Of the many struggles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, financial uncertainty is one of the largest and most visible. Financial institutions and their leaders have had to weather an unprecedented crisis, while simultaneously managing their reputation at both the local and global level.

Using the Zignal Narrative Intelligence Cloud (pulling data from February 1 – October 26), we took a closer look at key aspects of the conversation surrounding top firms within the financial industry during the pandemic.

Why This Matters

In an economic crisis, all eyes are on the Financial Services industry. As you’ll see in the data below, a single event, message, policy change, or government action can make an enormous splash in online public discourse. 

To protect their high-profile brands at an extremely sensitive time, firms not only need to closely monitor this discourse — they need the full array of contextual information necessary to truly understand it.

Key Findings

  • Conversations around loans and mortgages were the most-mentioned topics related to the financial industry since February, comprising 18.2% and 13.8% of financial mentions, respectively
  • Among major financial institutions in the United States, JPMorgan Chase was mentioned most frequently within the conversation around loan forgiveness, while Wells Fargo was the most mentioned in regards to mortgages.

Top Financial Industry Mentions Over Time by Issue

Date Range: February 1 – October 26

Conversational Themes: Loans

Loans were the most-discussed topic within the financial conversation related to COVID-19.

  • Spikes early on in the timeline were driven by mentions around relief and the suspension of interest around federally-backed loans, both in the United States as well as abroad.
  • Follow-up stories included the federal government’s stimulus efforts and aid packages, though there were quite a few overlapping mentions related to student loans and mortgages.
  • In mid-March, shortly after the energy industry went into crisis and as shutdowns began, global markets began to falter, leading to mentions of the economy slipping into a recession.
  • While mentions of the Dow Jones spiked early, discussions of a recession have remained elevated throughout the year.
  • In August, mentions peaked after reports that the UK economy officially entered a recession for the first time since 2009. 
  • Lessons for financial firms:
    • To react or not to react? – You’ll see that mentions of some topics spiked in April and have since leveled off, while others have remained elevated or have had new spikes. This begs the question: Can you identify which issues or topics are likely to attract sustained attention, warranting a fully mobilized communications campaign, and which are likely to blow over? These things are hard to predict in a once-in-a-century pandemic, but considering this question can help you shape a smarter communications strategy.

Student Loan mentions have also spiked periodically throughout the year, and are most often associated with political discourse.

Issue: Loan Forgiveness

  • JPMorgan Chase was mentioned the most frequently in the loan forgiveness conversation.
  • Wells Fargo had just the third-most total mentions, but they accounted for the highest spike in coverage, stemming from stories on April 8 in which the Federal Reserve eased a growth restriction on the bank in order to encourage emergency lending to small businesses.
  • Bank of America saw an early spike in coverage when they became one of the first major US banks to be able to process PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans.
  • Lessons for financial firms:
    • Prepare for the unexpected – Wells Fargo’s outsized spike came from an external event — a government decision to ease a restriction — showing that sometimes the biggest impact comes not from your own company policy or decisions, but from events beyond your control. It’s important to closely evaluate your circumstances, identify the highest-probability events that could spawn impactful narratives (whether helpful or harmful to your business), and form communications plans around them. This is especially true for an industry as sensitive to public opinion as finance.

Conversational Themes: Mortgages

  • Wells Fargo was mentioned most frequently within the conversation around mortgages in the time of COVID-19.
    • Wells Fargo saw a spike in chatter after it was discovered that a program meant to help homeowners by pausing mortgage payments had also been extended to clients who didn’t need the help, pausing their payments against their will.
    • They were also included in a viral post from California Governor Gavin Newsom, who commended the firm, in addition to JPMorgan Chase and Citi, for placing a 90-day moratorium on mortgage payments.
  • JPMorgan Chase also received a fair amount of attention due to its continued thought leadership on consumer spending.

For other insights and analysis of timely topics, read our other Intelligence Briefs on our Reports page.