By Brian Ebarvia

Banks were at the forefront of the last financial crisis in 2008, not for efforts to help consumers but rather as the industry responsible for driving the U.S. economy into a recession. Now, with an economy struggling to recover and 1 out of 5 workers collecting unemployment benefits, banks have been one of the leaders in helping Americans endure COVID-19 by offering assistance to customers such as offering deferred loan payments and waiving fees.

Given these efforts, how have consumers viewed banks over the past several months? Has their impression changed? Are they more or less likely to remain a customer? Has their willingness to recommend their bank to increased or decreased?

As part of MSI International’s study of consumer perceptions of over 40 brands during COVID-19, we asked over 600 consumers to evaluate their bank as well as  five of the largest banks in the US. This included Bank of America, Chase, Citi, PNC and Wells Fargo.

 

U.S. Banking Category Overall

 

The vast majority of consumers claim that favorability and likelihood to use a bank (customer or not) has remained the same or increased over the past six months. Among customers, over half are more willing to endorse their bank. and another 40% indicate no change. Banks have largely avoided negative perceptions and are well positioned to retain customers. But the relatively high number of consumers indicating no change may also reflect a desire to maintain status quo during uncertain times.

Despite assistance offered by banks during COVID-19, ratings of performance on measures pertaining to COVID-19 tend to trail more traditional measures of brand image. While over half believe banks are responsive, honest and trustworthy, fewer feel that banks help those affected by COVID-19 and that they keep the public fully informed on how they are handling the virus. These lower scores may be due to a lack of awareness or understanding of how exactly banks are supporting consumers on matters related to COVID-19.

 

Perceptions of Individual Banking Brands

How do five of the largest banks in the U.S. compare to the category overall? In general, results for Bank of America, Chase, Citi, PNC and Wells Fargo are consistent with the industry average, although there are exceptions…

 

Chase emerges at the top, with consumers stating improvement infavorability and intent to use Chase over the past six months. Among the five major banks evaluated, Chase is the only one scoring above average on all brand perceptions, including how it has handled COVID-19.

Favorability and use of Bank of America among the general population mirrors the category overall, but loyalty among customers increased at an above average rate; three out of five customers claiming a higher likelihood to endorse Bank of America versus six months ago. While the bank scores slightly lower on caring for its customers, other perceptions fall in line with the banking sector average.

Brand affinity and usage intent are more likely to remain neutral for Citi and PNC. Brand perceptions of Citi are slightly below average while the gap is more pronounced for PNC, particularly on how it is keeping the public informed on how it is handling COVID-19 and its efforts to help those impacted by the virus. However, loyalty appears to be a strength for PNC with 75% of customers reporting an increased likelihood to recommend the bank.

Of the five major banks, Wells Fargo is the most likely to see a decline among the general population in brand impression (18%) and usage intent (23%) over the past six months. Traditional attribute perceptions as well as those related to COVID-19 consistently score several points below average.

 

Differences Between Customers vs Prospects

Not surprisingly, increases in brand affinity and loyalty are largely driven by current brand customers.  The majority non-customers expressed no change for most brands, although favorability and usage intent of Wells Fargo has decreased among 27% and 34% of prospects, respectively. Bank of America also exhibits a decline among a fourth of prospects in their likelihood to use the bank. Conversely, notable increases are observed for Chase, with favorability and usage intent improved for one-third of prospects.

 

Where does Banking Currently Stand?

The results from MSI’s study show positive signs for banks: favorability and usage intent are largely unchanged or improved among the general population, and loyalty has increased for over half of customers. Banks appear to be in a good position to retain current customers, however, the relatively high proportion claiming no change in brand affinity, usage and loyalty may simply suggest a desire for consumers to maintain status quo during the pandemic.

Efforts to ease financial burden for consumers may not be fully recognized or appreciated by consumers – perceptions on how banks are handling COVID-19 rate below traditional attributes. Communications that  generate awareness and understanding of how they are helping consumers during the pandemic could enhance brand perceptions. The results may also suggest that traditional attributes such as honesty and trust, responsiveness, and excellent customer service have more impact on loyalty than those that are COVID-specific.

 

If you’d like more information on the Banking sector and the brands assessed in our study , contact Brian Ebarvia (bebarvia@msimsi.com) and we’ll be glad to set up a virtual presentation of our findings.