In brief

In brief

  • Our consumer study confirmed banking customers are depending more on digital channels, which could weaken personal connections with their banks.
  • As a follow up, we surveyed banking executives to understand how banks are delivering empathetic experiences in a digital world.
  • Just 3 in 10 banks are very confident that they can sense customers’ emotional outlook about their financial situation without asking them directly.
  • Banks are balancing two imperatives: becoming more empathetic and becoming more digital. Empathetic banks that get this right outperform their peers.

Empathy drives better financial performance

Consumer distress—personal as well as financial—is likely to rise rather than abate this year. Leading banks are rising to the challenge of supporting their customers with empathy during these challenging times. Yet they are also keenly aware that they need to do this in a manner that scales.

Those that balance the seemingly contradictory imperatives of scale and empathy will reap a significant financial reward. Accenture surveyed 125 senior banking executives from across the globe to understand how leading banks are delivering the human touch across channels in the moments when empathy matters the most.

Our research discovered that the group we termed Empathetic Banking Leaders outperformed the rest financially. These banks—which have strong capabilities for understanding and responding appropriately to the emotional state of the customer—also correspond closely with the Digital Leaders identified in earlier Accenture research. This seems to indicate that empathetic banking is a lever for digital leadership.


Empathetic Banking Leaders achieved average revenue growth of 1.3% during 2020, 1.9 points higher than Empathetic Banking Laggards at -0.6%.


Most Empathetic Banking Leaders (93%) regard human chat as an efficient option for solving problems of customers in financial distress. Only 23% of Laggards agree.

Watch the video: Empathetic banking in practice

As consumers’ financial distress increases, so does the need for empathy

Perhaps the deepest and longest-lasting impact of COVID-19 for banks will be on credit management. As government relief and stimulus programs start to taper down, banks will be called upon to help more customers under financial strain.

Yet just three in 10 banks are very confident that they can sense customers’ emotional outlook about their financial situation without asking them directly. Few banks have the awareness and sensitivity they need to detect the challenges their customers face and offer proactive help.

As such, it’s not surprising that many banks continue to rely on their branches when they need to offer human, empathetic banking service to their customers. Nearly two-thirds of banks believe that the branch is the most effective channel for helping financially distressed customers to resolve their challenges.


Nearly all banks agree that the branch will need to be redesigned in the next one to two years to meet new demands.


Four in 10 banks expect the COVID-19 crisis will affect customer attrition in 2021.

The problem here, as all banks know, is that branch-based service isn’t scalable. On the flipside, digital channels are easier to scale, yet also carry the risk of commoditization and the loss of the human touch at a time when customers need empathy more than ever.

Empathetic Banking Leaders resolve this tension through their ability to gather and use data insights to engage with their customers. Rather than forcing customers through a particular touchpoint, they offer customers channel choices based on their emotional state and financial need.

They constantly collect data that helps them anticipate the assistance a customer might require. And they do so in a consistent tone of voice across all channels, with messaging tailored to the customer’s emotional profile.

Related: Purpose-Driven banking: a path to grow revenues, profits and valuation by doing the right thing for customers and society.

Four steps towards empathetic banking at scale

To scale up empathy, digital banking leaders will accelerate their move to a single, unified distribution model that provides a consistent banking experience across channels. In so doing, empathetic banks will be able to offer a human touch in the moments when it matters the most.

The growing maturity of today’s artificial intelligence and analytics solutions, paired with banking customers’ growing willingness to use digital channels even for complex interactions, offers banking leaders the opportunity to not only offer more personalized services and experiences to each customer, but to do so at scale.

Accenture identifies four key steps that will help banks move towards this industry vision:

From customer insight to empathetic action

Empathetic banks translate customer signals into empathetic actions by integrating data from different sources on a single, real-time platform.

From call center to empathetic customer care hub

Leading digital banks are augmenting contact centers with artificial intelligence, chat and other digital capabilities.

From online transactions to digital empathy

Empathetic banks are using tech such as voice recognition, speech analytics and text analytics to understand customers’ emotions at all touchpoints.

From transaction hub to empathetic experience center

Banks are reinventing branches to accommodate a reality where branch contacts are lower in volume yet more important to the customer experience.

View All

Read our report to learn how we can help you achieve a future vision of empathetic banking that combines the human touch with the reach of digital.

Banks that show empathy in this time of crisis will strengthen long-term customer relationships. They will be recognized as part of the solution instead of part of the problem, as they were perceived to be in the last financial crisis.

About the Authors

Adrien Kirschfink

Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting

Bruce Holley

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting Customer, Sales & Service Lead​​​​​, North America

Edwin Van der Ouderaa

Senior Managing Director – Strategy & Consulting, Customer, Sales & Service Lead, Global

Anne Bertelsen

Managing Director – Interactive, Banking


Purpose: Driving powerful transformation for banks
2020 Global Banking Consumer Study
Business of Experience: The Future of CX

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