Consumer banking is undergoing rapid change driven by a series of intersecting factors including shifting customer habits, advancing technology and disruptive competition. Examples of these changes include an increasing interest in institutions’ commitments to bettering the community, the plethora of new banking apps that make branches irrelevant and the rise of FinTech competitors. An epitome of the intersection of these factors is SoFi (which stands for “Social Finance”), an online institution that provides robust banking apps, calls its customers “members,” and touts values such as “doing the right thing”.
In our latest research, we explored the topics of exactly how much value consumers place on various facets of banking and how well different types of institutions perform on these areas. We used special methods to clarify these questions, including our MaxVal™ solution that quantified the precise value of 14 banking attributes and “best scaling” to clarify which financial institution types had a competitive edge in these areas. The study yielded some interesting surprises, including the high value placed on benefiting the community and the surprising competitive edge held by credit unions in key areas.
What do consumers care about most in banking? We explored this question using MaxVal™ which relies on an efficient two-stage rating and ranking procedure in a survey to provide highly precise measures of importance. Among 14 areas evaluated, we find that two-thirds of the total importance to consumers is concentrated among just six areas (see Figure 1). The primary strengths of large national banks (e.g., B of A, Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo) include their extensive branch and ATM networks, but these did not make the list of top features. The most important feature sought in financial institutions is responsive service, accounting for 16% of total importance value, followed closely by return for the money (14%) and personalized solutions (11%). Next on the list is making a positive impact on the community (9%). This is interesting because of the emergence of ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) goals of institutions, a factor that has recently gained skepticism, if not downright hostility, among some policy makers. Our research shows that benefiting the community is more important to consumers than either branch networks or ATM coverage.
Figure 1. Importance of Features of a Financial Service Provider
The value placed on features varies by age group, as can be seen by tallying MaxVal™ scores between age categories. We find that younger consumers who are 18 – 34 years place significantly more value on making a positive impact in the community and in the world at large. Consumers aged 35 – 54 years care more about responsive service, financial returns and personalization. Consumers aged 55 years and older also care more for responsive service and personalization, but they also place greater importance on an institution offering guidance to help them achieve their financial goals. These differences reflect generational divides, with greater social awareness among Gen Z and Millennials, and different life cycles, with middle aged consumers concentrating on investment growth and older consumers starting to plan for retirement.
Which institutions perform the best? Consumers rely on a variety of institutions for banking, with only 31% indicating they use a single provider. Another 31% rely on two different financial institutions and 34% use three or more. Consumers may rely on a variety of institution types, including national retail banks (62%), community banks (26%), online/mobile only banks (31%), credit unions (27%) and investment/brokerage firms (22%). In addition, 12% count an insurance company as one of their banking providers, 9% use an investment app and 4% use no providers and are effectively “unbanked”.
Among the wide range of institution types, our research sought to identify the ones that are considered best in meeting various consumer needs. Many research studies will subject consumers to a lengthy list of rating scales to ferret out performance between options, but in our research, we use a more direct and concise method – “best scaling” – where we place all the options used by consumers on a screen and ask the question: “which of the following types of financial institutions do you feel is BEST?” Best status is critical because extensive research on share of wallet shows that best-status is a much stronger predictor of behavior than a single metric such as satisfaction. For example, a consumer may rate a bank a 9 out of 10, but if another bank they use is rated a 10, the higher rated bank will win more business.
While national banks excel in areas where they have been historically strong, more niche types of institutions show surprising strength in areas that matter most to consumers (see Figure 2). Credit unions are rated “best” by their customers (members) more often for providing responsive customer service and personalized solutions to fit customer needs. Investment firms are most often rated “best” in providing high returns and guiding customers to meet their financial goals. And community banks are rated the highest in having a positive impact on their community. The strengths for each of these institution types may seem obvious given their business models, but what makes these findings interesting (and something that should worry national banks) is that these features account for more than half of the total value of what is important to consumers. The areas where national banks tend to be best are further down the list in value, and include technology, privacy protection, branches, ATM networks and ease of access to money.
The analysis of what matters to consumers and who does best is prescriptive for different types of financial institutions:
- Advice for Credit Unions and Community Banks: these institutions already rate highly on benefiting the community, but they could achieve a greater edge by doubling down on offering investment products with higher returns and financial counseling. Many credit unions already have started to repurpose branches into centers for education and counseling, staffed with skilled advisors, rather than places to conduct routine transactions.
- Advice for National Banks: National banks should take social innovation to heart and investigate how they can demonstrate impact on the communities they serve.
- Online Only/Mobile Banks: The lesson for online banks is that they need to work more on service, returns, personalization and community impact or risk losing their edge to national banks who are catching up to them with innovative technology solutions.
Ultimately, success stems from excelling over competitors in the areas that matter most to consumers. National banks like B of A, Citi, Chase and Wells Fargo stay in business because they excel on a number of areas of middle-range importance to consumers, but in the long run, institutions that focus on soft assets such as service and community commitment stand to capture share of wallet.
About the Study: the National Technology Readiness has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999. The survey is co-sponsored by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and the Responsible Business Coalition at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business. The most recent wave was conducted in June 2022 and is based on an online survey of 1040 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by: Charles L. Colby, Chief Methodologist