Consumers anxious about virus want reassurance from banks: J.D. Power

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U.S. consumers have grown increasingly concerned that the novel coronavirus will affect their personal finances, and many banks are failing to explain how exactly they will help, J.D. Power said Tuesday.

According to a survey the firm conducted on Saturday, 83% of consumers are now “somewhat” or “very” concerned that the virus will harm their finances, up from 68% two weeks ago. But just a third of survey respondents said that they had heard from their bank and found those communications helpful, J.D. Power said.

J.D. Power survey of customer questions about coronavirus

“This is a moment of truth for the industry to step up communication and start showing tangible concern,” said Bob Neuhaus, vice president of global financial services at J.D. Power. “It goes way beyond the standard email most companies are sending out. It has to be more tangible in terms of what customers can and should be doing.”

Read more: Complete coverage of the coronavirus impact

According to J.D. Power’s survey, 13% of respondents said they had heard from their bank but did not find it helpful. A quarter of respondents had not heard from their bank about the virus but would like to. Those communications could, for example, include information about whether banks will waive fees or assistance with setting up online or mobile banking, Neuhaus said.

The option to waive fees topped the list of information consumers said they would like to receive from their bank or credit card issuer at this time. Survey respondents also said they would like to know what their banks are doing to prevent service disruptions, as well as what banks are doing to protect customers’ and employees’ health in branches.

Some banks have already said they will work with consumers and small businesses on an individual basis. Some have also closed branches or limited access to them in order to help slow the spread of the disease.

J.D. Power surveyed consumers at the end of February about how the virus could affect their personal finances, but conducted that survey again on March 14 to gauge how attitudes had changed. Just over half of respondents who were at least somewhat concerned said they expected their financial situation to worsen for one to five months, up from 40% who said as much two weeks earlier.

The U.S. saw its first case of the coronavirus in late January, but had reported 4,226 cases, including 75 deaths, as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Greater numbers of consumers also said they planned to change certain financial behaviors because of the coronavirus.

Forty-eight percent said they expect to spend less, up from 32% in the last survey. A little more than a third said they would put off major purchases, while 28% said they would save more money. Two weeks ago, 38% of respondents said they planned to make no changes to their financial behaviors because of the virus, but that had dropped to 20% in the follow-up.

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