How Banks Can Stay Relevant as Customers’ Needs Change

Over the past year and a half, businesses have had to quickly adapt to changing consumer needs stemming from the impacts of COVID-19. Rockbridge Associates’ 2020 National Technology Readiness Survey examined the initial shift in retail banking consumers’ needs towards more digital banking tools and services that align with social distancing and safety guidelines. The 2021 National Technology Survey uncovers similarities in the need for retail banks to provide more accessible resources to assist customers anywhere and anytime. What once were “nice-to-haves” for banks have become “must-haves” to remain competitive as consumers become more reliant and accustomed to online services.

Online and tech-enabled tools and features are more critical to consumers this year compared to last year. Online banking (62%), free ATM transactions (58%), and the ability to quickly lock and unlock a debit card if lost or stolen (57%) still triumph as the top three features most critical to banking consumers, and all increased in importance by 4-6 percentage points from 2020. The importance of mobile banking apps (46%) and online customer support (36%) also jumped by 7 and 6 percentage points, respectively, underscoring the new focus consumers, particularly younger consumers, have on these tools.

Still, consumers appreciate, and sometimes need, a human touch. There are still some financial tasks for which consumers would like personal assistance. The share of consumers who consider nearby branches to be critical dropped by 4% between 2020 (51%) and 2021 (47%), although the difference is not quite statistically significant. In contrast, having a call center where consumers can talk to a person experienced an 11% increase in consumers rating it critical between 2020 (39%) and 2021 (50%). And though viewed as less critical and not statistically significant compared to call centers, the importance of mortgage and loan officers available for in-person meetings also grew over the past year with nearly three in ten (29%) finding them critical compared to 24 percent last year. This suggests that although consumers are now less reliant on physical locations when considering their banking needs, there are still some types of transactions for which personal contact is beneficial.

Learn more about TechQual, our measurement approach to consumer technology adoption.

About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey is sponsored by Rockbridge Associates, Inc., A. Parasuraman and the Center for Excellence in Service, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. The study is based on an annual survey of U.S. adults age 18+ sampled from an online panel and weighted based on Census Bureau data. The 2021 study includes 1522 adults and the 2020 study includes 1216 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Written by: Quynh Hoang, Analyst and Hilary Ross-Rojas, Research Director