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Canadian Consumer Banking Behaviour | Branch Usage Stable, but Low

In this latest report, which covers the end of the first half of calendar 2021, we observe the continued settling down of channel behaviour into the new normal where branch usage is roughly two-thirds of 2019 levels. As expected, digital channel usage has to some extent compensated for this, with online now firmly established as the leading channel for new product purchase. Chat is now starting to displace other channels for service calls, having doubled in usage since September 2020 when it first appeared in the data. Meanwhile our drilldown into mobile app customer ratings shows that the respective bank apps’ ratings are now distributed over a wide span from 4.4/5 (CIBC) to 2.2/5 (Tangerine).

The level of branch usage has remained remarkably consistent since July 2020, with roughly a quarter of consumers reporting having visited a branch in the previous month, down from 41% in FY 2019. These averages hide provincial differences with Quebec and, more recently, Alberta generally lower, while BC and the smaller provinces are generally higher.

Figure 1: Branch Channel Usage – Any Purpose

Figure 1: Branch Channel Usage – Any Purpose
Source: Curinos’ DemandScape, Ipsos CFM Survey
Note: Point estimates represent two-month rolling averages of modeled response data

Focusing on usage specifically for new product purchase, we continue to observe the prevalence of online, with 4.1% consumers reporting using their desktop computers for buying a new product in the previous month compared with 2.9% using the branch or a mobile app. The usage of the two latter channels has now exactly converged, reinforcing the hypothesis that they have become largely interchangeable in their users’ minds.

Figure 2: Channel Usage – New Product

Figure 2: Channel Usage – New Product
Source: Curinos’ DemandScape, Ipsos CFM Survey
Note: Point estimates represent two-month rolling averages of modeled response data

Drilling down to the provincial view of branch usage for new product purchase, there is an emergent diversification of behaviour between provinces with liberal social distancing policies such as BC (4.8%) and those with more stringent lockdown enforcement like Alberta (1.7%), Quebec (2.0%) and Ontario (2.8%). Given that parts of Ontario (Including Toronto) have endured the longest continuous period of lockdown in the western world, it will be interesting (to say the least) to observe how permanent these differential trends turn out to be, with very significant impacts on banks’ network planning and digital investment strategies.

Figure 3: Branch Channel Usage – New Product

Figure 3: Branch Channel Usage – New Product
Source: Curinos’ DemandScape, Ipsos CFM Survey
Note: Point estimates represent two-month rolling averages of modeled response data

Of course, the other side of the coin to selective divestment of the branch network is corresponding investment in digital channels and capabilities. While there is no obvious geographical segmentation to investment in the digital platforms themselves, there may well be to the human support ecosystem that accompanies the transition to digital banking. This is particularly the case with a transcontinental  multi-lingual country like Canada where support centre manning schedules must be planned with an eye on the needs of different provinces and time zones. We have previously observed that financial consumers seem to be using branch and mobile channels interchangeably, switching from one to another as circumstances dictate. The chart below shows this effect in Quebec and BC, whose recent lockdown experience has been quite different, highlighting how in June for example, usage for new product purchase swung towards branch in BC at the same time it was moving back to mobile in Quebec. Understanding this behaviour and being able to predict it is now essential for front line FTE scheduling.

Figure 4: Branch v. Mobile Channel Usage – New Product

Figure 4: Branch v. Mobile Channel Usage – New Product
Source: Curinos’ DemandScape, Ipsos CFM Survey
Note: Point estimates represent two-month rolling averages of modeled response data

Moving finally to our ongoing review of banks’ apps ratings and feedback via Google Play and iOS Appstore, we observe an emerging diversification of banks’ app user ratings ranging from 4.4/5 (CIBC) to 2.2/5 (Tangerine). This is a remarkable spectrum for apps that, on the face of it, must share similar developer specifications for security, functionality and reliability and are on the same operating platforms. The reasons for these differences in quality of user experience emerge from the verbatim comments accompanying individual ratings that are parsed and classified by the natural language understanding engine to determine the relative impact of each underlying category on the overall bank app rating.

New to the tracker this month is PC Financial whose Appstore footprint is now the fourth largest of the Canadian banks. As seen in the detail that follows, the PCF app ranked second with an average June rating of 3.8/5, on par with BNS and ahead of everyone else except CIBC. This is a particularly creditable performance when compared with the other big direct bank, Tangerine, whose app is still at the bottom of the rankings table with an average rating of 2.2/5.

Figure 5: Engaged Customer Ratings – Mobile Banking Apps

Figure 5: Engaged Customer Ratings – Mobile Banking Apps
Source: Google Play and iOS App Store Data Jan 2021 – June 2021 . Engaged Customers: those providing both a score and a comment in their app feedback

The ratings trends and selected explanatory verbatims for the top eight bank apps are summarized here:


CIBC (4.4 AVG.)

Improved overall rating to 4.4 in June from 3.7 in May (4.0 April), driven by perceived improvements in app functionality (+0.5) and reliability (+0.8).

“Very easy to use app. The same goes for bill payments, transfer of funds, withdrawals, credit score and much more. I would recommend everyone to use the mobile app.”

“This has been tremendously helpful, reliable and secure. Grateful of all the support found within, it has made banking all that more accessible.”


BNS (3.8 AVG.)

Maintained overall rating at 3.8 June/May (4.1 April). Generally, very well appreciated by users. Ratings for reliability increased by 0.3, balanced by those for functionality deteriorating by 0.3. Some users experienced login difficulties due to biometrics issues, while others reported issues with e-transfer functions.

“Old version of this app was not so good, but after updating it’s fast and stable.”

“In the past, the Scotia app displayed balances, account details and bill payments. I just downloaded the app on my new phone and all I get is the account balance.”


PC Financial (3.8 AVG.)

Overall rating reduced to 3.8 June from 3.9 May (3.5 April). Well-liked by its Loblaws user base on account of usability and security. Functionality dropped by 0.3 mainly due to the impact of the recent updates on e-transfers.

“Easy to use, very secure – love that it regularly requires sms verification at login. Super clear what balances are and what available funds are.”

“I have had issues with sending and receiving e transfers, my auto sign in keeps shutting off and generally having issues.”


TD (3.6 AVG.)

Maintained overall rating at 3.6 June/May (4.0 April). Technology reduced by 0.2 and service by 0.5 with June updates having impacted biometrics for login etc. as well as core banking functions like e-transfers and the mobile deposit feature.

“Quick and easy to use, but I do not like the updates because they take space on my phone each time. I use this app for e-transfer which is instant and to pay my bills among other things.”

“The app’s mobile deposit feature is not working at all after the update.”


RBC (3.3 AVG.)

Improved overall rating to 3.3 June from 2.8 May (2.9 April). Users generally appreciate its improved functionality (+0.3) and consistent reliability (+0.1) as a “good stable app” but it is perceived to lack certain feature functionality available in other apps and indeed the RBC online experience.

“(RBC) is perceived to lack certain feature functionality available in other apps.”

“Most major banks allow us to check the credit score and report via the mobile app but for some reason RBC only works via the website …”


NBC (3.3 AVG.)

Improved overall rating to 3.3 June from 2.4 May (2.6 April) following a recent update. Users report enhanced user interface (+0.2), improved functionality (+0.4) and more consistent reliability (+0.2).

“Magnificent new update, the new facial recognition feature is well appreciated and wow”

“Very easy to use, fluid and beautiful design. NBC is doing a lot better job, app is easy & simple to use.”


BMO (2.9 AVG.)

Overall rating reduced to 2.9 June from 3.0 May (2.9 April). Ratings for updates dropped by 0.7 and for reliability and functionality by 0.2. Users reported the issues with e-transfers after June updates. They also reported a plethora of error messages arising from bugs, impacting negatively on perceived customer service quality.

“Overall I like the app but I get a lot of errors. I have not been able to send an e-transfer via the mobile app since I downloaded it.”

“And they keep sending emails that i have unclaimed e-transfers but when i try to see them it errors out!! Really not happy with this service for once in 15 years.”

Tangerine (2.2 AVG.)


Overall rating deteriorated to 2.2 June from 2.5 May (April 2.5). Usability ratings deteriorated by 0.5 due to reported sluggish performance and substandard efficiency. Reliability ratings also dropped by 0.4 following the recent updates.

“Unbelievably slow. Takes forever to load transaction history Whether while using mobile data or a WIFI connection, the app struggles to process mobile deposits.”

“Lately however, it’s constantly freezing, now no longer captures images in cheque deposit function. New version removes all features, bricks your phone, and refuses to work.”

Source: Google Play and iOS App Store Data May 2021 – June 2021. Engaged Customers: those providing both a score and a comment in their app feedback

To summarize, there seem to be two underlying trends at work dynamically impacting changes in the respective bank apps’ customer ratings, each pulling in the opposite direction. First, there are a series of pain points, most obviously arising from how each bank’s app developer team manages to anticipate and address new issues arising from the latest iOS/Android updates. For example, the June Appstore ratings seem to have been highly influenced by the impact of the iOS 14.6 upgrade and the 6/7 Android 11 security patch. Second, there is a set of highlights, partly based on residual digital brand goodwill, but also emerging directly from perceived improvements in the app user experience, be those usability, efficiency, feature functionality or customer support. The perpetual dilemma for the allocation of finite technical resources is whether to focus on mitigating the pain points or advancing the highlights. The banks that are winning the new war for digital customers’ hearts (and wallets) are those that are most successfully navigating this conundrum that, apparent from the above, is not simply a matter of scale.

We will continue to track these and other trends in each update of this monthly report. Please email Nick Young at if you would like to be subscribed.

Canadian Consumer Banking Behaviour Archive

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