“You have to be out there taking care of your customers. That's how they're going to continue to thrive and evolve. But part of it is adapting, and it's adapting at a much quicker pace than what we have seen in the past. If the pandemic showed us anything, it's that we have to move faster.” --Whitney Lowe

When it comes to the virus, it seems that maybe, perhaps, the end of the COVID-19 pandemic is finally in sight. 

Regardless of when folks can start to leave the masks at home and bid farewell to social distancing, the end of the pandemic will have lasting financial repercussions that impact consumers for years to come.

And amidst all of this, credit unions, banks, and other financial institutions can help their customers improve their overall financial wellbeing.

Whitney Loe, Director of Business Development at Ignite Sales, discussed the opportunity and responsibility that banks have to build back stronger after COVID-19.

Whitney Loe-3

Whitney and her team are digitally guiding customers towards wise financial choices that can improve their financial health in this “new normal.”

Coping with the Effects of the Pandemic

Even from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was clear that the virus would have a major impact on life: A health crisis, a mental health crisis, a financial health crisis, and a societal crisis. 

Financially, the pandemic wrecked many peoples’ lives—sometimes even overnight. And this is having impacts on consumers’ mental health, their long-term financial wellbeing, and more. 

Whitney explained, “As an industry, I take it personally to think that, ‘Hey we really do need to make this our number one priority; to help them on this financial wellness goal and we have to do it quickly and we have to do it also the right way. We have to have the right tools to actually help customers and consumers and members that are out there.’”

She continued. “That was my biggest takeaway, was just watching the pain and the hurt and [thinking], ‘Let's do something about it.’”

The Digital Dilemma

“Digital sales” is a buzzworthy term heard in many financial circles.

But perhaps the word “digital” is tossed around too frequently. This can be confusing for banks and consumers alike because really, the discussion is about technology and delivery channels. 

Whitney shared, “Sometimes we get off-topic and we're more concerned about the pieces of technology and the delivery channels versus actually the real engagement and what is actually a digital engagement and member engagement and customer engagement.”

It’s easy to get wrapped up in technology and digital adoption without thinking about how that technology is being used to solve a problem. 

Here’s why:

Technology is just the vehicle to guide consumers to financial wellness; it’s not the entire solution.

Banks and credit unions need to take a step back and consider what problems they are trying to solve.

Furthermore, successful digital transformation requires all the departments of a financial institution to come together and find a way to use technology to truly help their customers. 

The Importance of Education

At Ignite Sales, Whitney and her team have been in the business for more than 20 years. There, the goal has always been customer service and customer engagement. The devastating toll of the pandemic led Whitney and her team at Ignite to dive deeper and look at how they could continue to interact with their customers when they couldn’t interact with them face-to-face. 

Whitney explained that they had to find a way because their customers needed them to guide them back to financial wellness. After all, “Financial wellness is the key to success for financial institutions to continue to exist,” she said.  

“You can't be complacent. You can no longer sit back and wait to see what everybody else is doing. You have to be out there taking care of your customers, and that's how they're going to continue to thrive and evolve. But part of it is adapting and it's adapting at a much quicker pace than what we have seen in the past. If the pandemic showed us anything, it's that we have to move faster.”

For years, credit unions in particular have been preaching about financial wellness and financial education. However, Whitney doesn’t know that they’ve always been going about it in the right way. There’s no consistency, and in uncertain times like those consumers are facing now, there’s nothing they want more than consistency and certainty. 

Whitney explained, “This goes way beyond financial education. You can sit there and talk to them and try to teach them things. And not that you shouldn't, and they want to learn. People want to be good with their finances, but it goes so much deeper than education. It's ‘How can you make my life better? How can you improve my situation?’ They're looking for that from their financial institutions.”

Financial literacy alone can be more detrimental to a person's financial wellbeing than not having it. Why? Because banks are giving consumers knowledge that creates a false sense of security or expertise.

The problem is that there's no follow-through to apply that knowledge and create positive behaviors that emphasize financial wellbeing.

Whitney suggests banks and credit unions take five important steps to boost their customers’ financial wellness. 

1. Discover What Your Customers Want

When financial institutions talk about discovering customer needs, it sounds like a really simple concept, but it's more complicated than people may realize. It's about actually taking an in-depth look at each customer's financial situation and learning what they actually want. 

This requires asking deeper questions.

Asking surface-level questions can lead to pushing products or services that don’t give customers the thing they are looking for. What happens then is that they end up getting in the wrong product and service. As a result, they end up getting frustrated and going elsewhere. Surface-level questions don’t accomplish anything.

Discovering a customer’s needs and asking the right questions comes down to service.

But service is not pointing a consumer to what the financial institution wants to sell. Service means providing the consumer with what they need. 

Financial institutions run promotions or push certain products or services—and there's nothing wrong with that. But at the same time, banks and credit unions have to ask consumers what they need, then guide them towards a personalized solution.

Think of it like healthcare. A doctor would listen to a patient’s symptoms and go through a diagnostic checklist, asking questions and discovering what a patient is going through. Doctors don’t ask patients to diagnose themselves. Similarly, banks shouldn’t ask consumers what they want without gaining a full perspective of a customer’s entire situation. 

It requires going ALL in; Asking, Listening, Learning, and then leaning into solutions that address a consumer’s pain points. 

2. Record Goals

One of the most important things banks and credit unions can do as part of their digital transformation journey is to record goals. This can start right at the first point of communication; when customers are interacting with frontline staff. Call centers, chatbots, branch associates? They all can be recording information about what consumers want and create a reference point for future interactions. 

Not only does this help banks know how to best help individual customers, but these goals can also be stored and analyzed to know how to anticipate customer needs on a personal level and on a larger scale. 

Individually, a customer’s goals should be logged so that across the organization, everyone in a financial institution understands what they want. Maybe the consumer needs a home loan or a car loan in the future? If banks and credit unions aren’t recording these goals and following up on this information, they lose out on the opportunity to help that customer on their path to financial wellness.

It’s about taking a proactive approach.

3. Offer Easy, Accurate Suggestions

Recording this information isn’t just helpful when interacting with a customer. It can also be turned into actionable data. Data can be turned into analytics which becomes insights that can be used to help offer suggestions that make sense for your customer. 

It’s about guiding customers through small steps and uncovering what they truly want—then becoming the solution they need. Whitney calls this deep advice. She explains, “We're advising them on what they need to be doing and where they can get in their financial wellness journey.”

Whitney shared that 57 percent of consumers just want to be heard by their financial institutions. Leveraging the information they share to provide simple, specific solutions is the best way to achieve the deep advice level of engagement. 

4. Provide a Wellness Score

One of the most critical things that a bank or credit union can do for their customers is to give them a wellness score; an analysis of where they stand. This gives consumers a way to see where they are, but more importantly, it also is a way to help them gauge their progression and see how their bank is helping them improve their financial wellness. 

A customer’s wellness score is always going to be adapting and changing, but it will give them confidence and security in the knowledge that they are moving the meter and achieving their goals. Whitney shared that this is also helpful for banks and credit unions. “It's showing us that we're helping them get there. We're on this path together.”

She continued. “We can both set the same goals and set out to accomplish them together. That's why we're focusing on this wellness score.” 

It's a new way of looking at financial wellness and a new way to help the consumer get to where they want to be. It’s about providing solutions that make sense and building consumer confidence as they achieve each step in their financial wellness journey. 

Banks and credit unions shouldn’t ask customers what they want, but they also shouldn’t tell them what they need. This means the task becomes about asking good questions, then providing recommendations that create a path forward—one that provides them with a way to measure their progress. 

Progress must be greater than perfection. As you move forward, the horizon line is always going to move forward.

5. Check In

What comes next? Plain and simple. Just check in.

Checking in is something that gets lost in the shuffle, but anyone who works in the financial realm knows that it’s easy for the customer experience and interaction with their bank to stop after they open the account.  

Whitney explained. “I'm a firm believer of taking care of the customers you already have. I know that we will have to get out there and we have to get new customers and bring in new consumers. But if you're not taking care of the ones that you already have, you're not really doing yourself any service by not going back.”

She went on to share that 79 percent of consumers say that personalized service is more important than personalized marketing. They want a seamless experience where they don’t have to repeat information. It’s about ensuring they feel valued and creating micro-moments and micro-experiences. 

Seeing how consumers are feeling can open the door to so many more opportunities for growth—just by checking in and asking good questions.

By going through these five steps and creating personal experiences, banks can create lasting relationships with their consumers as they help them on their lifelong journey to financial wellness.