Is Your Financial Institution Ready for These Tough Consumer Questions?

Behind the marketing slogans and the slick apps, banking remains a pretty complex business for most consumers. It prompts many questions, which sends people looking online for answers. Often what they find are 'help' articles that encourage them to assail financial institutions with questions. See how you stack up to some of these zingers.

People used to lean on one another or maybe a dictionary for anything they didn’t know. Now, of course, it’s all Google all the time. “What to watch”, “What is my IP” and “How many ounces in a cup” (the top three search topics in 2021, according to Statista).

It’s the same with consumers’ most pressing financial questions. Liberty Bank ran a survey and discovered what were the most Googled financial topics by state. Large portions of the West Coast were worried about foreclosures while people in Kansas and Virginia asked about lines of credit. New Yorkers are thinking about savings and people in New Jersey about debt consolidation, and so on.

When people are Googling their question, they invariably run into articles with headlines like this: “10 Questions to Ask When Opening a Bank Account”, “7 Questions Your Bank Definitely Doesn’t Want You to Ask” and others along those lines from an array of news or consumer advocacy and self-help sites.

The Financial Brand sorted through several of these articles to find out which questions were most commonly being recommended for people ask. Some of them are pretty straightforward, others would require institutions to upgrade their technology to properly meet the request. Regardless, banks and credit unions need to make sure they are well prepped — either by training their in-branch staff and phone/chat support teams or writing the script for their chatbot — with the answers that people need.

What’s It Going to Cost Me?

People always want to know about the costs of things. Likewise, most self-help articles pinged these questions as a major matters to address before opening a new bank account:

  • What fees are attached?
  • Are there overdrafts?
  • Do I need to keep a certain amount of money in my account?
  • If I fall below that minimum, will I be charged?
  • Do I have to pay for checks or replacement cards?

At the end of the day, people want to know: what is it going to cost me? The answer should be clear and easy to find.

Listen Closely:

Consumer finance sites are advising people to take a look at the fine text of banking contracts for hidden fees.

The reason why so many websites recommend asking about costs is because people don’t always dig deeply for the answer. Like any business, banks and credit unions can sometimes put these details in the fine print of a contract — which consumers seldom read. (ProPrivacy, a network and computer security company, in 2020 proved just how few people read terms and conditions. They got 99% of respondents to sign a contract which would release their right to name their first child.)

Even Investopedia warns consumers that financial institutions recognize this advantage.

“Tip: Don’t overlook checking account fees — there are things banks won’t widely advertise to people who aren’t reading the fine print, including contingent fees like overdrafts,” Jane Frankenfield writes in a “Guide to Checking Accounts” article.

To help alleviate people’s concerns when opening new accounts, financial institutions can design contracts to be more transparent. Create a physical or online pamphlet that educates customers on exactly what they could be charged for — and when. Or consider sending push notifications to their phone or desktop, if your institution is changing its fee strategy.

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Can I Do Everything Online?

Consumers of all ages are leaning more on mobile apps and websites for their financial needs as they wean away from using branches. Regardless, many websites recommend that customers ask a prospective banking provider if there are transactions that would still require coming into the branch. Others also suggest asking a bank or credit union if a person can access all their financial information online, on their phone (or both).

Executing mobile and online strategies varies from institution to institution. However, the answers should be easy to access through every channel. If people need to know their balance, what is the best way for them to access that information? If they are concerned about a fraudulent transaction, is it better for them to go into the branch or call a representative?

The institutions that are further along with digital transformation have been able to reduce to near zero the instances in which a consumer must show up at a branch.

Still, if people have questions about their personal information or a problem they haven’t faced before, it is crucial they know what they can do online and what they can’t, and further that it be simple and straightforward to move from app or website to live chat or a call center connection when necessary.

How Good Is The Customer Service?

Contrary to some assertions, digital technology doesn’t address every need that people have, or do it adequately. Almost four of ten people (39%) prefer to talk to someone (by phone or in person) when they need an answer to a financial situation. Nearly three of ten (28%) say they prefer digital tools and another third say they want an equal share of both, according to the 2021 Logica Future of Money survey.

In-person service is something banks and credit unions — especially smaller, community institutions — often pride themselves on. But, is your institution ready to serve people with flawless customer service across every channel? In particular, does each channel present the same information, including reflecting the latest interactions?

For many financial institutions, this “omnichannel” consistency remains a stubbornly elusive goal, and is a great source of frustration to the customer.

In addition, are your customer-facing staff ready to answer these questions, suggested by consumer-focused websites:

  • How long are your call wait times?
  • Should I ask the chatbot most of my questions?
  • If not, will it take longer than an hour to find someone to talk to?

What’s In It For Me — And the World?

In the 21st century, people want more than just a bank account. In a time of credit card rewards and cashback features, they are looking for their banking provider to do more than just offer a debit card and checkbook. Other questions articles recommend asking banks and credit unions include:

  • Does the account include any perks?
  • How often do your change your interest rates?
  • Can I access my money while traveling?

So far, environmental, social and governance (ESG) — factors don’t matter as much to consumers as fees and the level of security at their financial institution. Yet such issues are growing in importance almost weekly, and people are asking more questions about the social awareness of their bank.

Almost half (45%) of consumers say they chose their banking provider because it is socially and/or ethically responsible and another third say they want to find a socially conscious financial institution, but they don’t know where to look, according to an October 2021 NerdWallet study.

For those people for whom ESG is a priority, consumer finance websites recommend asking these questions before opening an account with a new bank:

  • Where is my money being invested?
  • What values does the institution stand by?
  • Is the bank the planet’s friend or foe?

Such questions may be less frequent than “What’s your ATM daily limit,” but they are potentially far more important to beginning or continuing a customer relationship.

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