Banks’ digital pivots have eroded consumer trust

In moving to meet digital banking needs, some organizations have failed to maintain a "human touch," finds Accenture.

Banking online

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital banking in Canada, as the country’s financial institutions rushed to navigate in-branch restrictions and consumers’ heightened interest in banking from the safety of their own homes.

But a new report from Accenture finds the speed of that shift – one that financial services companies have been working towards for years – also “accelerated the ongoing erosion of consumer trust in banks.” As the banking process has become more impersonal, Accenture finds, more consumers are viewing it as a commodity in which price is the main differentiator.

The research, titled the 2020 Global Banking Consumer Study, is based on an online survey of more than 47,000 global consumers, including more than 2,000 in Canada. Conducted between July and August 2020, it includes a pool of respondents representing different age groups and income levels who own a bank account.

In Canada, 41% of respondents ranked value for money as a top three consideration when it comes to banking – an increase of 8% from two years ago – making it the most important factor among Canadian consumers. That is slightly higher than the global average of 37%, up from 27% in 2018, when it ranked number five globally.

The company notes that banks have been encouraging consumers to turn to digital channels as a way to meet growing consumer demand, lower costs and provide services around-the-clock, but that there was “no way to predict how aggressively that trend would accelerate as a result of COVID-19.”

Many banks moved quickly – and perhaps too hastily – to launch digital services that failed to maintain the human element in banking, Accenture finds, resulting in a drop in consumer trust. For example, in Canada, 34% of consumers report trusting banks “a lot” to look after their long-term financial well-being compared to 47% two years ago.

On the one hand, the rapid shift towards digital has had the positive impact of helping banks meet consumers’ needs during the pandemic, said Robert Vokes, who leads Accenture’s financial services practice in Canada, in a release. At the same time, “it has forced banks, in some cases, to launch solutions that do the trick functionally but are lacking in the human touch. To maintain strong customer connections, banks will need to reimagine the digital experience to make interactions more personal and relevant.”

While that might be the case across many markets, it holds particular true for Canada, where 33% of consumers can be described as “traditionalists,” one of four consumer profiles identified by Accenture that also include “pragmatists” (32% in Canada), “pioneers” (17%) and “skeptics” (18%).

Canada and Germany are the only markets studied where traditionalists form the largest segment. These consumers “value the human touch and avoid technology wherever possible,” according to Accenture. “They show low levels of engagement and satisfaction with their financial services providers, and trust is also low.”