High streets banks struggle to retain consumer trust in an increasingly digital world

More than eight in ten (81%) Brits claim trust is the deciding factor on their purchasing journey1yet more than three quarters (76%) admit they lack trust in their online banking, according to new research. 

More and more banks are providing services online, with Santander recently announcing the closure of 111 physical branches2 and NatWest planning an overhaul of their core retail banking business to fight off fintech rivals through the promotion of their digital channels 3.

Although this shift towards online banking may appear seamless, a recent study from anti-money laundering specialists, SmartSearch4 found that only a third (34%) of Brits trust their online banking service to be completely safe, which nearly halves to just 18% when it comes to banks handling large sums of money online. 

Furthermore, recent news suggests one of the most established high street banks in the UK, NatWest, is facing a high court criminal case over money laundering, in a further blow to the high street staples as they work to build up trust with the public to conduct their business online.

The well-known bank has been cited by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) over deposits made over a five-year period between 2011-2016, totalling £365 million5, with allegations that NatWest’s systems and controls have failed to monitor this activity diligently enough, which could result in an unlimited fine and even criminal convictions.

This has highlighted the potential shortcomings of banks in their due diligence in policing the movement of money and is extremely damaging for not just NatWest’s reputation, but the reputation of the entire banking sector when it comes to earning the trust of customers.

As a leading anti-money laundering provider for businesses, SmartSearch has looked closely at the level of trust towards the banking industry as a whole, developing a unique tool using live social media sentiment to help customers see how well trusted their bank is compared to others on the high street. 

John Dobson, CEO at SmartSearchcommented on recent events: “It is clear there are challenging times ahead for the banking industry. The pandemic has accelerated the transition from using physical branches to conducting most of our money management online, which is a big step for a lot of people and can be met with consumer resistance. 

“As the age of digitisation grows, it is important that we do everything we can to safeguard against cyber threats and instil our customers with trust, but recent events involving NatWest have been damaging, not only for the individual brand but for the sector in general.

“Work needs to be done to ensure that consumers trust their money to be managed online safely, and whilst banks are taking steps to ensure their processes are as safe as possible, it may be some time before the nation is completely accepting of the changing landscape.”  

To explore the SmartSearch Trust Barometer, which measures the level of trust towards banks using live social media sentiment, visit: https://www.smartsearch.com/resources/help-centre/glossary/electronic-identity-verification