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A New Era of Wellbeing for the Banking Industry

A New Era of Wellbeing for the Banking Industry

Story Highlights

  • The coronavirus has affected mental health and disrupted life for many
  • Protect wellbeing during and after the crisis
  • Build a comprehensive strategy for banking employees and customers

When Gallup gathered the CHROs of some of the world's largest regional and global banks for a virtual discussion of their COVID-19 responses, it became quickly apparent that employee and customer wellbeing is a top concern for financial service leaders.

Securing employees' and customers' wellbeing is a moral imperative -- but it's also a smart business strategy. Gallup meta-analyses have found positive relationships between wellbeing, job satisfaction, citizenship at work, turnover rates, performance ratings and other business outcomes.

These data are especially pertinent now when wellbeing is so fragile. Gallup Panel surveys in the U.S. revealed that 30% say their mental health has gotten worse since the pandemic began (though 20% from the same survey in early April say their faith or spirituality has improved). And Americans indicate their mental health is suffering more from social distancing guidelines than their physical or financial health.

In Germany, 22% of workers strongly disagree that their organization cares about their overall wellbeing.

And Gallup Panel surveys conducted in the U.S. on March 13-15 and March 23-29 show that the percentage of full-time employees who say COVID-19 has disrupted their life "a great deal" or "a fair amount" has jumped from 55% to 78% in that time.

How Banks Have Responded to Drops in Wellbeing

Banks are responding to shaky wellbeing in notable ways. Along with the disease containment protocols that many businesses have implemented -- physical barriers, staggered entry to limit group sizes, reduced hours, plenty of hand sanitizer -- some banks have appointed their own Chief Medical Officers, created partnerships with healthcare institutions, hired on-site nurses and instituted wellbeing surveys.

Some have even launched multiweek resilience courses for front-line employees who, bankers say, are especially vulnerable to emotional trauma as well as COVID-19 exposure.

Gallup research shows that thriving in wellbeing amplifies employee engagement, and engaged workers achieve better business outcomes.

Banks are focusing on financial wellbeing, too. Most are beefing up their digital presence and architecture to make banking easier for homebound customers and expanding benefits packages and PTO policies for employees. And most say they'll cut costs any way they can before they start firing people.

Some of these wellbeing measures, like reduced hours, will end when the pandemic does. Some will end if economic necessity requires it, such as expanded benefits. But Gallup expects that many will be permanent because customers and employees will want them to be. And that could create a very new dynamic around wellbeing and customer-employee relationships.

Making Long- and Short-Term Decisions About Wellbeing

First, it's important to understand that this pandemic is an assault on wellbeing -- even for those who are healthy -- and wellbeing is complex. Gallup research indicates that wellbeing is a composite of five different elements that affect each other and the most effective wellbeing strategy is holistic.

That approach can be very influential on people and the P&L sheet. Gallup research shows that thriving in wellbeing amplifies employee engagement, and engaged workers achieve better business outcomes. Engaged customers spend more, too. Retail bank customers who are engaged represent 37% higher revenue. Gallup's financial services industry research shows that the more ways a bank supports a customer's wellbeing, the more business that customer will do with the bank, including trusting their bank with 80% to 100% of their investable assets.

A comprehensive, thoughtful approach to wellbeing that considers employees and customers is, therefore, hugely influential and deeply meaningful. And leaders should understand that some of those initiatives will be permanent. Employees and customers will demand it.

A comprehensive approach to wellbeing works because people like leadership measures that support them emotionally. And banks need the financial benefits right now, considering that as early as 2015, the banking industry had room to improve with a sizable engagement deficit: 30% of customers were satisfied with their banks, and 33.8% were satisfied with the financial services industry as a whole.

So if a financial services firm touts a wellbeing initiative that feels emotionally effective to customers and employees, it's probably financially effective, too, and a smart strategy for recouping customer goodwill.

But there are downstream effects to every wellbeing initiative. Some are beneficial. Some are not.

The Future of Banking Has Changed

Consider those sneeze guards. They make bankers feel safe. Will they make customers feel safe? How long before customers start to feel alienated? What if a nurse's recommendation conflicts with a manager's requirement -- who wins? And how many locations get a nurse? Will the other locations feel less valued? And how about those managers -- what's their role in wellbeing? Which ones will perform that role well? How's a leader to know? Meanwhile, a bank's greatest engagement potential can be found in its branches, but going digital is more cost-effective -- which side should get the wellbeing focus?

Clearly, supporting wellbeing is no simple thing. But it's not impenetrable, either. With decades of expertise in wellbeing, Gallup knows how to measure every last detail of a wellbeing practice to help leaders draw conclusions, make predictions and sharpen decisions.

Typically, banks use an NPS score -- which reflects customers' willingness to say they would recommend the bank -- to gauge their customer relationships, but that's a bank-centric question. Leaders need customer-centric questions, that focus on how customers feel about their financial wellbeing.

Here's the takeaway for leaders: Change your questions, ask a lot of questions and think holistically about wellbeing. Your decisions today will guide employees and customers -- and your business -- to a new, very different world on the other side of this pandemic and economic upheaval. A bank's future in that world depends on a banker's decision now.

Protect the wellbeing of employees and customers during, and beyond, the coronavirus disruptions:


Jeremie Brecheisen is a Partner and Managing Director of the CHRO Roundtable at Gallup.

Jennifer Robison contributed to this article.

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