When it comes to financial services, more reliance on digital has resulted in less consumer trust

Earlier this year we reported that Covid’s increased use of apps and online communication is creating digital fatigue for consumers, and that brands can combat it through more traditional communications. This is especially the case in financial services: 35% of Canadians (according to J.D. Power) and 40% of Americans (according to Deep Accounts) are using online and mobile banking apps more during the pandemic in an effort to avoid visiting busy public spaces.

Now, a recent report from Accenture has further highlighted how much this digital shift is impacting the financial sector. While apps are a vital part of the banking experience today—and have enabled consumers to continue banking from home without missing a beat—they were never intended to be used in isolation, but rather in addition to in-branch, person-to-person consultation.

Accenture’s research shows that this heavy reliance on digital has led to an unintended consequence for Canada’s big banks: reduced consumer trust. Only 34% of Canadians report trusting big banks “a lot” to look after their long-term financial well-being—down from 47% just two years ago.

While there are probably a number of factors at play here, the digital-only trend is likely one of the biggest. Research continually shows that consumers would rather connect with a live person when receiving financial advice and making big financial decisions. According to Celent, a financial-industry analyst, 55% of Canadian consumers prefer in-person interaction when a conversation is needed, and 45% prefer face-to-face discussion when more in depth conversations are required.

Connecting in-person is even more important now that Covid has left many Canadians feeling anxious about their financial future. HR services provider Morneau Shepell has found that 49% of Canadians say their number-one concern remains the pandemic’s ongoing impact on finances and the economy, while 45% feel less financially secure now than when the pandemic began.

The banks need to break through the digital fatigue, and make sure Canadians know they are supported. With that in mind, there are two potential approaches they could take: 

1. Use more traditional communications to:

  • Remind customers they are a priority—the physical, tactile qualities of paper tend to resonate more with recipients than a digital message. Research from Canada Post shows that
    • 53% of people are more likely to read paper-based mail than email, while as many as one third of recipients share direct mail ads
    • Print ads are 2.4 times easier to understand than digital ads
    • Brand recall is 70% higher with print ads than digital ads
  • Express understanding and empathy through messaging that is reassuring and genuine
  • Provide useful content such as financial tips and budgeting tools that demonstrate value-added support

2. Re-think the branch experience to ensure consumers feel comfortable coming in for advice.

  • Consider components such as in-branch signage and floor decals, and how safe and secure they make consumers feel when visiting a location (a surprising number of branches continue to have ripped tape on the floor for distancing, and printed Word documents as door signs).
  • Consider dedicating some branches specifically to in-person consultation, thereby eliminating the stress of having to avoid or stand in line with customers visiting the ATM or waiting to see a teller.
  • Ensure clear, transparent communication of safety protocols to ensure consumers are aware of all measures and efforts to keep them safe and foster effective interaction.

The fact is that many consumers need the expertise of the big banks now more than ever. However, if the banks don’t step up and fill this void, there is the risk that alternative lenders may try to step in and make those connections.