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February 11, 2021

5 min read

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While digital has proven a communication lifesaver in recent months for brands and consumers alike, its overuse has been shown to erode customer trust, as Canada’s financial institutions are finding out. Now is the time for them to fill this void and bridge the divide that is leaving some customers feeling disconnected.

Digital communication is a vital part of the banking experience today: Consumers expect their FIs to offer comprehensive digital tools, and in recent months, they’ve relied heavily on those tools to continue accessing important financial services. Thirty-five percent of Canadians[1] and 40 percent of Americans[2] are using online and mobile banking apps more now than they were pre-Covid.

Digital is a critical enabler for facilitating consumers’ transactional needs. But it tends to come up short where more emotional relationship-building is concerned—which is why it’s meant to work in conjunction with other channels. When it comes to managing money and making important financial decisions, 55 percent of Canadian consumers prefer in-person interaction when a conversation is needed.[3] Relying solely on digital to meet the entire spectrum of financial-communication needs—as more of us have had to do over the past year—comes at a cost: Research from Accenture finds that only 34 percent of Canadians trust big banks “a lot” to look after their long-term financial well-being—down from 47 percent just two years ago.

[1] J.D. Power

[2] Deep Accounts

[3] Celent

It’s time for financial institutions to combat this digital fatigue with non-digital solutions that provide ways to safely connect with consumers in-person. FIs need to reclaim this lost trust and ensure Canadians feel well-served. Because the fact is that consumers need financial expertise now more than ever.

Do the math: Empower consumers through hands-on tools for budgeting and reducing debt

Canadians’ top-two financial goals for 2021 are, not surprisingly, paying down debt, and “keeping up with bills and getting by”.[1] So why not help them do that with physical, interactive booklets that provide straightforward support for tracking money? Printed communication continues to be a powerful means of engagement, with 53 percent of people more likely to read paper-based mail than email, and brand recall 10 percent higher with direct email than with a purely digital campaign.[2]  

Think, for instance, Budgeting Made Simple—a back-to-basics money management direct mail piece that guides consumers on how to build a budget. Through unintimidating tips, tables and provided formulas, recipients can calculate money spent and saved; track expenses; measure progress; and ultimately create a physical reminder of financial goals that also facilitates more in-depth conversations with a financial advisor. The hands-on approach, rather than another app, would empower consumers in the face of uncertainty to take control, with the bank guiding them on that journey.

The companion booklet—Driving Down Debt—offers user-friendly instructions for helping consumers not only identify their debts, but better control each one by breaking it down into more manageable steps, spread out over a few days so as not to overwhelm.

  • Total debt
  • Minimum monthly payment
  • Interest rate
  • Payment timeframe
  • Payment strategy
  • Debt prioritization


[1] CIBC

[2] Canada Post

The result is an itemized guide that makes finances less overwhelming, and doubles as an educational activity perfect for making better use of more time spent at home.

From react to refresh: Evolve in-branch communications to ensure they’re on-brand and support current customer needs

When the pandemic hit in 2020, communication and branding tended to take a back seat to safety.


Now, consumers still need to feel safe—but they’re also craving more human connectivity. To support that need for connection banks need to reinforce the message that the bank is a safe environment. They need to follow up with in-branch communication that emphasizes that commitment to safety and customer experience. That means fresh in-branch messaging, wayfinding signage, and distancing decals (no signs in MS Word and bits of tape resin on the floor). It means clearly communicated health and safety protocols, and readily accessible, well-marked PPE.


It also means rethinking the approach to customer consultation: Rather than focus on products and services that a bank provides, let consumer concerns take the lead by speaking to them about the questions that they seek answers to.

FIs need to reassess branch functionality. For example, adapt areas to allow for safe, side-by-side conversation. Make boardrooms more modular to enable several concurrent, one-on-one meetings. Offer video conferencing to support more inclusive conversations with family members or subject matter experts such as legal counsel, executors, or even translators.

Teach and reward: Increase opportunities for financial literacy, greater connectivity, and enhanced access to products and services

In the geographic areas where population density is high, seek out unused spaces to facilitate these interactions. Through partnerships with hotels, conference centres and banquet halls, banks can offer financial literacy events that safely accommodate larger numbers of attendees while giving local companies much-needed business.

Imagine large, spacious venues. Crisp audio and video. People coming together for grassroots dialogue. Connected in one room but still safely distanced.

At the same time, through institutionally accredited courses (Paying off Debt; Saving for Education; Budgeting for a Home Reno), FIs could offer customers the chance to improve their financial literacy while gaining product-based rewards. Successful graduates, having shown dedication and discipline, could be eligible for a line of credit at a reduced rate, or a credit card that offers extra loyalty incentives. We reward young drivers who engage in driver education courses prior to getting their license, with improved insurance rates. Why can’t the concept be applied to the financial space?

Technology is empowering—but it can also feel disconnecting. That’s certainly been the case for many of us following months of forced video calls and food delivery. In this climate, there’s something reassuring about picking up a pen, drafting a list, and crunching some numbers.

That’s not to say we want to scrap automation and resign ourselves to manual spreadsheets and data entry. But organizations across all sectors, financial services included, need to keep in mind the role that more traditional, hands-on, face-to-face communication plays in building customer relationships—and keeping them.