The role of lending companies during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the deriving confinement by health recommendation, is having a major impact on many aspects of people’s personal and professional lives.

For example, consumers’ habits are changing, although it is yet to be seen whether the changes will be temporary, or whether a precedent will be set as a result of the epidemic, such as the case of the significant rise in the use of online banking. Moreover, the income of many people has been cut due to reduced professional activity or the complete closure of many companies in non-essential sectors. Thus, concern for health comes in addition to financial hardship arising from this exceptional situation.

One of the many questions arising at this time is how financial institutions are addressing the current challenges. According to a recent PWC article, many financial institutions already had continuity plans in place in the event of specific situations, but they were not ready to tackle the speed and unpredictability of the variables deriving from a pandemic such as COVID-19.

According to PWC, typical contingency plans guarantee operational effectiveness when faced with events such as natural disasters, cyberincidents and power outages, to name a few. However, they do not cover generalized lockdowns, extended school closures or additional travel restrictions that may be imposed during a public health emergency.

In Europe, despite the European Commission seeking a common response to curb the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19, it will not be coming any time soon, and it is yet to be seen how it will be implemented vis-à-vis the end customer.

Furthermore, one of the core concerns of individuals, self-employed workers and companies that have reduced or ceased their professional activity is achieving liquidity. Along these lines, consumer lending companies can be an alternative and temporary respite, but they must respond to some of the questions posed. Namely, for new customers, how they can access a loan or finalize one that was already being prepared; or for current customers, what the applicable conditions are or whether they can be amended during the pandemic, or whether they can request a deferral of payments and under what conditions. It is worth noting, when providing effective solutions, that lending firms that operate fully online have an unmistakable advantage over those which require the customer to make a trip at some point in the process, either for the final signature or to verify their identity or the documentation provided.

How can lending companies make the situation easier? PWC offers accurate recommendations which, based on our opinion, must be made extensible beyond the current exceptional context:

• Providing clear guidelines on the criteria for approving loans and the necessary documents.
• Improving transparency with clear communication, particularly with regard to the status, response periods and the next stages of the request.
• In the case of mortgages, lenders can consider the use of estimated appraisals based on market value, instead of real appraisals that require an on-site visit.
• Offering virtual alternatives. Besides the options already available to the company, they can consider extending them and, most notably, communicating them clearly to users, particularly to segments that are least accustomed to digital methods.
• Setting out a response protocol for negative decisions when answering user requests.

In light of this situation, the response of financial institutions to the needs and concerns of their customers could be critical for future relations, and the way in which communication is managed will condition their public image.