By Natalie Crain
CUNA Mutual Group, Vice President for Consumer and Market
As I sit on my porch enjoying some sunshine this afternoon, I would normally say “what a wonderful day, and all is well in the world.” But when I face the reality of the impacts of COVID-19, myself in isolation, it does not feel like a wonderful day. I worry about my aging parents; I wonder about my grandparents and the risks they face just going to the grocery store; and I think about the uncertainty I am living with every day.
As I process the many emotions that surface through this pandemic, I know I am not the only one doing so. The consumers we serve, our credit union members, are also experiencing this flood of emotions.
They think of family and friends and hope they stay healthy. They might feel a sense of guilt if they are still able to work remotely, while their neighbor is furloughed, or had their job eliminated.
They might worry about their favorite restaurant down the street or many other small business owners that they love and depend on. Small business owners and those who were thriving in the gig economy wonder if it’s all now come to a harrowing halt.
Although many are feeling a large amount of stress and anxiety, there is also a sense of collective experience – that we’re all in this together. As we grapple with the ever-changing nature of the pandemic and the roller-coaster of information, it’s important that we pause and do our best to understand how consumer sentiment is also evolving. Doing so will help us best serve the members who need us more now than ever.
Based on recent data, here’s what we know about consumer sentiment today.
- Stress: Prior to the pandemic, middle-income consumers were already financially stretched and feeling emotionally stretched as well. Now, stress is amplified with the uncertainty of the crisis. Consider these latest figures:
- As of mid-March, over 80 percent of Americans were feeling stressed financially. Ninety percent were concerned the pandemic will hurt their personal financial situation.
- A similar number (92 percent) were concerned COVID-19 will spread in their community. This number increased rapidly during the early weeks of the pandemic.
- Women are more likely than men to feel anxious, worry about friends and family, and be concerned about the health of their family.
Based on this data, ask yourself: What can your CU do to help your members reduce their stress during this time? What tools and resources can you provide? Do your members have access to staff to answer questions?
- Disparate impact: We know existing disparities are amplified by this crisis and communities of color are disproportionately suffering, both in terms of health and financial impact.
- Hispanics and African Americans are more likely than other segments of the U.S. population to be essential workers who must directly fight the effects of the pandemic. More African Americans and Hispanics view the virus as a threat to their own personal health, with more of these two groups using protective items such as face masks and gloves.
- Approximately half of Hispanics say they or someone in their household has taken a pay cut or lost a job – or both – because of the COVID-19 outbreak, compared with 33 percent of all U.S. adults. This is due in part to their overrepresentation in occupations that have seen cuts.
Based on this data, pause ask yourself: Who is benefiting and who is burdened by the decisions we make during this time? How can we provide solutions to those who are most impacted?
- Long-term impact: Consumers are not only feeling short term impacts, but they are also concerned about the long term. In fact, a majority (56 percent) of consumers believe the crisis will have a long-term negative effect on the quality of their lives.
Based on this data, ask yourself: How can you continually be there for members and provide tools and resources as the environment continues to evolve?
- Mental health: For some people, this change has taken a psychological and physical toll. Nearly one-in-five U.S. adults (18 percent) say they have had a physical reaction and that COVID-19 could lead to an epidemic of clinical depression. Younger consumers are more concerned about loneliness and their mental health.
Based on this data, ask yourself: How are you connecting those you serve with resources? Do your own employees have the resources they need?
Optimism Shines Through
In the midst of uncertainty, 66 percent of consumers say they are optimistic, confident, and resilient. Despite their struggles and stresses, they approach life with optimism. Even when times are tough, they are grateful and hopeful.
A conversation CUNA Mutual Group held in its TruStage Online Customer Community in late 2019 reinforced this sentiment. When members talk about their relationship with their credit union, members believe credit unions care for them as individuals and offer support in both good and bad times.
Consumers expect credit unions and other companies to be by their side, ensuring transparency about available support and solutions. Being there for your members starts by demonstrating an understanding of their situation and how they are feeling, and then delivering an empathic experience that provides comfort, confidence and security to ease their stress, making it easier for them to make good decisions, and by being a go-to resource that helps reinforce optimism for the future.