Financial services: new needs, new rules

Written by: Victoria White, Senior Strategist and Dan Bowers, Chief Strategy Officer
Illustrations and animations by: Sophia Haines, Tim Ward

The Covid-19 pandemic we’re living through is creating many challenges for how brands interact with their customers. So much so, that it feels like the old rules of engagement are no longer fit for purpose – and we need to find and establish new ones if brands are to survive and thrive. 

Here we explore how the financial services sector can use this as an opportunity to understand new customer needs, reset how they are perceived and enhance their customer engagement tactics to align with new needs and behaviours. 

These are the new rules of financial services customer engagement.


Turbulent times are driving new behaviours and needs.

Through a consumer behaviour tracking survey called 'Understanding the Nation' – run by our research and insight partner Walnut Unlimited – we were able to build a picture of how people are currently feeling about a range of different issues. Newly received October data has provided a fairly dismal narrative, with any green shoots we had seen emerging now fading away.

The move into autumn has been accompanied by a plummet in positivity scores – and that was before the latest national lockdown was announced.

% of people who claim to feel positive


Feelings of certainty towards the UK’s future are continually low and we can detect a feeling of being knocked back from the renewed freedoms that people were enjoying over the summer.

% of people who claim to feel positive about the certainty of the UK’s future


The picture is polarised rather than universal.

Unpacking the data further reveals a more polarised view. For example, the older and more affluent are, unsurprisingly, feeling more positive than everyone else.


And this polarisation is highly evident when understanding the needs of financial services customers. Customers are recognising or being forced into new financial situations, resulting in new needs for which they are seeking support.


Uncertainty places particular demands on brands.

In uncertain times, when faced with new needs, people will seek out brands they trust.  This, however, is a challenge for financial services brands as the sector has struggled to deliver trust of late. In the main, this is due to their perceived role in creating the last recession, where banks were seen to have behaved recklessly.

A unique opportunity to rebuild trust.

Now things are beginning to change, with financial service brands having been rightly praised for the support they have offered their customers during the pandemic. They now have the opportunity to use this as a springboard to rebuild trust with their customers. 

Brands should utilise the fact that their customers are actively seeking support to put a focus on building cognitive trust – the sort of trust which is driven by the knowledge and belief that a brand is capable of delivering on the things they have promised. 

Rebuilding trust offers the chance to enhance customer engagement.

Building cognitive trust in their brand will allow financial service companies to enhance the engagement they have with their customers.  

By leveraging and responding to the new needs and behaviours that customers are displaying, financial service brands can showcase that they can offer the knowledge, support and expertise that their customers need right now. They should also facilitate deeper customer relationships – which are rooted in more than just the transactional – with pertinent and relevant communications and content which fit the new world customers have found themselves in.

To aid financial services brands in achieving this, we have developed 3 new rules of customer engagement. 

1.     Accelerate new behaviours
2.    Get granular with needs
3.    Build their future

Let’s look at each of these rules individually – unpacking why the rule is needed and how it can be used to enhance customer engagement.


Rule 1: Accelerate new behaviours

The human understanding:
In times of uncertainty people’s decision making is accelerated. New emerging needs are forcing people to move quickly in making life changes which previously would have been more planned and longer term.

Using this to enhance customer engagement:
Take actions which allow you to embed the behaviour changes forced on customers.

  • Show your customers that you can be their partner as they start to reappraise their new behaviours and needs. 

  • Ensure your customers are committed to their new behaviour, particularly as new users of digital tools, by offering continued support to ensure correct usage as well as incentivising ongoing and wider practice. 

  • Be reactive and flexible to newly changed customer behaviours and be there in the moments they need you. 


Rule 2: Get granular with needs

The human understanding:
People have found themselves living a life they didn’t expect or plan for. They don’t have a clear view of what their future will look like and so aren’t able to put the right plans in place for themselves and their family. They need to seek out support to help them navigate a new type of future.

Using this to enhance customer engagement:
Take a micro approach which allows you to respond to customer needs on a more individual basis.

  • Take the time to identify new needs-based opportunities and service your customers accordingly. 

  • Facilitate this by building nuanced, needs-based segments and match these to new comms propositions which align with the support each segment is looking for. 

  • Work towards providing real-time matching of customers to the right products and services in the right channels, so always driving the next best action for your customers. 


Rule 3: Build their future

The human understanding:
People will eventually move from survival mode to seeking ways to move forward for themselves and the wider community. And they will reward partners who also show this behaviour.

Using this to enhance customer engagement:
Showcase your deeper purpose to illustrate your role as a partner in helping your customers build their own new future.

  • Build a narrative around the role you are playing in regeneration at both a macro and micro level. 
  • Offer examples to customers of how you are reaching out to help and invite customers to get involved in this drive to rebuild.
  • Allow customers to build their own regeneration plan, delivered with your support as their financial partner.

What next?

Talk to us at TMW Unlimited to explore how we can help your brand establish cognitive trust, and how, in turn, we can utilise this to deliver enhanced customer engagement.

It’s time to shift focus: moving from helping customers survive, to building engagement which delivers deep and long-lasting customer relationships.

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