Many Americans to adopt digital banking post-pandemic, survey finds

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In a Nutshell

COVID-19 has helped accelerate the trend toward digital banking. Using online tools can help consumers feel more in control and even save more, but some still remain unconvinced.

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More and more people have been using online tools or mobile apps to manage their finances, and COVID-19 restrictions have helped accelerate that trend.

A Credit Karma/Qualtrics survey indicates that a whopping 71% of Americans already used online or mobile banking prior to the pandemic. Now COVID-19 restrictions seem to have pushed that total to 87%. Although some folks from our survey plan to go back to in-person banking eventually, more plan to continue using digital banking tools even when things are more normal again.

That could be because these tools have helped people get a better handle on their personal finances, the survey shows. (Learn about our methodology.)

Read on to get the full results of the survey and a list of tips and tricks to help with the transition to digital banking. 

Key survey findings

51% of respondents who have preferred online and mobile banking since the start of the pandemic say they don’t plan on returning to in-person banking.
A little less than a third of respondents (29%) said they preferred in-person banking before the pandemic. Over half (55%) of these respondents say they’ve become more open-minded about digital banking, and roughly a third of them (30%) plan to stick with digital banking even after COVID-19 restrictions end.
Among respondents who say they’ve preferred digital banking since the start of the pandemic, 70% believe that online or mobile tools have helped them understand their finances better — and 57% believe that digital tools have helped them save money.
But even for those who say they’ve grown to prefer online banking since the start of the pandemic (87% of respondents), there are still some (49%) who plan to return to in-person banking. For this group, there are a few key reasons: They find that banking is simply easier to understand in-person (31%), they find online and app-based banking too difficult to use (28%), and in-person banking makes them feel more comfortable and assured (24%).

COVID-19 has increased acceptance of digital banking among Americans

Even before the pandemic began, almost three-quarters of Americans from our survey preferred online banking. With the restrictions, that percentage rose to 87%. And our survey shows that 55% of respondents who were staunch in-person bankers before the pandemic have become more open-minded about digital banking.

This shift has long-term consequences: Of those who did their banking in-branch before the coronavirus, 30% say they plan on sticking with digital banking even after restrictions have lifted. Social distancing forced people to try new methods, and the ease of digital banking seems to have converted some resistant consumers.

The top reasons for preferring digital banking since the pandemic include …

  • 54% like the convenience of having easy access to their bank accounts
  • 49% prefer to bank without having to interact with anyone
  • 26% find that the financial tools online or in apps are useful
  • 18% said the ease of switching played a role

Online tools and mobile apps have helped empower consumers

Of the 87% of users who prefer digital banking since COVID-19 began, 70% said that online or mobile tools have helped them understand their finances better. More than half (57%) of that same group indicated that digital tools have helped them save money.

Personal finance has traditionally been an opaque topic for Americans. Just look at the massive industry that developed solely to guide people — from CPAs and CFPs to financial planners, investment advisers and personal finance celebrities. Digital platforms and tools have been disrupting that paradigm and empowering consumers to take control of their own finances.

Growing familiarity with online tools may be making people more comfortable with applying for new financial products via an app or website. Our survey revealed that the preferred method for applying for financial products in 2020 was digital, and more often than not people plan to continue applying for financial products digitally in 2021.

This could also be a good thing for consumers. Applying for financial products online instead of in-person can help people adhere to CDC guidelines in place during the pandemic. And under more-normal circumstances, online shopping can make it easier to comparison shop quickly from your home. Knowing what’s out there means people are more likely to find the best deals for them. 

Despite the move toward digital, some people can’t wait to get back to in-person banking

Even though there’s an undeniable trend toward online and mobile banking, nearly half (49%) of respondents from our survey who have grown to prefer in-person banking since the pandemic began said they’ll return to in-person banking after restrictions lift.

Among the reasons cited by the people who plan to go back to in-person banking post-pandemic, the most popular were …

  • 31% feel that it’s easier to do their banking in-person
  • 28% feel that digital banking tools are difficult to navigate or use
  • 24% prefer to discuss their finances with someone at the branch because it makes them feel more comfortable that all the transactions were done correctly
  • 17% feel that it’s safer to complete their transactions in-person

In fact, 13% of survey takers are still going to physical bank branches regularly, despite the ongoing pandemic. The top factors that kept this group from adopting digital banking include the following:

  • 49% prefer to talk to a live person
  • 40% have data privacy fears
  • 39% just don’t like using computers or mobile phones to manage their finances
  • 25% don’t trust online banks

Interestingly, only 9% of people in the never-digital group said that a lack of computer literacy influences their choice to stick with in-person banking.  And the highest levels of trepidation were found in 18 to 34-year-olds (14%).

Only 6% of the 55+ cohort said that confusion over the websites or apps have prevented them from switching.

It’s impossible to say with certainty why this is, but it’s possible that the youngest group has two knowledge hurdles to overcome: financial and computer literacy. For people who are already unsure about how to manage their finances, having to learn to navigate a new system may be just too much. Older groups may benefit from having more experience with their personal finances.


Tips for getting the most out of digital banking

If you haven’t yet, it might be time to look into using mobile or online financial tools. Using these kinds of tools can help you get a better grip on your financial state, which can help you feel more in control and able to plan.

First things first: Get set up with your bank’s online portal or mobile app. Then consider other types of digital financial tools that can help you with investing, monitoring your credit scores and reports, budgeting, saving and managing your debt. 

Seek out resources to help you feel confident about digital banking

If you’re not feeling confident using online tools, here are some strategies to help.

  • Ask a tech-savvy friend or family member to explore the tool with you.
  • Check YouTube for how-to videos.
  • Many tools have an orientation process. Do the whole thing, and then use the app or site’s help center (FAQs and contact form) to supplement. 

Collect your information in one place

Lots of tools means lots of information. Find a way to collect all that information in one place so that you can view it all at once. This should help you keep track of every tool you’re using and what it’s helping you manage — whether it’s budgeting, investing, saving or another aspect of your personal finance. This can be especially helpful if you’re coordinating finances with another person. It can help you both get on the same page, literally.

Here are some ideas for compiling all your information.

  • Sharing a spreadsheet in the cloud, like Google Sheets or Airtable. This option is especially helpful if multiple people need to be able to access the info.
  • Using a computer-based spreadsheet in a program like Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers.
  • Tried-and-true, putting pen to paper.

Knowing where you’re at is the first step in getting where you want to be — especially if you’re planning to make a big-ticket purchase in 2021.


Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative online survey in November 2020 among 1,030 American adults to understand trends in digital banking.


About the author: Gaby Lapera is a content strategist at Credit Karma and a personal finance expert. Besides writing, Gaby spends a lot of time drinking tea, investing, and learning about biological anthr… Read more.