If I was the CEO of one of Canada's Big-Five banks today, I'd strive to be the first of my competitors to send a COVID-19 note to my customers that read something like this:
Research very clearly shows it's in the best interests of our society for you to practice "social distancing" and stay home right now. But we realize that if you don't go to work, you might not earn the money you need to pay your bills. As a responsible corporate citizen living together with you in these extraordinary times, that's a problem we can help you solve. So I'm writing to inform you that until our government says the threat of COVID-19 has been effectively neutralized, you will not be penalized in any way for missing any of your mortgage or loan payments. Pay what you can, when you can. And when things get back to normal, your payment schedule can get back to normal too. We know money is important, but your health and well-being are worth much more.
What would be the impact of such a note -- not an opportunistic, disingenuous, PR-driven offer loaded with onerous conditions hidden in the fine print, but rather a temporary policy-change genuinely intended to offer meaningful relief to the bank's customers -- if it were sent with the approval of the bank's board?
Financially, the bank would likely suffer enormous losses this quarter... and possibly the next one, too. It's also likely the stock price would plummet, as investors realize the bank's returns would be far lower than expected.
But I think it would still be worth it. Because from that one empathetic communication, the bank would earn more loyalty and goodwill from its existing customers -- and more admiration from potential customers who would start to seriously question why their financial institutions weren't acting as graciously -- than from anything else they could ever say or do.
When you can afford to demonstrate empathy for your customers and make things easier for them, especially in times of panic or stress, do it.
The banks. The major credit card companies. The big telecommunication firms. These are companies that earn extraordinary amounts of money as regulated oligopolies, providing essential services on which we have come to rely. All of them could afford to forgo some short-term profit to help struggling customers, earn long-term customer goodwill, and demonstrate that all their "we care about our customers" statements aren't just meaningless platitudes. If they wanted to, that is...
Every company says they care about their customers.
But actions speak louder than words.
PS. That bank thing? It's not an original idea... it's what the European banks are doing right now. But can you even imagine a company that decides not to wait until we're in a full-blown crisis -- like many countries in Europe -- and instead chooses to proactively offer relief?