Adapting to COVID-19: A Behavioural Lens on Financial Institution Resilience

  • Joanna Castellano, President & founder, Q:Quest Inc.
  • William R. Horton, President, Horton Financial
  • James K. Stewart (Jason), Executive in Residence, Global Risk Institute
Computer generated image of coronavirus.


With Canada now in its second year of living with COVID-19, the pandemic continues to pose ongoing and new challenges for financial institutions (FIs) in building resilience. Beyond unprecedented health, financial and economic risks, FIs face future challenges managing staff, operations and client relationships during the broader vaccine rollout.

We contend that applying a behavioural approach will help FIs rebound more quickly and effectively from severe disruptions such as COVID-19. To meet their evolving needs, and the requirements of their clients, it is crucial for FIs to address adaptability, undertake adaptive strategies and implement new tactics. A behavioural lens offers a better understanding of mindsets and risk perceptions when shocks occur. It also provides effective ways to enhance FI strategy and processes with staff and clients during these disruptions.

This paper explores how a behavioural approach can promote more effective staff and client behaviours to deal with COVID-19. It sets out how, using our behavioural framework and processes, FIs can boost organizational resilience during the pandemic through better management of disruption risks, as well as increased understanding of opportunities to both build employees’ trust and help broaden and deepen customer brands. Our approach offers strategy and tactics to effectively (i) enhance adapting (short-term) and adopting (long-term) behaviours and (ii) identify mindsets through better knowledge of how risks (negative and positive) are perceived. It encourages desirable behaviours to adapt and adopt by utilizing framing, incentives and trust, and is designed to improve staff and client choice as well as information architecture. To illustrate the practical applications of our behavioural framework and processes, we explore the challenges of staff returning to corporate offices in 2021 through a case study that discovers and segments employee risk mindsets.

We conclude by highlighting the merits of applying a behavioural lens for staff and for client actions and motivations beyond the pandemic. Our approach will help identify and realize future business opportunities through an enhanced understanding of staff and client behaviours.