It’s hard to overstate the importance of trust in banking—which makes the findings of our latest Global Banking Consumer Study concerning for banks.

The study, which interviewed 47,000 consumers around the world, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated what has been a longer-term decline in trust in banks. We found that 29 percent of banking customers trust their bank “a lot” to look after their long-term financial wellbeing. That figure is down 14 points from 43 percent in 2018.

This is a complicated and pressing issue for many banks—but it is not, as I noted in my last post, the same in every market. Consumers in some places are substantially more trusting of their banks than others.

The UK is one such trust outlier. Why is this, and what can it tell us about building trust in other markets?

To explore these questions, I reached out to Peter Kirk, a Managing Director with Accenture’s UK and Ireland Customer Service & Sales practice. For over 25 years, Peter has helped financial services providers transform the way they operate and improve their customer relationships. He’s also a co-author, along with me, of the Accenture Banking Consumer Study report.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

1. Trust can bounce back

Peter’s take on why UK banking customers are generally more trusting than the global average begins, ironically, with a time when trust in UK banks was extremely low.

“We’ve had some big scandals,” he says. “If you looked at trust metrics and stats around customer satisfaction, they fell quite a bit in 2015 and 2016. Since then there’s been a rebound. There’s been a big push and effort to treat customers fairly. Regulation has driven some of that behavior but the banks themselves have also made big strides to be more customer oriented.

“It’s become a lot more neutral. There’s less anger in the system.”

Another important element behind higher trust levels in the UK is the role of non-traditional banks. The market for neobanks and other “challengers” is generally more mature in the UK than globally. I’d actually argue that the UK has reached a neo-normal convergence. Traditional banks have been pushed to match the transparency available from neobanks like Starling. This builds trust in financial services providers more broadly.

2. Distinguishing between creepy and cool uses of data

The stakes are high and rising for banks when it comes to customer data. You can’t compete without collecting and using it, but this comes with significant risks—and not only of data breaches.

“We’ve had a discussion in the UK around creepy and cool uses of data,” says Peter.

He gave an example of each.

A cool use of data is one that helps a customer without causing them alarm—for example, a customer getting a text message telling them they’re close to overdrawing their account, given their normal spending patterns.

“This is helpful!” he says. “Someone might temper their spending or access a credit line”.

“But if you try to sell someone travel insurance while they’re waiting to get on a plane, because you know their location through their phone—that’s quite creepy.”

In the UK, this issue is also tied up with the spread of Open Banking, which has done a lot to educate consumers about permissioned data sharing and made them comfortable that it can be done safely. My hunch is that Open Banking’s spread to other markets will also boost customer comfort with permissioned use of their data.

3. The strategic power of seamless support

As we wrapped up our conversation, Peter offered two tips for success in a post-pandemic world.

The first is to provide seamless support infused with a human touch across all channels. “People use their banking apps a lot right now. If they have issues or a question about using it, where do they go? They ring up,” he says. “We’ve seen a rapid growth in contact centers helping customers use the apps they’ve got as new features launch, dealing with the stuff the apps can’t do. “ “The role of the contact centers has changed quite radically and it’s become a second-line support function to online support services. The blurring of these channels and frictionless integration has become quite important.”

The second tip is to resist commodification, a strategy which brings other benefits too. In my final post in this series, I’ll focus more on the risk of commodification and what to do about it, with insight from my colleague Anne Mai Bertelsen.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the study. I can be reached on LinkedIn. You can also find our full Global Banking Consumer Study here. 

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