Consumer Expectations For Financial Services Have Changed — Make Sure You Can Meet Them
CEO and co-founder of Sunbit, a technology company making the buying and selling experience stress-free for everyone, everywhere.
If you’re a business leader, especially in fintech, you have to pay close attention to how consumer expectations have shifted. Specifically, the customers and prospective customers you serve and wish to serve have experienced financial services differently than pre-pandemic on multiple dimensions and may be unwilling to go back to the status quo. The dimensions I mean here range from the ease of getting financial transactions done — whether paying a retailer, lender or friend — to being treated in a more human way than they may have thought possible in the “BC” (before Covid) world.
In this article, I lay out the shifting landscape of consumer experience and expectations and provide practical tips for meeting customer needs, from continuing to serve clients well to avoiding being left behind in your industry.
Three Dimensions Of Change
Think of consumer experience as having changed on three key dimensions related broadly to financial services during the pandemic, as described below.
The shift to remote: One of the most obvious changes in the consumer experience has been the move to remote: Work will likely be remote or hybrid for many jobs now, thanks to platforms like Zoom. The same is true for how people receive items they buy. Contact, in many domains, is a thing of the past.
Simple, flexible payment: This is a big one. People want more flexibility in how they pay. If you go to a retail site or store, you’ll see many more smart point-of-sale (POS) systems (sign with your finger) and options to pay with contactless mobile wallets and apps. There’s unprecedented flexibility in the timing and terms of payment now, too, as options for buy now pay later (BNPL), my company’s area of focus, rise in profile and popularity, providing greater access and control to consumers. As I’ve written about before, all of this means more seamlessness in every dimension of the consumer payment experience.
Shifting finances: Beyond how people pay, their finances changed, dramatically in some cases. With stimulus payments arriving directly in bank accounts and suspension of payments like mortgages and student loans, people saved more and the stock market soared — in part due to rising retail investment activity, such as on sites like Robinhood, Coinbase and other fintechs. Generally, people borrowed less during the first six months of the pandemic, a trend that’s changing as confidence rises as the economy opens. Still, inequality-related gaps have widened, as much of the country has struggled with finances while others enjoy unprecedented stability.
Provide Options — And Keep It Simple
Overall, I see the shifts in consumer experience and expectations as good for businesses including fintechs. Think of the pandemic as a giant “reset” button that enables you to start fresh with meeting consumer expectations in a better way than before — to reap profits while delivering a more positive, meaningful customer experience, for a true win-win.
There is a strong practical element to this, as the items in the last section suggest. Specifically, you have to provide customers more options for how they use your services — for some businesses, that might mean offering an omnichannel experience including brick-and-mortar (where relevant), online and mobile options.
Similarly, keep things simple. Just as the food delivery apps make the food order/delivery process seamless for users, aim for the same with your financial services. Automate everything possible, but provide a human option — whether through chat, phone or in-person — for trickier items such as complaints or complex transactions. This also means providing a sense of transparency about terms and, definitely, no “gotchas” like surprise fees — everyone hates those.
In fact, the human element is so critical here that I devote an entire section to it, below.
Focus On The Human Element
The pandemic showed how human we are, in terms of vulnerability to a global health crisis, but also as related to treating one another with kindness and respect. For example, you likely heard horror stories of people being treated unfairly regarding finances (such as attempted evictions) during Covid, but hopefully came across stories of more compassionate treatment as well, such as flexibility with bill amounts or deadlines.
The bottom line is it shouldn’t be about only the traditional bottom line. There’s a real, large, but hard-to-measure cost when you reduce everything to lines on a financial statement or balance sheet. You may be able to get away with pre-pandemic, status-quo practices for a short period, but not for the long term. Moreover, it has to be genuine; your customers will see through a “fake” human approach and look for a financial-services provider that will treat them more genuinely.
Positive, human experiences in financial services shouldn’t be the exception but the norm. Look for ways to make that a reality, whether by maximizing the flexibility and transparency of your financial-product offerings, training your people to listen to customers more than telling them what they need or thinking about how to simplify the customer experience to be as seamless and satisfying as possible.
The global pandemic came with large costs on every level. But it also gave financial services providers an unprecedented opportunity to think about how to treat customers with even more respect than before, leaving no consumer behind to ensure you don’t get left behind post-pandemic.