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COVID-19 Messaging Guidelines for Financial Services Firms

Barely a week has passed since brands and companies of every size have altered the way in which they interact with consumers. Local gyms and restaurants, mom and pop drycleaners, municipal governments, big brands like Southwest, Costco, Starbucks, and Citibank – are all sending messages to their consumers about their respective responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.  

Although the evidence is anecdotal at this point, consumers may already be experiencing some fatigue from this first wave of messages from marketers. While it’s certainly important that companies and institutions continue to take steps to ensure their employees are safe, and take action in their communities, the messaging around those actions needs to be relevant to the consumer, particularly as more and more brands are circulating similar sounding messages. Currently, the theme is focusing on customer relevance, while continuing to be fast and nimble in light of a rapidly changing situation.

Financial services firms, particularly wealth management and insurance companies, should consider the following five areas of communication relevance in messaging outreach to current customers and clients:

1. Contactless Experiences

Given that local branches/locations may be closed, or have limited hours, over the next several weeks (or longer), provide reminders about:

  • Website and mobile app for fast self-service
  • Drive-thru services for drive-thru transactions only
  • Telephone communication with customer service centers and/or advisors. Consider additional messaging about the potential for longer hold times as call volumes typically increase during market volatility. Potentially offer alternatives like online chat.
  • If available, offer video conferencing calls to replace previously scheduled in-person meetings

2. Market Volatility

Provide ongoing perspective on the market and economic conditions, as well as the strategies investors should consider. Ideally, include guidance for specific segments, such as clients who are near retirement or currently living in retirement. Provide this guidance in multiple formats (online video, articles, podcasts, live webinars), over multiple channels.

3. Operational Preparedness

Reinforce that your company is operationally prepared to handle all customer transactions and questions in a timely manner.

4. Tax Season Forms and Information

Provide updated information about the deadline extensions due to the COVID-19 outbreak. As of the date of this writing, the IRS is allowing a 90-day extension without penalty or interest (up to $1 million) for individual returns. As always, ensure that customers are aware of the channels through which they can access their tax forms.

5. Promoting Health and Safety

Ongoing messages about taking appropriate measures to ensure the health and safety of customers and employees.

Also, reinforcing your firm’s core values in your messages can provide context for your customers and help lower their anxiety. For example, introducing your Covid-19 message with statements like, “For over 60 years, we’ve always lived by our core values of acting in the best interest of our clients…” can help link your guidelines or news to something more stable and enduring – your firm. In other words, the actions and guidelines simply reinforce what your firm has always done: serve customers, associates, and communities.

For additional suggestions, please review Merkle’s Coronavirus Marketing Guidelines. We’ll be providing ongoing updates as events continue to unfold.