How to conduct effective market research for financial services

Learn how to conduct market research for financial services like a pro with our comprehensive guide.

What’s one company type that seriously needs to revisit its old market research reports and keep up to date with the latest consumer trends? Financial service companies, of course. 

When the finance industry is full of old-school incumbents, the plucky fintechs snapping at their heels mean they really need to stay on the consumer pulse. 

If you’re a marketing or insights professional in the finance industry, this guide is for you. It’s the little push to get talking to your target audience again.

What we’ll dive into in this guide is first of all the importance of market research in financial services nowadays—because let’s face it, a lot has changed over the past few years, and the market is still adapting. 

Then we’ll cover how to conduct that market research effectively. We’ll give you some pointers and resources to use, and our market research top tips. 

Ready to get to know the financial services industry all over again? Let’s get started.

When people want readily available financial services, it’s crucial for providers to stay up to date with evolving consumer sentiments

The importance of market research for the financial services industry

The financial industry has changed more than people often realise. Much of the recent changes started with a growing demand for simpler services. 

The industry’s answer to that was more digital services, but anyone who’s had a bank account for the past two decades knows that that was a struggle to get right for many banks. 

Why does this matter for market research? Because market research will dive into—at the very least—the following things: the evolving needs of your customers, and the technology that is available to meet it. 

Let’s specify the reasons why you should be conducting market research. 

The rise of fintech

Nowadays, even your grandparents know how to send money from their iPad. People have adopted digital forms of managing their finances in the blink of an eye, and fintech startups are popping up like wild mushrooms to keep up with the demand. 

Many fintech leaders didn’t even exist before the Financial Crisis. Now they’re billion-dollar businesses.

In the wake of the Financial Crisis, trust in traditional banking, lending companies and investment services hit the floor, and consumers started to look elsewhere in the finance industry for providers that were right for them. As a result, many of those older financial service companies have added a fintech branch to their household names. 

Much like Diana Ross, the entire market is upside-down. Add to that an era-defining global pandemic, and you can see the clear shift in the financial services industry:

  • 23% of consumers in 28 countries today already have a digital-only bank account
  • Digital banking adoption is expected to grow to around 70% in the future
  • There’s a potential market size of 1.4 billion customers

Our own research finds 45% of UK consumers are considering opening a new digital bank account in the next six months. 

This all means there’s huge competition in the financial services industry, and financial services providers really need to find their competitive advantage and understand market trends to win the battle for the customer. 

There’s a lot of money to be made 

The financial services industry is one that has been extremely digitally disrupted in recent years. AI and other tech has made their processes, and those of their customers, a lot easier and more impactful. 

Developments in tech are constantly changing consumer expectations – financial brands need to make sure they don’t fall behind

Investors are latching on to this growing industry. The fintech market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 20% and reach around $305 billion by 2025. 

Unsurprisingly, incumbents are now actively investing, acquiring, and collaborating. With market research, you can present them with a clear proposal and pitch to get the big bucks on your side. 

But entering the market is extremely difficult

We’ve asked around (aka we ran some robust market research through the Attest platform), and it turns out that even though people are looking for digital solutions, they won’t just jump to anyone. Consumers are unlikely to simply start using an entirely unknown financial brand

When we asked them how likely they are to use a financial brand they haven’t heard of before, across all demographics the results were:

  • Very likely – 12%
  • Quite likely 26%
  • Not very likely – 39%
  • Not at all likely – 22%

That’s 61% of people saying they’re unlikely to use a financial brand that’s new to them. So if you’re a startup looking to enter the market of financial services, better do your market research and perfect your product, messaging and delivery.

Despite the prevalence of new finance brands, our research showed that most people would prefer a financial partnership to include a brand they’ve heard of

Curious to find out whether it makes a difference if a new player pairs up with a household name? Read our entire research, and add it to your own later! 

The users of financial services aren’t who they once were

With the cashless society we’re in, even the younger generations now need access to digital financial services. 

No more pocket money, but more and more Apple watches that pay for their coffee. And an app to go with that too, please, so they know how many of those drinks they can have this week. 

Generation Z 

Tech-savvy millennials and older generations are no longer the only ones occupying the market of financial services. Gen Z is making its entrance, and they shouldn’t be overlooked. 

Chances are, they won’t walk into the bank on the corner and open up an account. They have different needs and buying processes, and that’s precisely what market research will reveal to you, so you can adapt accordingly. 

Ignore tech-savvy young consumers at your peril – their needs and expectations can be vastly different from older generations

The customer base is finally becoming more diversified

The shift in the target audience doesn’t only have something to do with age and generation, however. Research from N26 has shown that there’s a noticeable shift in user demographics when it comes to digital banking. 

While the majority of digital-only adopters are still higher-income earners, male, and aged 25 to 44 years, the study shows that the middle class is starting to cover more ground—in Spain, for example, where 55% of digital-only customers have medium incomes.

And it’s not just income either—the gap between genders is also closing. Take Brazil for example, which is the first country with more female digital banking customers than male (52% female vs. 48% male customers).

Women becoming more and more financially independent and choosing financial services, is crucial to take into account when you’re doing market research.

Gig Economy Workers

You might want to focus your market research on a very specific, often overlooked target group: gig economy workers. 

Once a high-risk demographic, they are now becoming more and more accepted by financial institutions, but still the right services often are lacking. 

It’s expected that half of the US population will be part of the gig economy by 2028, so fire up your market research now and find ways to monetize this opportunity.

Financial products and services are often perceived as complicated.

Even if they aren’t. That’s because they are presented as if they are difficult and dangerous, often by people who haven’t done market research since the 90s.

Financial institutions often lack the language to make their services look attractive, and that’s because they lack the knowledge of their target audience. 

If you start conducting market research, you will find out what financial challenges you’re actually helping someone tackle, and how to communicate that clearly and in an attractive way. 

How GoCardless harnessed consumer insights to launch truly impactful products

Learning about consumers’ payment challenges has enabled GoCardless to increase the effectiveness of sales and marketing conversations

Learn more

How to do financial services market research

Time to get down to business: how do you conduct market research for financial service companies in a way that will leave you with real valuable information.  

We’ll cover both primary and secondary research and point you in the right direction when it comes to tools and other handy tips.

Primary financial market research

For customer-focused market research, it’s crucial that you go straight to the source: talk to your target audience. 

With primary financial market research, we mean anything from interviews to observations. Here are some ideas.

Online surveys

It can take your respondents only a minute to respond, and you immediately get to process all the information: online surveys are our top pick when it comes to market research in the financial service industry. 

No need to worry about finding the right people to survey: Attest has such a big pool of respondents—125m in 58 countries—that you’re sure to pick the right people, for super relevant data.

We’ll even help you get started with our market research template. Tailor it to fit your specific research questions and start collecting results in minutes! 

Learn how to tap into consumer insights for financial services

Understand what compels customers to open accounts, spend in new ways and invest intelligently

Get started!

Observations

No need to don a disguise and sit in a bank’s waiting area for this one (unless you really want to): you can easily do this online. Simply monitor how people are moving on your website. What pages are they looking at before purchasing? 

What place on your website is the one where most people abort the mission? This kind of first-hand information can give you great insights into the online shopping behaviour of your target audience, and you’re very likely to find out how to improve either your website or your content. 

Focus groups

Watching a discussion unfold about a certain topic often brings businesses great insights. You can use focus groups to get specific questions answered, or at the start of your research to find out what topic needs most research, based on what your target audience is talking about. 

What misconceptions do they have about your service? Who are they considering and why? Let the discussion begin!

Interviews

Really want to get to the core of your customers’ challenges? Sit them down for a one-to-one interview. 

This is often a great tool to use when following up after a survey or conversation round, to put your newly learned insights into perspective.

Put a lot of extra thought into finding the right people

A man, aged 50-60, can be both Jay-Z and Matthew Perry, and they are pretty different, so make your target audience a lot more specific than that. 

If you’re doing marketing research, you want to weed out all the people that don’t fit your actual buyer persona, so also think about who doesn’t fit the bill within the larger context of your target audience, and keep this into account when analysing the results of your primary market analysis. 

Quantitative market research

Quantitative market research focuses on things you can measure. For financial services providers, numbers are everything—so don’t miss out on this part of your research.

Quantify how big your target group really is, what they are willing to spend and the way these numbers have developed over time.

Qualitative market research

With the qualitative part of your research, you put the numbers in perspective. Sure, it’s great to know 5,000 people are willing to spend 5€ in theory, but what messaging and words do they need to read first to be convinced to do so?

What channels can you find them on? What types of services are they interested in: advice, or financial planning? Do they want to talk to their financial advisors on the phone, or face-to-face? 

What type of customer support are they looking for from a financial services provider, and what other extras on top of your service will make them loyal? This is what will help you put your market insights to use. 

Secondary financial market research

If you’re hunting for some great sources on the financial market, keep an eye on our insights on the fintech market: we have some articles readily available to you with our own research. 

Here are some articles you’d might like:

You can also use recent and relevant industry reports, and up-to-date statistics sites. Always make sure that your sources are relevant and recent, and check who wrote it—you don’t want someone who’s biased or has something to gain from it leading your research. 

Double-check your sources and don’t hesitate to reach out to industry experts directly to get their opinion!

How to make financial services market research data actionable?

Get the right people around the table, and turn nice-to-know information into actionable insights. 

At the end of the day, you want your market research efforts to pay off. Not just with a nice report on the desk of your CEO, but with a strategic, actionable plan that has been set in motion and is being monitored closely.  

You conduct market research to learn what you can do better, and how—and then you go do it!

Before you even get started with your research, it’s crucial that you have a clear goal in mind: this research will not just answer, but also put things in action. 

Be willing to have it influence ideas you might have had in your head for a while—the real world will be doing the talking from now on.

We also recommend getting decision-makers involved in the research process. Not just knowing it’s being conducted, but give them a seat at the table when you’re defining the goals and the roads to take. 

This will ensure that when the results start coming in, they are up to speed and now what actions will have to be taken. 

Getting started with market research for financial services

Get finance industry insights and data with Attest—fast

If you’re looking for a reliable way to reach a lot of people at the same time, who fit your target group specifics to a T—use Attest. 

Whether you’re an established bank looking to track your brand health or a fintech start up still creating a consumer profile, we’ve got you covered: you get access to 125 million people across 58 countries and can use our filters and quotas to make it as niche as you need.

Market research for financial institutions FAQs

1. What is financial market research?

Market research for the financial industry investigates consumer behaviour and market trends such as the rise of fintech and the evolving needs consumers have, like more digital products. This information fuels decision-making processes for financial services companies. Attest is here to power your marketing decisions with real consumer data.

2. Which tools can I use for financial market research?

Not to toot our own horn, but we really recommend Attest and have seen customers get great results. It’s fast, reliable, simple to use and laser-focused when it comes to audience selection. Try our market analysis template to get started!

3. What types of primary research are most appropriate for financial service market research?

If you want to reach a lot of people and ask them very specific questions, plus analyse the results super fast, surveys are the way to go. 

4. Why is market research vital for businesses in the financial service industry?

The market of financial services has changed enormously over the past few years, and the pandemic has boosted the need for innovation. The rise of fintech and demand for digital products makes it vital that you understand your customers even better than ever. 

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Nick White

Senior Customer Research Manager 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

See all articles by Nick