pandemic. Now, not knowing how your accountholders’ opinions and expectations have changed is tantamount to walking through a fog, blissfully unaware of the approaching cliff.

Here are four key assumptions you may have made that might not be true for at least some of your accountholders. Understanding how your base has or has not changed is critical to strategic success.

Don’t Assume Everyone Is Going Digital

Lockdowns and work-at-home situations over the past year have highlighted the need to be able to bank from anywhere. Raddon research has shown that mobile banking use has soared over the past year, with 68 percent saying they have mobile banking and 56 percent saying they use it at least once a month. But even during the pandemic, 75 percent of consumers have used both digital and face-to-face delivery channels.

Even millennials are not fully digital. In research to be released next month, Raddon found that 33 percent of millennials and Gen Z consumers say they prefer face-to-face banking, up from 28 percent before the pandemic started. Another 24 percent like to do some things digitally and some things face-to-face. Seventy-one percent of millennials said they typically visit a branch once a month, up from 67 percent in 2018.

Your accountholders may be more digital now, but they may also be more likely to prefer face-to-face. Be prepared to offer a consistent experience in all accountholder touchpoints.

Don’t Assume That Core Deposits Are Going to Stay Put

With rates back down to the low yields of the early 2010s, institutions might expect consumers to keep their core deposits at the same institution. After all, there is little incentive to move when everyone’s rates are the same.

This assumption belies the money flowing into the market, as the rise of fractional share purchasing, app-based sweep accounts and even cryptocurrency provide opportunities, especially for young consumers, to put their savings into potentially higher-earning accounts. Millennials, who on average have 88 percent of their deposit balances in liquid products compared to 79 percent of baby boomers, are generally both more rate-sensitive and more open to using new apps like Robinhood to invest.

Your accountholders may be less rate-sensitive than others, but they may also be highly at risk. Only by asking them will you understand the relative risk to your balance sheet.

Don’t Assume You Know the Whole Story on Service Quality

One of the most surprising things we’ve seen in the past year is how well the big banks, particularly Bank of America, have established a reputation for customer service. Among millennials who recently switched their primary financial institution to Bank of America, we found that 32 percent did so in search of better service quality, a percentage almost as high as the 33 percent who wanted better mobile banking functionality.

Many, if not most, institutions survey accountholders who complete a transaction with them, and while those data points give you immediate feedback on the in-person experience, are you catching the mobile or online experience? Just as importantly, immediate transaction surveys usually are not sampled and weighted, meaning that institutions get a lot of results from people who are inclined to fill out surveys, who tend to be older. Our experience at Raddon has shown that older, affluent consumers are more than twice as likely to respond to surveys as younger, less affluent consumers.

Don’t Assume Everyone Is Breezing Through the Pandemic

The economy is recovering strongly overall, but a large percentage of Americans – particularly younger Americans in service sector jobs like restaurants and tourism, as well as those working for small businesses – report being very concerned about the economy. Increasingly, the recovery looks to be K-shaped: strong for some, weak for others.

Many financial institutions will find that a significant percentage of their accountholder base has increased need for help through this period. You need to understand those needs, the accountholders who have them, and the impact on products and services. If you do not, those younger accountholders have shown a willingness to move elsewhere, taking loan demand and non-interest income with them.

Questioning these assumptions and taking the appropriate steps can lead to greater success. In our relationship survey program, we asked accountholders to rate how their institution met their expectations during the pandemic. On average, 41 percent said their institution exceeded their expectations on working with accountholders to help manage their finances, but the top-performing institution had 57 percent of their accountholders say they exceeded expectations, while only 32 percent of accountholders at the bottom-performing institution said the same.

There are real financial impacts that come from exceeding expectations. The top-performing institution saw a 0.40 percent improvement in its ROA from 2019 to 2020, while the bottom-performing institution saw its ROA fall 0.45 percent in the same period. Institutions cannot exceed their accountholders’ expectations if they do not know what those expectations are.

Last year changed how consumers bank. Without in-depth survey research into their accountholders, financial institutions are left wandering in the fog.

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