Three Months Later: The Growing Impact Of COVID-19 On Banks And Customers

The emergence of the coronavirus health crisis has negatively impacted financial institutions’ ability to help their customers. Consumers are beginning to complain loudly and are not afraid to publicly air their complaints.

Using the PositivityTech intelligent platform, we explored Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) complaints submitted since March 10th and found that approximately 7% of complaints are COVID-19 related. While small in number, the issues featured in their complaints are distinct from non-COVID-19 related complaints, and will continue to grow.

The CFPB’s COVID-19-related complaints are gaining attention because they highlight critical issues in our financial institutions, as seen in this recent Consumer Reports letter to Citi about their rise in customer complaints. Systemic issues that are cause for concern — and plague many banks — include:

More people are submitting narrative complaints

While personally identifiable information is masked by the CFPB, customers typically do not agree to have their complaints publicized. However, the number of published narratives has more than doubled since March 10th, revealing a behavioral shift. People are more frustrated and are now actively sharing their complaints.

  • 12% of complaints included written narratives before the pandemic.
  • 31% of complaints included written narratives since the pandemic began.

COVID-19 related complaints are different from those that are not related to the pandemic

Utilizing our proprietary analytic methodologies with the PositivityTech platform, we explored COVID-19-related complaints and compared them to non-COVID-19-related complaints, and found that the top 10 complaints for each group were very different.

  • While 70% of complaints share issues with credit bureau reporting, customers impacted by the pandemic are struggling to make payments — particularly their mortgage payments, which represent half of those complaints.

Negative interactions with financial institutions

While customers have continued to exhibit trust in their banks, turning to them for support in times of crisis, their takeaways have been disappointing.

1. Banks do not appear to have contingency plans in place

Like many of our institutions, financial institutions are overwhelmed. During the pandemic, they are managing deferred loan repayments, the allocation of Paycheck Protection Program loans, and the pandemic’s financial impact on customers. Meanwhile, customers have complained about banks’ lack of preparedness, sharing that their banks were not ready to meet a global crisis. One customer complaint captures this prevalent feeling:

I have contacted X in regards to applying for a two interest payment adjustment and for a deferment on the monthly payments. An associate advised that the bank has no plan in place. I live in the state of New York and we are deeply affected by COVID-19. This is unacceptable and X should have a contingent plan in place for such a catastrophe.

2. Approved payment deferrals that are not being recognized by credit bureaus will lead to greater problems

Even when a financial institution agrees to a delayed payment, customers complain that their credit reports are adversely affected, resulting in delinquencies and/or lower credit scores. These issues can drive negative scrutiny.

  • 20% of complaints about incorrect information came from COVID-19-related complaints that revealed:
    • A drop in their credit score even after requesting forbearance
    • Negative remarks on their credit reports

One customer shared:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was adversely affected financially and contacted X, who agreed to a 3-month deferral of payments and would not report that my account was delinquent or charge a late fee. Notwithstanding the agreement, X reported to all credit bureau agencies that my account was in violation of the agreement.

3. Dynamic state policies drive cancellations and refund issues

New laws and guidance that are created “on the fly” differ by state, resulting in customer frustrations about refunds. These types of transactions are expected to increase as each state deals with its infection rates separately.

I used my X credit card to purchase two tickets to a concert. The concert was cancelled due to COVID-19. X said that the concert is not cancelled, but postponed so they won’t refund the ticket plus fees. I contested the charges posted on my statement due to “service not rendered.” I received a letter from the bank denying the reversal of charges, stating that they are not responsible for misrepresentation of merchants who I chose to do business with. Is this not the definition of “service not rendered”? The bank says, “This is not a bank issue.”

4. Customers believe financial institutions are using predatory lending practices

COVID-19-related customer complaints share perceptions that banks are taking advantage of customers — and these complaints may eventually find their way to regulating bodies. One customer wrote:

I contacted the company stating that I’ve been laid off because of the pandemic. I’m having a hard time paying any bill. They reported negative remarks on the credit report. I told them that payments cannot be made if income is not coming in until the pandemic is over. They stated whatever money to send in with a high interest rate on a daily basis. At this rate, I’ll owe 3x the amount on loan. [This is] predatory lending.

5. Those who are ill believe they are victims of bias

Customers state that some financial institutions use screening procedures to keep track of consumer expenses and then suspend their services illegally. In order to avoid this misrepresentation, banks must practice greater transparency and improve their communications about their risk mitigation strategy. These types of complaints are high-risk and can result in negative attention. Here is one such complaint:

At the beginning of COVID-19, I received an email from X, simply stating that they closed my credit card account. I wrote to them saying that I did not want my account closed, that I had guarded that credit card carefully and kept it only for emergencies… I had no balance on that card… Now I do not have that safety net… My credit score at the time was approximately 800. There was absolutely no justification or cause. They apparently profiled me and somehow learned I was sick… which is in violation of some disabilities law.

With the PositivityTech platform, we are able to identify, understand, and predict systemic issues that financial institutions are facing during this global crisis, and create strategies to prevent these issues in the future. If you are interested in exploring the pandemic’s impact on your financial institution’s customers, please contact me at marcia.tal@positivitytech.com.

Negative input can have a positive impact, and ultimately, strengthen our institutions.