business man with hands up in a I don't know gesture (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Even before the lockdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, consumers were hankeringfor more ways to gain access to their financial services providers and accounts viamobile apps, online tools, telephone and branch access.

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So says a new survey from Hearts & Wallets, which alsosays that retirement planning is gaining in importance to consumers since just last year—with thepercentage of those focusing on it rising from 2019's 35 percent anadditional two percentage points in a single year.

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To determine which firms are doing better than others, surveyrespondents were asked to rank their financial services providerson 27 key attributes for 5 key service dimensions and 3 pricingdimensions, and the results on pricing, at least, don't show userperception of value all that high for anyone—with consumers "moreconfused about pricing than in former years, with [o]nly 25 percentof customers hav[ing] a good understanding of how their providersearn money," according to the report.

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It adds that in 31 percent of "primary and secondary firmrelationships, the customer does not know how they pay for savingand investing services, up 3 percentage points in one year.Underscoring the struggle with pricing, there are no top performerfirms in the perception of value dimensions this year."

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Oh, and incidentally, just because consumers are looking formultiple channels of access doesn't mean that they're willing toforego in-person and telephone contact—a fact that was highlightedby the pandemic and market crash.

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"Omnichannel access has been growing in importance, even beforethe spike in COVID-19-related calls," Laura Varas, CEO and founderof Hearts & Wallets, is quoted saying in the report. Varasadded, "Mobile apps are an additional channel, rather than asubstitute for phone or branch accessibility, and offering multipleways to connect is even more important during this time of crisiswhen consumers seek reassurance."

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Firms might want to reconsider before they start shutting downlocal branches, too; says the report, "Of the … 26 percent ofhouseholds nationally who consider mobile apps very important, … 63percent also place high importance on local branches. Apps do notdisplace human interactions, as … 91 percent of consumers who placehigh importance on mobile apps also say being 'easily reachable bytelephone' is very important."

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And advisors, take note: Women have higher expectations than menacross all 27 attributes, including an 11-percentage pointdifference for "easily reachable by telephone," cited by 55 percentof women compared with 47 percent of men.

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Marlene Satter

Marlene Y. Satter has worked in and written about the financial industry for decades.