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As the COVID-19 global pandemic has necessitated restrictions on global movement and trade, the world has experienced a very high level of market volatility. During this period, U.S. consumers have reacted in a number of ways that may go contrary to predicted.
In this three-part series, we will examine consumers’ financial behaviors in times of uncertainty. For this first post, we will focus on the trend to seek financial education.
U.S. digital audiences were highly engaged with financial information during a volatile market.
In March 2020, the U.S. and global financial markets went through a tumultuous time. As such, where did consumers and personal investors seeking news and information go to amid this environment?
In this analysis, we’ll be using the Daily VIX adjusted close (i.e., the Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index) as a proxy for volatility in the market and will overlay this data with Comscore’s digital behavioral data focusing on four key categories, Business/Financial News, Financial Services & Advice, Taxes, and Investments, composed of the top 20 sites within each.
The first period where the VIX started to increase was in late February 2020 - during which there was no marked visitation increase to financial news, education, or other news categories across digital platforms. However, the second week of March, when President Trump announced a national state of emergency, behaviors and engagement with these resources started to tangibly change. This was particularly apparent within the Business/Financial News, and Financial Services & Advices categories. . Between March 30th and April 5th 2020, business/financial News reached 141.6M unique visitors, nearly triple the weekly average in December 2019 (51.7M).
On the TV side, financial news networks also saw a significant viewing bump in March 2020. Looking at two of the highest-rated financial news networks in aggregate, we see huge increases across all viewing times but especially “early fringe” and “daytime”. (More information about TV viewing behavior can be found here.)
Consumers spent more time per visitor with investment and tax-related sites
Consumer behaviors changed in other ways as well, including the depth of engagement, as measured in time spent per visitor. Investment sites, which include discount and retirement brokerages, saw notable increases in time spent onsite, spiking to roughly 38 minutes per visitor during the week of March 23rd to the 29th 2020. During this same time period, tax-related sites also saw a similar bump, peaking at nearly 21 minutes per visitor during the end of March 2020, after the tax filing deadline had been pushed to July 2020. Additionally, during the last week of March 2020 overall visitation to investment and tax sites did not increase (see above figure), meaning the same number of consumers are visiting but staying engaged longer.
The average visitor also visited more times
Consumers showed higher repeat visitation numbers, as the average number of visits to investment and tax sites grew, up from about 2 visits per visitor to 2.6 and 3.5 visits per visitor between March 23rd to the 29th. Despite the lack of increase in overall visitation to the Investment and Tax categories, re-visitation and time spent spiked during the last week of March, indicating higher engagement with content and more frequent consumption of information.
Implications for financial news sites, brokerages, investment firms and financial services
As financial markets continue to fluctuate during a time of uncertainly, digital audiences are also changing behaviors and becoming more engaged. In terms of financial information sites, this has manifested in a doubling of the number of unique visitors. For brokerages and investment firms, this has meant consumers are spending more time and visiting more frequently.
In these times, financial services advertisers and marketers have access to audiences that are more engaged than ever, though they do have to tread carefully given the seriousness of the current climate. Some ways to help their clients may include continuing to provide financial education where possible to an audience that may not have engaged as much previously, providing alternative to access online brokerage and investment services while physical access is limited. Additionally, as consumers and investors demonstrate a need for timely information or to take action more urgently during the shifting financial climate, financial services advertisers and marketers may build client satisfaction and brand loyalty by enabling customers (or perspective customers) to easily navigate and find what they need quickly.
We will continue this series to monitor other aspects of consumer behaviors related to finance by focusing next on account openings and servicing in our next installment.
Read our ongoing updates on shifting consumption trends and the resulting impact on the advertising and media industries on comscore.com/Coronavirus.
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