How Lenders Can Communicate & Implement COVID-19 Payment Relief Programs
March 26, 2020
During this challenging time, financial institutions are caring for customers affected by COVID-19 by proactively providing financial assistance options. Additionally, employees are adjusting to working from home and working with customers to apply these assistance options as the number of hardships increase daily.
In this time of rapid change, clear and concise communication is more important than ever.
Communicating and executing payment relief options to minimize calls, callbacks, and any red tape to approve both the initial payment deferment requests and then any longer-term extension or modification requests is vital. Like our healthcare system, we need to partner with our friends in government and regulatory bodies as well as our peers and customers to bend the curve and not overwhelm the banking system due to decreased agent and team member availability.
Bridgeforce analyzed guidance from the ABA website on treating impacted customers of COVID-19 and compared guidance from Friday March 20th (with 121 banks participating) to Monday March 23rd (with 128 banks participating).
Majority of Banks Publicly Share Assistance Programs (from ABA)
- 53% of participating banks are offering “personalized assistance” to customers impacted by the pandemic and mention broad sweeping forbearance options (fee waivers, loan mods, etc.)
- None mention the criteria to qualify an “impacted customer”
- 11% more banks started encouraging customers to use mobile, online and voice banking (75% on Friday, 86% on Monday)
- 27% of banks are offering to waive fees
- 28% of banks are offering loan modification options for specific products
- 17% of banks are offering deferred payments for specific products
The picture in the UK is broadly similar with all lenders providing customer assistance and forbearance programs for those economically impacted — these range from mortgage payment holidays to freezing interest on unsecured debt obligations.
According to our analysis of the ABA article “America’s Banks Are Here to Help: The Industry Responds to the Coronavirus” most financial institutions (86%) have encouraged customers to use mobile, online, and voice banking options for general servicing assistance. 
Where we see the widest separation right now is in terms of how banks and lenders are supporting and executing upon coronavirus-related hardship requests.
The majority of banks and lenders continue to request that customers call them if they encounter a hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yet others are boldly testing the waters with digital intake and a smaller minority are dipping their toes into auto-deferment approaches.
Implement High-Impact, Low-Friction Enhancements
Based on 20 years of experience dealing with rapid change and helping clients across the globe endure through the financial crisis, we recommend the following four considerations for high impact, low friction enhancements and an improved customer experience.
1. Be clear with your customers and your staff on what you can and cannot do today
- Asking customers to call you if they need “personalized assistance” due to the pandemic without having any solutions to offer them will increase your inbound volume and negatively impact your customer experience.
- Instead, tell your staff and customers “We are identifying plans and action steps for customers impacted by COVID-19, and will have information out shortly. Please check our website for the most updated information.”
- In the absence of specific information about your solutions, provide clear reassurance to your customers that forbearance measures will not negatively impact their credit score or standing with you.
2. If you are offering forbearance, be bold in the length of time of the assistance you are offering
- Most optimistic estimates state it will take 90 days before we have more clarity on the length of impact from COVID-19.
- Be clear with your customers and staff on the length of the forbearance options, the timing on when they will take effect, and how you will be reporting to the credit bureaus.
- We suggest options for at least 90 days and similar reprieves on reporting of negative activity.
- Communicate clearly (via email) when the forbearance is active and when they should expect to see their accounts updated (should those dates be different).
- Status calls (customers calling ABOUT their forbearance not FOR a forbearance treatment) will be a primary driver of inbound calls the longer the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
- Any misunderstanding is likely to result in repeat calls or emails making proactive and clear communication imperative on the front end to avoid calls on the back end.
3. Communicate clearly in your available channels outside of the contact center
- Place a message on the front end of your IVR before any options explaining the preferred option for customers to use your mobile banking app or online banking portal for current information.
- Provide clear instructions on how to get to each channel including branch opening hours (lobby and drive through) and locations.
- Frequent email or text-based communication should be a priority explaining how your organization is helping customers and re-enforcing the self-serve options through the website or mobile app.
- Your website/mobile app should have questions and options for the client to inform you about their situation and enroll in financial assistance programs, if needed.
- Connectivity between channels is a necessity to ensure all customer contact are centrally captured.
4. Finally, be sure to protect yourselves as well as your customers
Driving customers to interact digitally to ensure clear, consistent communication of changes and improve the customer experience should be a low risk strategy for your organization, but it’s not.
- Fraudsters will be very active, as they normally are, during tragic events. Customers who are not used to interacting digitally are at greater risk to phishing, mirroring and other scams during these times.
- Urge customers to protect themselves against scams and fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic by being very clear on what information you will and will not request from them.
- In the ABA analysis we conducted, 21% of banks were urging customers to protect themselves against fraud. We suggest that communications to customers include alerts as to how fraudsters may trick them into providing information, and how you as their financial institution will interact with them.
- It is unfortunate, but we all must remind our clients to protect themselves from fraud during these trying times.
At Bridgeforce, we remain focused on ensuring that our friends, family, clients and colleagues are staying safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this spirit, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or support as you continue to work through these uncertain times.