Survey shows shift in customers’ banking habits

Consumers’ and businesses’ adoption of digital banking tools is expected to be permanent.
If trends that took hold during the pandemic stay in place, fewer customers will require in-person assistance and instead will learn to do more of their banking digitally. Courtesy iStock

Nearly all consumers now do some or all of their banking digitally, while interaction with bankers is reserved for advice and complex transactions — a trend expected to accelerate in 2022.

New research released this month by Citizens confirmed the trend that emerged in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. While the data shows a sweeping change in banking habits, the numbers also ratify the enduring importance of human interaction in more complex matters, Citizens said.

According to Citizens’ second annual Banking Experience Survey, published Dec. 9, 90% of consumers and 86% of businesses use digital banking channels, up from 85% and 71%, respectively, in July 2020. 

The nationwide survey of consumers and business leaders found not only that widespread digital adoption is here to stay, with at least 70% of consumers and business leaders saying it is permanent, but that customers are increasingly comfortable in sharing their personal data with their banks.

Beth Johnson. Courtesy Citizens

Additionally, the survey also found human interaction — either in person or via virtual channels — remains essential when it comes to executing more complex transactions. Two-thirds of consumers and businesses said they still prefer to tap a real person for financial advice.

“(The 2021) survey shows that while the convenience of digital banking continues to attract consumers and businesses, there remains a need to provide a personal touch for advice and more complex transactions,” said Beth Johnson, chief experience officer at Citizens. “These results highlight the ongoing need for banks to provide a seamless experience across all of their channels, even as digital channels evolve rapidly.”

Evolving digital offerings

While personal interaction is still important in banking relationships, digital offerings increasingly are key in terms of initial consideration, the survey found. Most consumers now choose their banking partner based on mobile and online banking capabilities, with 40% of consumers reporting it was the most important factor, and only 27% citing the convenience of physical branch locations as the most important factor.

The 2021 survey also showed a confidence in new banking channels, especially among business leaders. Seventy-eight percent of business leaders said their experiences during the past year made them much more comfortable with doing their company’s banking online. Eighty-six percent of business leaders said they feel confident using video conferencing tools to speak with their banker or banking team, and 70% said they feel confident performing banking activities via a chat function with a live banker on the other end.

Additionally, the survey results showed an increased expectation among consumers that banks will use artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to anticipate their financial needs moving forward. Fifty-three percent of consumers said they believe technological advances will allow banks to leverage data and AI to help better anticipate their future needs, up from 49% in 2020.

Banks as a partner

Consumers and business leaders increasingly view their banks as partners, the survey found, showing banks’ ability to provide a seamless omnichannel experience while continuing to offer sophisticated advice will enable them to build on and deepen relationships with customers.

More than 80% of business leaders said their bank supported them through the COVID-19 crisis, and nearly as many viewed their bankers as strategic and financial partners. Nearly seven in 10 consumers said they trust their bank to do the right thing by them when making financial decisions, while 60% said they are comfortable sharing their financial goals with their bank.

Sixty-five percent of consumers and 82% of businesses said they are at least somewhat comfortable sharing information with banks, as long as it leads to more tailored solutions and a better experience. Those percentages increased year over year from 60% and 71%, respectively.

“Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen how customers depend on their banks to be there for them and provide strategic advice,” Johnson said. “Listening to our customers’ needs in order to provide innovative solutions, services and experiences with personalized insights is key as we continue to move forward together.”


The Citizens Banking Experience Survey was conducted by Mintel/Comperemedia and polled 1,028 consumers and 260 business leaders between Oct. 22 and Nov. 4 using an email invitation and an online survey.

Results of any sample are subject to sampling variation. The magnitude of the variation is measurable and is affected by the number of interviews and the level of the percentages expressing the results. For the interviews conducted in the consumer sample of this study, the chances are 95 in 100 that a survey result does not vary, plus or minus, by more than 3 percentage points from the result that would be obtained if interviews had been conducted with all persons in the universe represented by the sample, Citizens said.

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