Adapting to COVID-19

At Strictly Financial we always select the most appropriate methodology to meet the needs of each project.  We think deeply about our client’s requirements, objectives and the logistics and practicalities of each brief before recommending an approach – be that online, offline or a blend of the two.

The coronavirus pandemic has implications not only for the methodologies we use, but also for the research and insights itself.

Conducting qualitative research

At least in the short term (and possibly well beyond), we can foresee reluctance on the part of research participants to gather in a relatively small indoor space for two hours with seven or eight strangers – which is what happens in a typical group discussion.  Similarly, participants in depth interviews may feel uncomfortable spending an hour talking to a stranger sitting only a few feet away, again indoors.

At Strictly Financial we often used remote qualitative research methodologies even before the pandemic struck.  In the wake of the pandemic we expect that remote interviewing and group moderation will have a much greater role, and we will be using these approaches:

    • Zoom (or similar) depth interviews, pairs, triads. These are encrypted, and recorded and analysed in the same way as their face to face and telephone equivalents
    • Online group discussions
      • Synchronous (real time), where we use Zoom. Typically we recommend slightly smaller and shorter groups due to the challenges of the online environment: 4-5 participants for an hour and a half
      • Asynchronous, in which a group discussion is phased over several days and takes the form of a bulletin board
    • Telephone depth interviews

A key benefit of all these remote methodologies is that they  overcome any sample limitations related to location, increase the proportion of any sample that it is practical to interview, and enable people to take part in the research who might otherwise have been hard to reach.

Interpreting results during the crisis

The combination of a viral pandemic and the virtual shutdown of the economy in response to it has quickly come to dominate people’s daily lives.

We are living through unprecedented times and facing new challenges – physically, emotionally and financially.

Clearly the COVID experience will colour consumer and business attitudes, priorities and viewpoints moving forward – and this will be reflected in any research findings.  But this is not a reason to ‘wait until things have settled back to normal’ before conducting any research.

Researching with COVID

Life ‘after COVID’ will never entirely return to that experienced pre-COVID.  The impact of the pandemic will be felt for several years, and it is likely to leave a lasting legacy in terms of attitudes, behaviours and social norms.  Indeed, there may not be a life ‘after COVID’ – the future may be more about life ‘under COVID’.

It is not only impractical to delay research for a significant (but unknown) period of time, it is also a mistake.  Understanding how people’s perceptions and behaviours are changing, and identifying which changes are temporary and which more permanent, will be critical for brands moving forward.  This applies across the board, from brand perceptions and communications to product and service development.

COVID and people’s relationship with money

It is particularly important for the financial services industry to understand the new consumer landscape.  The legacy of the financial shock many people have felt at a personal level, coupled with the impact on the economy more broadly, will be far reaching.

Formerly secure jobs will have been lost, savings will have been reduced or even ravaged, employers will be looking to control costs (including employment costs) in an uncertain or depressed economy.

How people think and feel about their money, and what they do about it, are likely to have been deeply affected by the pandemic and its economic effects.  People’s thoughts, feelings, assumptions, expectations, perceptions and cognitive biases will have been shaken up.  All of these factors will affect their behaviours.  Spending and saving habits will have changed:

    • Contactless payment methods are now seen in a new health-related context that will prove more than temporary. The simple kinesthetics of payment have taken on an importance that now goes far beyond convenience, and this will accelerate the decline of cash as a payment vehicle
    • The importance of saving has been brought home starkly, but for many it will be harder than ever to do anything about it. For many, pension contributions will be disrupted by loss of employment, and for some pension income will have suffered from market falls.   Perceptions of investment, investment income, and perhaps even annuities may have shifted
    • If COVID comes to be seen as part of a bigger ‘wake-up’ call that also includes other global threats like climate-change, the engagement of pension and other investors with ESG issues and funds could see a rapid and possibly long-term increase

These are just some of the ways in which the virus pandemic may have changed people’s relationship with money.

What is important is to understand what things have changed, how and why, and what the implications of these changes will be for consumers, intermediaries, products and providers.