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How Can We Make the Short-Term Increase in Digital Banking Activity Permanent?

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Converting new digital accounts into lasting relationships will take proactive care and feeding.

A recent William Mills/Harris Poll asked 1,043 U.S. adults, “During social distancing, how much more or less likely are you to leverage digital banking and digital payments?” Not surprisingly, most people said they would perform more digital activity. It is equally not surprising that adults with higher incomes were more likely to increase usage than those with lower incomes.

However, one answer warrants some thinking and, potentially, action. When survey participant responses were broken out by age:

  • 68% of those 18 to 34 years old said they would be likely to increase
  • 82% of those 45 to 64 years old said they would increase usage

It isn’t often that any poll shows older adults giving a more positive answer to digital banking than younger ones. Our initial reaction was the same as the folks at William Mills, which was that there might be a very logical explanation for this. Younger customers might not anticipate more digital banking activity simply because they already are heavy, frequent users. Older customers might say they’ll increase digital activity because they use it infrequently, or not at all.

Even if that’s the case, there are at least two takeaways from this poll:

1. Some of these older customers are those who will be using a digital banking solution for the first time.

While the poll did not ask respondents if they already used digital solutions, it stands to reason that some did not. The likelihood that stay-at-home will cause customers to try digital is being borne out by what we are hearing from our clients. Jeff March, CEO at Citadel Credit Union near Philadelphia, participated in a recent Cornerstone panel discussion and told the story of an 84-year-old member who signed up for mobile banking for the first time. He won’t be the only one.

So what? Financial institutions should ensure they have a focus on making these converted branch users regular, permanent digital users, at least for some of their interactions. This should be a straightforward reporting and marketing effort for the institution’s teams.

2. Some of the additional digital banking activity older customers undertake will be through the use of expanded features.

People who just checked balances before will use remote check deposit, transfer funds externally or add their card to a wallet and use a new payment option like PayPal or Apple Pay.

So what? Customer usage of expanded digital banking options must become permanent. It’s easy to assume that just because we taught someone to fish (in this case, use digital), they will continue to use the new skills. Rather, it will take proactive, ongoing care and feeding. Nothing will make these relationships stickier that when customers find out how easy and useful it is to bank and move money digitally. And there are all sorts of upsides to getting customers to make the institution’s card the preferred one in any digital wallet. This is another good goal to set and track. (Note: Payments in the Pandemic: Five Ways Financial Institutions Can Make a Difference Today, written by my colleague Tony DeSanctis, is worth a read.)

If prior crises have taught us anything, it is that strong, permanent customer relationships can be built and cemented much more in hard times than in easy ones. These are two ideas that can help.

“You won’t find reasonable people at the tops of tall mountains.”
-Hunter Thompson

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