If you work in financial services, you know that one of your most important tasks is to understand your customers’ financial lives and guide them to true financial strength. Companies that do this well — and make sure their customers know they do it well — tend to reap long-term user loyalty that results in long-term growth.

It helps, of course, to have a clear sense of the money habits of consumers generally. To understand these habits, we surveyed 1,000 random U.S. consumers about their financial habits in January 2020 and then again in January 2021.

Perhaps the most surprising result is how consistent these numbers remained year to year. It turns out that people’s views and habits around money didn’t shift dramatically despite a global pandemic and widespread unemployment. 

By understanding these survey results, you can start to plan for what will most help your customers in 2021. 

Here are three key insights from our survey, with more to follow here on MoneySummit from MX.

1. People turn to their financial institution for financial guidance

Half of consumers (48%) say they use an app from their bank or credit union to help them manage their finances — well ahead of pen and paper (39%) and a digital spreadsheet (35%). One insight that’s notable here, however, is that each of these ways of managing money saw a decrease from 2020 to 2021 — and the percentage who use an independent financial management app crept up slightly. Time will tell if this trend continues, but it’s certainly something worth noting. 

Consider: What you provide for you customers when it comes to financial guidance? Are your customers turning to you for help on this front, or are they turning to your competitors?

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2. People are split on whether their primary financial institution actually helps them financially

When it comes to whether financial institutions are improving their customers’ financial strength, 46% of consumers say they help at least a little bit. Taken together, this means there is plenty of room for improvement in traditional financial services since 54% of consumers say their financial institution doesn’t help at all.

Whether or not all of this is true in practice, the fact that this is the perception of consumers is critical information for financial institutions to keep in mind. If you offer financial guidance but your customers aren’t aware of it, your brand benefits little from your services. 

When only 10% of customers say their primary financial institution truly helps them become financially strong, there’s a strong chance a non-traditional company can swoop and meet this need — deservedly winning customers along the way.

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3. People started saving more in 2021

Nearly half (48%) of consumers say that they save at least 10% of their income every month. Of all the survey results we gathered in this round, these results changed the most from 2020 to 2021, with far more people saying they save over 20% of their income — perhaps out of worry for what the future holds. 

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What are you doing for these customers?

One idea worth considering is an automated “slide to save” product that nudges customers on track bit by bit toward true financial strength. To illustrate: at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, BECU identified a segment of its members who did not have automatic savings set up and likely needed help finding ways to save money. To address this, BECU implemented a Quick Save feature in their mobile app, which allows members to easily transfer funds to their savings account by using the 'slide to save' panel on their dashboard. By making the act of saving as simple as a swipe, BECU helped their members build a savings habit. To date, Quick Save has helped members transfer more than $1.5 million into savings accounts. 

By offering financial guidance to your customers you help ensure they develop healthy habits through 2021.

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To see what you can do on this front, check out ways to connect to the data you need. The first step to advocacy is having access and transparency — features that hinge on you having access to essential data.