SYKES is now part of Sitel Group®. Visit www.sitel.com for more information.

Survey Report

How Have Americans’ Banking Habits Shifted During the Pandemic?

In our latest survey, we looked at how Americans are spending and saving, their opinions on in-person vs. mobile banking, and which personal finance trends are gaining momentum — or fading — in 2021.


In a time that has led many Americans to reassess their spending and saving habits, retail banking has gone through considerable change to meet the evolving needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many banking customers have increasingly opted for mobile banking services, others have continued to visit their local branches to deposit money, open accounts, and meet other banking needs.

Using Pollfish, we surveyed 1,800 American adults to discover how their banking habits have changed during the pandemic, what services they prefer and expect from their primary bank, and how newer concepts, like cryptocurrencies and automation, have shifted their perceptions on personal finance.

Mobile Banking Is on the Rise, But In-Person Banking
Is Still a Benefit


As most retail bank locations temporarily closed or altered their normal operations at the start of the pandemic, banking customers were forced in large part to conduct their banking activities remotely — if they were not already doing so. Now that normal operations have mostly resumed, more than half of our respondents said they’ve visited a bank in person in 2021, yet one in 10 stated they had not been inside a bank in years.

While the promotion of mobile banking began well before the pandemic, coronavirus closures led many banks to reevaluate how many retail locations they needed to maintain. A study by S&P Global found that 3,324 bank branches in the U.S. shuttered in 2020 due to the significant shift in bank traffic.

Among our respondents who had not visited a bank branch in the past year, most said they could conduct their banking online, indicating a successful trend in the adoption of mobile banking. This shift is holding steady — another recent report from S&P Global showed that 88% of those who used mobile banking during COVID are likely to continue their habits.

Which of the following was the main reason for your last in-person visit to your bank?

While many banks provide mobile options, most of our respondents visited a bank to make deposits, demonstrating a continued interest in in-person services. S&P Global found that even though branch closures skyrocketed in 2020, more than 1,000 branches were opened, which may reflect a greater need or interest in in-person services in various areas of the country.

A late 2019 Adobe Analytics study found that prior to COVID, 72% of those in Gen Z visited a physical bank once a month or more, citing similar reasons for their visits. Even now, as banking habits have shifted, 57% of the same age group in our study said they’d visited a bank this year, as did 60% of millennials.

Which of the following retail bank benefits is most important to you?

When respondents were asked about the banking benefits that were most valuable to them, 26% said they still looked for the ability to visit a physical branch, making it the top benefit overall. This mirrors earlier findings from the 2019 Adobe study, where all age groups stated that physical branches were a valuable perk.

Looking at the benefits by age group in our survey, those ages 35–44 were most interested in special promotions for mortgages, aligning with the current real estate frenzy, while those ages 18–24 were looking for special promotions on credit cards.

Customer Habits & Perceptions Evolve Amid Digital Transformation

Technology has radically changed the experience of banking, and in the age of COVID-19, options like contactless credit cards and mobile payment apps have become more popular than ever. Toward the beginning of the pandemic, the need for social distancing certainly contributed to consumer preferences, though as time went on, contactless options remained popular, and other concepts, like cryptocurrencies, took off.

Have you used in-person contactless credit cards so far this year?

How often have you used mobile payment apps so far this year?

In a survey we conducted prior to the 2020 holiday season, 47% said they’d be more likely to shop in-store with retailers who provided contactless pay options. Now, 75% of respondents have used in-person contactless credit cards so far this year, showing that consumers continue to appreciate the ability to go contactless.

A whopping 83% also said they’ve used mobile payment apps in the past 12 months. In our September 2020 survey on mobile payment app use during the pandemic, a smaller group — 53% — said they’d used a payment app at least once in the past year, indicating tremendous growth and sustained interest in services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, and more.

If your bank offered complimentary personal finance support video calls with bankers, would this interest you?


Just as medical appointments moved overwhelmingly online to telehealth appointments during the pandemic, some banking customers also received virtual financial advice. Thirty-nine percent said they’d like to receive virtual personal finance support calls if they were available, while 27% said they’ve already tried a service like this at least once.

To ensure that customers feel secure using these virtual services, many banks have instituted procedures like checking photo IDs and using facial recognition software.

In which of the following banking situations would you feel comfortable interacting with a robot or automated system over a human?*


Beyond receiving video calls from their personal bankers, our respondents also appeared to be comfortable with completing banking tasks with the aid of artificial intelligence (AI).

While most indicated they would be okay with using an automated system to transfer money or withdraw funds, a quarter of respondents said they’d even be open to receiving AI-delivered financial advice based on their personal banking habits. This interest in automation aligns closely with our survey findings on the future of work, in which 78% said they believed they could be even more effective in their jobs if they used automation technologies.

Would you consider replacing your primary bank account with cryptocurrency investments?

Cryptocurrencies have made waves over the past year, and many of our surveyed respondents are incorporating these investments into their portfolios. Nearly half reported they would consider replacing their primary bank account with cryptocurrency investments — or were already doing so. A May report from The Ascent found that more than 50 million Americans are likely to purchase cryptocurrencies in the next year, indicating that the rise of crypto is set to continue.

Interest in cryptocurrencies does appear somewhat split among age groups. Just 26% of those ages 54+ would consider (or have already started) replacing their primary accounts with crypto, whereas 63% in the 25–34 age group stated the same.

Saving & Spending Habits Shifted During COVID-19

As we entered an economic crisis during the pandemic, Americans everywhere reconsidered how they were spending — and saving — their funds. Fifty-four percent said they’ve become more serious about their savings goals due to the pandemic, perhaps reflecting job insecurity or reduced expenditures during stay-at-home periods. The trend has been well recognized, as the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis found that the U.S. personal saving rate, which reflects a ratio of personal savings to disposable income, was at a record 32% this past April.

How has the pandemic impacted your approach to saving money?

Have you moved any funds from your primary bank’s savings account into a new, external savings account since the start of the pandemic?*

As they reconsidered their approach to saving, many banking customers looked for the best way to allocate their funds. While a third opted for a high-yield savings account, a quarter of respondents moved their funds into a cryptocurrency wallet, further proving the broader acceptance of Bitcoin and other digital currencies.

Which of the following have you spent more on during the pandemic?

When it came to how our respondents spent their money during COVID, a perhaps unsurprising 53% said they spent more on Amazon purchases than anything else. Fourteen percent said they allocated more funds to food delivery apps, which mirrors findings from our 2020 fintech survey report, where we found that 21% were new users of apps like UberEats and DoorDash because of the pandemic.

Long hours spent at home also led to 10% of respondents spending more on TV subscription services. In our analysis of TV streaming habits in early 2021, we found that 72% had subscribed to a new streaming service in the past year.

Security Is a Chief Concern for Banking Customers in the Digital Age

Amid the rise of digital and mobile banking, many retail banks have suffered from data breaches in the past several months. Most of our respondents are concerned about the threat of a data breach and would consider switching banks if a cybersecurity event occurred. The same thinking applies to those using mobile payment apps, as 69% report they would consider switching services in the event of a breach.

Which of the following data security practices do you follow regarding your mobile payment and mobile banking transactions?*

To protect their mobile payment and banking transactions, nearly all our surveyed respondents said they utilize at least one security feature, such as password protection, activity alerts, and two-factor authentication. Five percent stated they did not follow any of the suggested security practices, indicating there is still room for improvement — and for consumers to remain vigilant.

How Will Retail Banking Habits Continue to Adapt?

Which type of bank do you intend to primarily bank with one year from now?

Are you currently searching for a replacement for your primary bank?

While more than half of respondents aren’t looking to switch banks right now, 47% are looking to switch financial institutions — and 22% of that group are looking for a local community bank.

Larger retail banks may have more robust mobile banking options, though community banks’ account fees are often lower than those associated with retail banks, which, when coupled with more personalized service, could be more appealing to customers.

The Post-COVID Future of Retail Banking

Now that we’ve reached the vaccination phase of the pandemic, consumers will likely continue to adapt their banking habits to suit their preferences and needs. For many, this will mean banking online, but with more than half of our respondents reporting that they’ve visited a physical bank branch in the past six months, in-person banking may also be set to bounce back.

Methodology

Using Pollfish, we surveyed 1,800 American adults in late May 2021. The results represent post-stratified data, which adds survey weighting to age and gender demographics relevant to the census data from polled regions.