By Nick Barnes, Practice Director, Financial Services & Customer Success at JRNI
When unexpected events occur, people turn to their banks to provide a sense of trust, security, and stability. They need to be available anywhere, anytime, and from any device. As it’s a business based on trust, one-on-one communication is key.
With the world still emerging from the COVID-19 crisis and endeavouring to avert a possible second wave, every country, state, and region has their own unique requirements. Plus, every customer or member has their own demands. Experts and pundits have discussed a new normal, but what’s normal for now involves keeping customers and employees safe while also providing the same sense of stability as before.
For banks, building societies and credit unions, the main concerns include how to maintain personal relationships amidst social distancing; how to be available at any time on any device; and how to provide a sense of calm and security amidst the chaos.
Adapt or fall behind
Customers are quickly learning which of their service providers are adapting best to this new world. Are financial services providers like banks and credit unions adapting, or falling behind?
Finances are a highly personal topic, and often, illogical or emotional. Will I have enough? Will it be available when I need it? It is always a hot topic of conversation, but especially during a pandemic when unemployment rates are rising, and the economic landscape is unsettled. In the past, a customer could walk into the bank, have a reassuring conversation with a representative and move on.
So, how can banks help their customers through tough financial times during the current crisis, when in-person communication is nearly impossible? One solution is to provide helpful, personalized customer service through digital channels.
While in-person assistance will remain important after COVID-19, customers are looking for assistance now. Banks are turning to remote video and voice appointments to boost customer satisfaction and meet customer expectations.
3 reasons to use remote appointments
1. To comply with social distancing
Our Modern Consumer Banking Report last year showed that when consumers visit branches, it’s primarily to talk face-to-face and ask questions/get help. Research from Bain reinforces this, and emphasizes that “many retail banking customers think it’s easier to purchase through a human channel, or prefer to speak with an employee before buying a product.”
Due to social distancing measures, branches cannot be customers’ primary way of managing their finances during this pandemic. However, this doesn’t mean that customers aren’t interested in personalized attention that can be made available via video and voice.
2. To meet new demand
Although spending habits may have changed, consumers are still making critical financial decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Individuals: The financial effects of coronavirus are drastically different from one customer to the next. While some are counting down the days to receipt of their unemployment check, others may be taking advantage of low-interest rates to buy a house. Ultimately, banks and credit unions need to address each customer segment with a unique message and way of providing assistance.
Small business banking: Countless small businesses around the world have been forced to close their doors. Whether they’re needing loans, payment deferrals, or advice, small businesses are looking to their bank as a guide, and a comfort.
Investment management: A recession is upon us, and with that comes a new approach to investing. Financial advisors are fielding questions, providing recommendations, and staying up to date on the market. Beyond this, many are building entirely new strategies for their clients.
Regardless of customer type, it’s clear that each subset of customer needs help from their financial institution at this time.
3. To boost customer retention
Financial institutions cannot afford to lose customers during the pandemic, so customer retention is crucial. Great customer service boosts customer loyalty, and research from Bain shows that loyalty is key to retention:
- Customer loyalty increases revenue, and loyal customers are less likely to switch to a competing bank.
- Customers who are a bank’s “promoters” recommend the bank to others as much as six times more than “detractors.”
- A bank’s “promoters” spend one-quarter more than detractors on their primary credit card.
Ultimately, being able to connect with a customer in need using video or voice can give customers peace of mind and boost loyalty. Delivering personalized financial services without interruption is crucial.
Initial results from video banking show that consumers consider the service valuable. Phoenix Synergistics’ survey from December 2019 found that 17% of customers polled had used video chat through a website or app with their financial institution. Of those that had used video chat, 89% found video chat valuable.
Some suggestions for banks using remote video or voice appointments would be to: firstly ensure your solution is secure and doesn’t expose personal information outside of the conversation; secondly create a culture of consultation to alleviate outstanding fears; thirdly leverage appointment setting to allow customers to pre-schedule consultations and enquiries; finally include remote appointments as part of a wider suite of ‘touchless’ offerings.
The dos and don’ts for bank branches
Forty-three percent of banking customers have expressed their desire to change the way they bank due to the pandemic. As with retail and hospitality, several key customer segments have doubts about visiting physical locations and are transacting more remotely.
The challenge for banks is to make services available wherever customers want to bank – be it by phone, online, or in branch – and when it comes to any transaction, the key is to make customers feel cared for, heard, and secure.
With social distancing parameters in place along with other health and safety measures, there’s significant focus on the need to retool the branch experience. Here are a few suggestions as we move into that next stage of business and interaction:
DO: Have a plan.
Think about how customers will enter and exit each location. Plan for increased space between people in line, how to attend to at-risk customers, properly spaced lobbies, and waiting areas. Consider your employees and what they need in order to stay safe including break rooms with increased space between lounging areas, removal of shared snacks, availability of hand sanitizer and masks.
DO: Make sure you can effectively manage footfall.
Overcrowding will create fear and loss of trust. Make sure you have plenty of directional signage, crowd control measures, and staffing. Solutions including people counters, occupancy managers, and pre-booked appointments both allow for the throttling of traffic, and the ability to build in cleaning time.
DO: Hire the right team and staff adequately.
Being courteous and in control will be the most important ingredient to success. Have enough staff, you will need the extra hands to ensure that all staff is properly trained and ready to enforce new protocols.
Some customers will be understandably anxious going into branches, and some will want to feel that everything has returned to normal, so staff may need to be very firm and well-versed in a new operating style.
DO: Offer customers the ability to bank when and how they prefer.
We’re not suggesting that you remain open for 24 hours, but the goal is to make it easy for the customer. Adding the ability to set an appointment with a wealth manager or an advisor online will enable customers to bank from home, and will enable banks to provide the personalized service customers have come to expect.
Leverage online appointment confirmations to remind customers to have key documents available if they need them. Virtual solutions position the bank to serve as an advisor rather than just a financial institution.
DO: Demonstrate your commitment to a safe environment.
Use clear signage to convey the measures in place to ensure customer and employee safety. Make hand sanitizer or wipes available throughout the branch, and in all high-touch areas. Ensure cleaning supplies are visible, around doorways and near greeters to provide customers with an added sense of security. And make sure that employees are following every measure required of customers.
DON’T: Lose customer confidence.
If you are not prepared, it will show, and it will be very hard to gain back customer confidence once compromised. Social media will not be your friend. Forrester Research reports that 52% of US online adults prefer to buy from companies that demonstrate how they are protecting customers against the threats of COVID-19.
DON’T: Overcrowd or fill your branch to capacity.
Consumers are being trained to avoid crowds, so failure at the branch to comply could result in losing their business. Most physical locations are operating with fewer staff and accommodating 10 – 25% of the traffic once allowed. Keep in mind that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression on customers, and they’re looking to trust you have their best interests in mind.
You will need to expect the unexpected and having more hands-on deck will prove to be beneficial in the long run. Having the wrong staff, or those that don’t take the time to learn new operating procedures or feel comfortable telling that customer who won’t keep a mask on, may not be the best fit.
DON’T: Make it difficult for customers to do business with you.
Social distancing introduces a number of disruptions to the way you’ve traditionally done business. So limiting options to customers – providing no ability to bank online or via phone, not having a live customer service voice or chat option – is not going to help. In addition to making sure the services are available, it is imperative to communicate all options to customers.
DON’T: Assume someone else will do it.
Bank staff need to show that the branch is being tended to, cleaned between visitors, and before opening each day. It is important that staff jump in to help move customers safely through the branch, ensure their questions are answered and overall, take a proactive approach to service without assuming that a sign or another staff member will take care of it. Customers will come to the branch, but gaining their confidence is everything. Don’t lose it by not being prepared. It will be very hard to win it back.
With the constant threat new restrictions in response to COVID-19 outbreaks, banks will need to take a long view on how they enable the operational flexibility that will be needed to adapt to fast-changing conditions. As people prepare to live more risk-averse lives, banks will need to go the extra mile to ensure customers feel less wary about visiting in person whilst also offering a seamless experience for those customers who prefer to remain in the safety of their homes. Those that manage to do so will emerge from the crisis with a sustainable advantage over their competitors.
A quarter of banking customers noted an improvement in customer service over lockdown, research shows
SAS research reveals that banks offered an improved customer experience during lockdown
This represents some good news for banks in an extremely challenging time, with 59% of customers also saying they’d pay more to buy or use products and services from any company that provided them with a good customer experience over lockdown.
The improvement in customer experience also coincides with a rise in the number of digital customers. Since the pandemic started, the number of banking customers using a digital service or app has grown by 11%, adding to an existing 58% who were already digital customers. Over half (53%) of new users plan to continue using these digital services permanently moving forward.
Brian Holden, Director, Financial Services at SAS UK & Ireland, said:
“It’s notable that in times of need customers value being able to communicate with their bank and place an even higher value on good customer service. A rise in the number of digital customers means banks can now reach a wider audience online, leveraging AI and analytics to offer a more personalised experience.
“There is work to be done, though. Even greater personalisation is needed if banks are to win over the 12% of customers who felt banking services deteriorated over lockdown. And this personalisation will need to get right down to a segment of one to properly reflect the unique circumstances some individuals now find themselves in due to the pandemic.”
While the number of digital users grew over lockdown, there is still a quarter (24%) of the banking customer base that have chosen not to make the switch to digital services.
Meanwhile, failure to offer a consistently satisfactory customer experience could prove costly for banks, with a third (33%) of customers claiming that they would ditch a company after just one poor experience. This number jumps to 90% for between one and five poor examples of customer service, so this just underlines how much retail banks can win or lose in these difficult times.
For more insight into how other industries across EMEA performed during lockdown, download the full report: Experience 2030: Has COVID-19 created a new kind of customer?
Swedish Bank Stress Tests in Line with Recent Rating Actions
The Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority’s (FSA) latest stress test results show major Swedish banks’ robust ability to absorb credit losses. The results support Fitch Ratings’ view that short-term risks have abated in recent months, and are in line with Fitch’s assessment of major Swedish banks’ capitalisation at ‘aa-‘, which was a factor when Fitch removed the ratings of Handelsbanken, Nordea (not covered by the FSA’s stress test) and SEB from Rating Watch Negative in September.
The FSA estimated about SEK130 billion of credit losses over 2020-2022 for the three largest banks (Swedbank, Handelsbanken and SEB) under its stress test. This represents about 220bp of their loans, or about 70bp annually. However, the banks’ pre-impairment profitability in the stress test could absorb credit losses of up to about 110bp of loans annually. Fitch’s baseline expectation is for credit losses below 20bp of loans in 2020 and 8bp-12bp in 2021.
Capital remained strong under the stress test. The average common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio fell by only 2.8pp (1.9pp if banks did not pay dividends) from 17.6% at end-June 2020. The capital decline was not driven by credit losses, which could be absorbed by pre-impairment profitability, but by risk-weighted asset inflation.
The three banks’ 3Q20 results showed that capital has been resilient despite the coronavirus crisis. The banks had a CET1 capital surplus over regulatory minimums, including buffers, of almost SEK100 billion (excluding about SEK33 billion earmarked for dividends). SEB had a CET1 ratio of 19.4% at end-September, Handelsbanken’s was 17.8% and Swedbank’s 16.8%.
The SEK130 billion credit losses under the latest stress test are lower than under the FSA’s spring 2020 stress test (SEK145 billion), which also covered a shorter period of two years. However, they are still larger than the actual losses incurred by the three banks during the 2008-2010 crisis. This is despite tightened underwriting standards by the three banks in recent years, including, in the case of SEB and Swedbank, in the Baltics, the source of most of their loan impairment charges in the previous crisis.
In its baseline economic forecasts, the FSA assumes a harsher shock to Sweden’s GDP in 2020 and 2021 (-6.9% and 1%, respectively) than Fitch’s baseline (-4% and 3.4%), although it assumes a similar recovery by end-2022. It also assumes real estate price corrections, which appears particularly conservative in light of a 11% housing property price increase over January to November 2020.
The ratings of Handelsbanken (AA), Nordea (AA-) and SEB (AA-) are on Negative Outlook due to medium-term risks to our baseline scenario. The rating of Swedbank (A+) is on Stable Outlook, reflecting significant headroom at the current rating level following a one-notch downgrade in April due to shortcomings in anti-money laundering risk controls.
Future success for banks will be driven by balancing physical and digital services
Digital acceleration due to COVID-19 has not eliminated the need for bank branches
Faster service (23%), smaller queues (26%) and longer opening hours (31%) are among customers’ biggest asks of their bank branch, new research from Diebold Nixdorf today reveals. But with 41% consumers saying they would be comfortable to engage with all banking services via an app, it is vital that banks respond to the full spectrum of customer needs – balancing and evolving their offerings on multiple fronts.
A third (35%) of customers say they will always want access to physical, in-branch banking services in some capacity and one in ten (10%) consumers will never bank predominantly online in the future. This demonstrates that there remains an important role for the services a branch provides. This role, however, continues to shift away from purely transactional banking:
A quarter (26%) value face-to-face advice when it comes to their banking needs
One in five (18%) seek advice on different products
17% want to speak to the staff or other customers.
Matt Phillips, Diebold Nixdorf vice president, head of financial services UK & Ireland, said: “The majority of banks have spent the last decade focusing on their digital strategies and investing in improving – or establishing – their online customer experience. However, the data shows that there is still an essential role for physical branches. Banks now increasingly face the challenge of continuing to provide customers with access to a range of physical and as well as digital services, giving them the flexibility to choose the best service for them at any given moment in time.”
When looking beyond the impact of COVID-19, planned branch visits by customers are expected to rebound to 28%, following a dip to 11% during lockdown. And when asked about the new services they’d like to see inside their bank, sixteen percent of respondents said more self-service machines would improve their in-branch experience.
Matt Phillips continues: “In a world that is fast evolving and where the future is digital, there’s no doubt that high street banks must, and are, responding to the needs of highly digital customers. But not every customer requirement is digital. There is still a strong need for physical bank branches and the interaction and services they offer, and striking this balance between physical and digital is where the industry must come together to provide solutions. For example, building a strong, leave-behind strategy is something we’re seeing across the board when banks have to close branches, ensuring customers have access to self-service machines to complete all their transactional needs.”
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