The old adage of “the customer is always right” may not always hold true, but what does is the absolute need for customer empathy. The ability to listen, hear, and acknowledge customer pain points and frustrations is table stakes, especially in today’s digital age.

There is a unique problem facing D2C fintech. The days of face-to-face interactions with bank tellers are over. In its place is an expanding industry of fintech companies and products: investing, banking and crypto, just to name a few. Though the explosion of fintech is helping to level the financial health playing field for millions—everyone from the unbanked to the freelancer—the lack of effective customer service is pervasive. But unlike E-commerce companies, fintechs have a responsibility to provide the necessary infrastructure and empathy to support their customers. Unfortunately, this is not the current trend.

Let’s put into perspective the reality of who these fintechs are serving. A Google search reveals that the average Robinhood account holds a mere $3,500, opposed to the average Charles Schwab account of $240,000. The average age of Stash users is 30 with an annual income of around $50K. Additionally, most Americans only have between $1K and $5K in savings, while many live paycheck to paycheck. You get the point.

The majority of VC-backed fintechs are not serving the 1%, but the everyday American. Many fintech apps cater to underserved communities, millennials, and the unbanked. Companies like Current and Varo are neobanks providing fee-free checking and saving accounts; Betterment and Wealthfront are robo advisory platforms democratizing wealth management; Cryptocurrency brokerages like Kraken are simplifying access to cryptocurrencies; while Robinhood is an online brokerage providing commission-free stock and options trading.

So why is customer service and support not meeting the needs of the populations it serves? The answer is complicated.

An overkill on “self service”

In order to open up financial services to the masses, one common underlying element of the fintech business model has been the concept of technology-enabled “self service.” Instead of traditional customer support backed by an advisor or a customer service rep, fintech platforms are built so that their customers make financial decisions independently (with little to no human assistance).

No response

This mindset has led to improper customer communication that’s tragically harmed customers. Just last week an account upgrade process ended up locking out all of the customers of the online bank, Simple. Fintech companies can prevent these tragedies by improving their customer service so that they can better educate their users on risk, while providing comprehensive help when things do go wrong. The sector’s lack of customer support was again highlighted during a February 2021 hearing conducted by the House Financial Services Committee on the GameStop trading delirium. During the hearing, a U.S. Representative called Robinhood’s customer service line, only to reach a 12-second voicemail and be hung up on.

Without change, tragic events will continue to occur due to the skyrocketing usage of fintech services. According to a July 2020 survey by Cornerstone Advisors, 14.2M Americans (6% of U.S. adults with checking accounts) selected a digital-only bank as their primary account, a 67% increase from January 2020. This number will only grow as Millennials and Gen Zers increase their usage of financial services products.

The Solution

Fintech companies need to prioritize real-time customer care. The good news is that the technology exists. The bad news is that it’s not being prioritized. An example of this is in everyday retail banking. Many free checking and saving accounts (including the high-yield variety) have been commoditized, leaving customer service as the only differentiator.

This presents fintech companies with the opportunity to stand out within a sea of similarity. But providing quality customer support means adopting the technology to meet users where they currently are: chat, SMS, and instant messaging. The days of voice prompts and support lines that go directly to voicemail are over. It shouldn’t be easier to receive customer support for your online grocery order than it is to inquire about your own investments.

Money is an emotional topic and companies need to internalize this when providing customer support. At Loris, one of our founding principles is the importance of empathy. It’s crucial across industries, but as demonstrated, even more so with fintech. With a surge in the use of fintech apps, the sector is primed for change. I’m not talking just the bare minimum of support, however, but a cultural change within companies that places customer support first. By doing this, fintechs will finally be held accountable and its users will live in a world where quality customer support is the status quo, not the exception.