How consumers navigate financial wellness in a time of uncertainty

Stephen Arthur, Mike Henry / April 2020

As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the globe, it’s affecting different people and communities in different ways. But one commonality is that, in addition to concerns about their own health and the health of family, friends and loved ones, people are concerned about their financial wellbeing. These concerns include how to meet day-to-day obligations like rent or groceries — and extend to issues such as how best to pay taxes, how to access cash for essential items, how to make digital payments, how to get money to loved ones, and how to manage investments. From March 8, 2020, to March 14, 2020, search behaviour on Google for “financial help” grew 203% over one week.1 In MENA, search queries for 'financial help' grew 82% in April 8-18, 2020 in the UAE and queries for 'مساعدة مالية ' rose 100% from March 15-22, 2020 in KSA5.

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With many businesses unable to operate normally due to widespread government-imposed lockdowns, it’s no surprise that consumer behaviour is shifting, including how they spend, save, and connect with their money. In fact, during the week from March 8, 2020, to March 14, 2020, Google searches for apps in the Finance category grew 31%.2 In Saudi Arabia, people searched for ‘credit exemption’ ('اعفاء بنك التسليف') and in Egypt searches for ‘unemployment grant’ ("منحة العاطلين) grew 1650% week on week6.

For consumers, who on average have 10 financial products,3 it’s understandably overwhelming to try to stay abreast of their financial wellbeing. And with financial situations rapidly changing, people want helpful, up-to-date information. As proof, search interest for “how to invest” grew 61% from March 8, 2020, to March 14, 2020, versus the same week the prior year.4 Since January, investment through online learning on YouTube, grew at 250%5.

Help build people’s confidence and alleviate concerns about their financial security amid uncertainty.

Even in this challenging time, it’s possible for brands to engage with consumers in ways that are relevant and helpful, and that don’t come across as tone deaf or self-serving. Helping to build people’s confidence and alleviate concerns about their financial security amid uncertainty is one of the most important things financial service brands can do right now.

Not sure how to help? Here are three useful and valuable strategies for assisting people that financial institutions are uniquely suited to deliver.

Focus on demonstrating empathy for what people are experiencing

The question finance brands should ask themselves isn’t whether to show up for consumers, but how to do so in ways that address their most pressing questions and concerns. That could mean activating call centre support to guide people through digital transactions. Or it could mean using channels like your mobile app, video, or YouTube to show them how to go paperless, how to use self-service for their banking account, or simply let them know you’re there for them and ready to help.

Share reliable, real-time information

Brands can provide value as a real-time source of truth for people by acknowledging that the situation is difficult and changing constantly. In addition to sharing your first-party data and insights to guide consumers, financial service brands can surface Google Trends and Google Alerts to help consumers understand what’s happening in real time. We’ve also developed five principles to guide our own media campaigns at Google that we’re sharing in the hope that they can be useful to brands as they navigate the same uncharted territory.

Provide flexibility for customers

With many consumers anxious about how to pay bills and meet other financial obligations, finance brands are uniquely positioned to offer flexibility that can help give people stability and security. That could include deferring scheduled payments for existing customers, delaying first payments for new customers, and working individually with customers to find solutions tailored to their specific circumstances.

In this unprecedented time, financial service brands can be there for customers and help improve their financial wellbeing by leveraging their strength and expertise to guide consumers through rough waters. Doing so is not only helpful — it’s key to building the trust required to maintain authentic, lasting relationships with consumers.

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