Globally, trust in financial institutions is high and increasing.
Our 2019 Global Financial Services Consumer Study1, which surveyed 47,000 customers in 28 countries, shows that 77% of consumers globally say they trust their bank to look after their long-term financial well-being, while 68% trust their insurer to do the same.
What does this mean? And more importantly, what does this mean in Ireland – a country which this year saw the establishment of the Irish Banking Culture Board, whose main aim is to “rebuild trust between the banking sector and citizens” and where levels in trust are reportedly 22% below the global average2.
One of the key findings from our 2019 study is that, when it comes to trust, banks have a head start on their challengers – the emerging technology and retail players waiting on the side-lines. Results from our neighbours in the UK indicate that customers trust their bank twice as much as social media networks to look after their data. The figures are similar for trust in looking after a customer’s financial wellbeing… though this is less surprising!
Why is trust important?
Trust is the foundation for where banks need to go next as an industry. We’ll look at the other key findings of the study in subsequent blogs but essentially it comes down to this:
Customers want better and more personalised services. In the main, they are happy to share the data needed to design and provide those services. But they are not going to share data with, and consume the services of, an institution they fundamentally do not trust.
Irish banks should focus on using the output of the IBCB to greater understand their individual trust deficit. Along with the standard steps of proving that data is safe from breaches they will need to think about re-building reputation, being transparent, demonstrating that they are acting in customers best interests and boosting financial literacy. Feedback from the board should be widely shared within each organisation as a key insight into how customers perceive and engage with their bank. Our global results indicate that if the industry can regain some of the trust lost in the last 10 years the benefits to both bank and their customers are awaiting just around the corner.
Customers still place value on face to face interaction
On a separate note, given some of the recent headlines related to bank branch closures you would be forgiven for thinking that in a couple of years’ time they may be gone altogether. Figures released last year by the European Banking Federation (EBF) show a 21%3 drop in the number of branches across Europe since 2008. The rate of closure in the UK appears to be even faster with the latest numbers indicating up to 60 branches closing a month.
In Ireland however, it doesn’t look like we will follow the same pattern, with Bank of Ireland committing to keeping branches “open and staffed” and AIB recently informing an Oireachtas committee that it doesn’t have any plans for branch closures.4,5
Accenture’s 2019 Global Financial Services Consumer Study indicates that the banks may be right to hold on to their physical footprint and maintain the ability for face to face interaction. Customers may not visit their branch as frequently as they once did (just 6% of UK customers visit once a week) but they still place value on face to face conversation and support (66% of customer globally prefer face to face interaction for banking activity). For the purposes of highlighting differing consumer behaviours, our 2019 study identified four customer personas globally. In Ireland the percentage of the population made up of what we have called “traditionalists” – those consumers, generally aged 55+, who rarely use digital channels – is about 37% (based on the UK figure). These customers overwhelmingly prefer face to face channels and are generally dissatisfied with the service they currently receive from their bank.
The study also shows that while many customers still clearly value face to face interaction more than half of respondents expressed an appetite for a true omnichannel banking experience, which would allow them to switch seamlessly between physical and digital channels. Another of the personas identified in the study was the “pioneers” – these are tech-savvy, generally aged 18-34 and hungry for innovation. Amongst “pioneers” 80% want to see their banks blending physical and digital channels. Customers clearly want to be able to control the interactions they have with their bank and choose their preferred channel of engagement.
Local banks will need to understand their own unique customer base but given the likely number of “traditionalists” in Ireland the best course of action looks to be to move towards a model of developing branches into “experience hubs” that also offer digital services.
A combination of robotic process automation (RPA) to automate routine processes and artificial intelligence (AI) to surface valuable insight will be needed so that customer facing staff can focus on high value or complex interactions. A good example of this is the refreshed flagship branch of Chase Bank, unveiled in July 2019. Chase Bank hopes to handle up to 80% of routine requests with in-branch technology – meaning branch staff are free to interact with customers, help them use the digital channels available and resolve more complex queries.6
In Ireland, the transition to a more omnichannel experience may be slower than other geographies based on two key factors – trust and access to broadband services that enable channels like video chat.
In relation to trust, the 2019 annual report of the IBCB highlighted a feeling that digital channels have created more distance between banks and their customers as opposed to less, and that the human face of the industry is “being swept away in a tide of automation”. Irish banks should therefore focus on initiatives that both build trust and demonstrate transparency while also improving efficiency. A good example of this is the unit dedicated to handling vulnerable customers recently launched by Bank of Ireland as part of its digitisation of branches. The bank has put a centralised team in place to support frontline staff to provide a better service to their most vulnerable customers. Efficiencies will no doubt be introduced, as valuable insights are gained but more importantly the bank is clearly demonstrating its duty of care and signalling that it doesn’t want to leave any of its customers behind during the migration to a more digital offering. The omnichannel experience may be what many customers now expect, but a degree of patience and similar initiatives which build greater levels of trust will be required to support the journey.
Contributors: Brian Fitzgerald, Colm Rock and Conor Hayes.
- Accenture, “2019 Global Financial Services Consumer Study”, March 2019.
- Irish Banking Culture Board, “Public and Stakeholder Consultation Report 2019”, April 2019.
- The Irish Times, “Number of European bank branches down by 21% over last ten years”, September 2018.
- The Irish Times, “Bank establishes vulnerable customer unit as cases of financial abuse rise”, July 2019.
- Houses of the Oireachtas, “Written answers (Question to Finance)”, May 2019.
- The Financial Brand, “Chase Makes Bold Statement With Stunning New Flagship Branch”, June 2019.
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