Woman stands alone in a large space while conducting mobile banking on her phone. Digital banking in a social distancing world. (Source: Shutterstock)

Financial institution accountholders have found themselves leaning heavily on their institution’s digital services more than ever due to the coronavirus crisis, according to reports from the Austin, Texas-based Kasasa and Chicago-based BAI.

The Kasasa study, gathered online by the Harris Poll from 1,045 U.S. adults, revealed a majority of consumers (79%) found a complete digital experience important when selecting a financial institution, and highlighted online and mobile technology’s effect in attracting and retaining customers. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers found a digital experience vital to a financial institution’s success.

Online and mobile channel significance is even higher among younger adults compared with older adults (84% each, ages 18-34 and 45-54, and 90% ages 35-44, versus 72% ages 55-64 and 66% ages 65-plus). The younger population indicated they expect credit unions and banks to replace in-person access with digital services.

“More than ever, consumers are craving the support of their financial institutions,” Greg Wempe, chief client officer of Kasasa, said. “Providing a screen-enabled experience is no longer an option. Consumers must be able to complete essential banking tasks from the safety of their homes and we are delivering products to community financial institutions that meet this need.”

Kasasa suggested with shelter-in-place mandates, financial institutions must provide digital experiences to help continue business as usual. The survey found 39% of consumers planned on making a transaction within 30 days such as opening a new account (17%) or consolidating their debt/credit cards (11%). Eight percent planned on switching their primary financial institution prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and will do so in the next 30 days.

The BAI executive report, “Digital Transformation Takes on New Urgency,” shared research on how generations like to bank.

“I don’t feel too far out on a limb in saying that, after the worst of COVID-19 is behind us, many financial institutions will be taking a close look at their digital capabilities and figuring out how to make them better,” Terry Badger, CFA, managing editor at BAI, wrote in the report. “Banks and credit unions nationwide closed main and branch offices, and abruptly shifted tens of thousands of employees to do their jobs from their dens and dining tables. Work normally done face-to-face now depends on technology.”

Although BAI completed its survey of 600 Gen Zers, millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers in January, before the U.S. started to feel the impact of COVID-19, they said it helped provide customer sentiment and expectations insights for digital banking during these unprecedented times.

For example, Gen Z and baby boomers, on opposite ends of the generational spectrum, essentially agree when it comes to branch banking. When asked if they prefer a primary financial services organization with access to branches and people— even if they do not use them very often — 53% of Gen Z and 54% of boomers said yes.

Karl Dahlgren, BAI’s managing director for research, pointed out the youngest cohorts, millennials and Gen Z, are more inclined toward mobile apps and all things digital, and older consumers remain fond of the branch and doing business on their desktop computers. Dahlgren noted however, “Don’t assume boomers are hostile to technology.” Half of them —more than any other generation — said the ability to open accounts online would create a better digital banking experience for them.

The highest level of satisfaction with their provider’s digital offerings are millennials at 91%. But Dahlgren warned, “Placing your entire digital transformation strategy on fickle millennials could be risky business. They’re but an app away from leaving you.”

Other observations included: Gen X is concerned about privacy issues, skeptical of their primary provider’s security, and want to pay bills by simply taking a picture of it and sharing it with their financial institution. Millennials said they believe it is OK for financial institutions to use artificial intelligence to improve their digital banking experience. They also prefer learning about offerings via email, as opposed to a text or an app, favored by Gen Z, or direct mail, which boomers like best.

Financial services leaders also said they worry their organizations may fall behind in the digital transformation race. “A big challenge facing banks and credit unions is overcoming the complexities of their legacy systems,” Dahlgren said.