4 minute read 8 Mar 2020
businesswoman working at desk with credit card

Four ways COVID-19 is reshaping consumer banking behavior

By Jan Bellens

EY Global Banking & Capital Markets Sector Leader

Passionate leader on innovation in financial services, especially in emerging markets. Global citizen. Keen traveler.

4 minute read 8 Mar 2020

In the recent EY Future Consumer Index, we track how the pandemic is changing consumer behavior toward banking. 

COVID-19 has radically impacted consumer behavior world-wide. Banks are questioning if these changes will last once the global lockdowns end and the pandemic dissipates.

Before the pandemic, consumer expectations were changing, and through digital and technology transformation programs, banks were shifting the way they delivered products and services to consumers.

To fully understand the impact of the pandemic on consumer sentiment and behavior, we created the EY Future Consumer Index to help business leaders see emerging trends and understand which are temporary, and which will lead to more fundamental shifts.

Based on the responses and the Index results, we see four ways consumer banking behavior is changing in response to COVID-19.

1. The way people bank has changed, but it might not (yet) be permanent

Forty-three percent of respondents say the way they bank has changed due to COVID-19. This is perhaps unsurprising since lockdowns have limited the choice of physical channels, with around two-thirds saying they are visiting physical stores less. Based on announcements from more than 250 banks across 50 markets, since January, we saw closures or access restrictions to branches as one of the first measures banks took as the cascade of countries worldwide began lockdowns. However, banks should be cautious in seeing this catalyst to digital channel adoption as permanent.

Only 24% of respondents expect banks to operate more digitally in the next 12-24 months, and just 16% of respondents stated the way they bank will change over the longer term because of COVID-19.

It seems you can’t assume customers won’t revert to their previous channel preferences. If you want behaviors to stick, even in the current environment, it will be necessary to invest in marketing, to build awareness of the options open to customers, to share the successful experiences of new digital customers, as well as to support vulnerable customers or those that still do not feel at ease using digital channels.

2. The end of cash has never been closer

Use of cash has been in decline for some time, but COVID-19 has certainly hastened its decline. With many companies closing their brick and mortar channels, consumers are going online to buy essentials. At the same time, concerns have been raised about whether physical cash could spread the coronavirus. This has contributed to a 57% fall in cash usage among respondents, alongside a rise in payments using credit cards (7% net), debit cards (10% net) and online payment tools (14% net). Where people are still purchasing from physical stores, contactless appears to be the preferred payment option (up 34% net). Furthermore, twenty percent of respondents expect to be using less cash and more contactless payments over the next couple of years.

3. Responsible banking is more important than ever

For all banks, behaving ethically and doing the right thing will be important to consumers’ purchasing decisions. More than half of the respondents indicate that their future purchasing decisions will be impacted by banks actively supporting the community, being transparent in all they do, and ensuring they are doing good for society. Conversely, 44% say purchasing decisions will be negatively impacted where they see banks focusing on maximizing profits during this time.

Banks are on the front line, supporting their customers through the crisis, both in their role transmitting government stimulus measures, offering forbearance and emergency funding to clients and donating to relief efforts. Banks must remain acutely aware of the reputational risk they face where customers feel they don’t get the support they need.

Trust in financial services


Percentage of respondents who say they trust the activities of financial institutions in a time of crisis.

It has never been more important to ensure the right processes are in place, and communication with customers and stakeholders including government and regulatory authorities are clear and consistent.

4. Customers will want greater flexibility and security

The current pandemic crisis is a great financial shock for many. Recovering from this crisis will require relying on extended support and flexibility from banks to help customers get back on their feet.

Flexibility in banking


Percentage of consumers who agree that banks will be more flexible in the next 1-2 years.

At the same time, while some people may see the crisis as a once in a lifetime risk – others are likely to be more mindful of other ‘black swans’. Twenty-six percent of respondents expect to invest more in being prepared for the future. Banks will have a role in helping customers become better prepared, through savings, investments, insurance and income smoothing products. In fact, this crisis may accelerate the adoption of some subscription- based models for financial services, with a quarter of individuals saying they would be willing to pay a premium for products that promote well-being, the link between health and wealth may emerge stronger than ever.

These four points suggest that those with a mantra of customer centricity and responsible banking are likely to emerge as strong as ever.


By focusing on responsible banking and customer centricity, banks can emerge stronger than before the pandemic.

About this article

By Jan Bellens

EY Global Banking & Capital Markets Sector Leader

Passionate leader on innovation in financial services, especially in emerging markets. Global citizen. Keen traveler.