Keeping community bank websites fresh and flexible
How some banks keep their web experience fresh and flexible, pushed by mobile developments
On a recent blustery, winter afternoon two staffers of nearly $160 million assets Legence Bank based in Eldorado, Ill., chatted on the phone with ABABJ about its fresh-looking website. It makes use of a rotating center banner that features its Smart Business Checking, a charity-oriented, third-party checking brand called Kasasa, a Boomerang Bucks reward program, and a trade publication cover article trumpeting its can-do approach to making smart hires and motivating staff.
This was enough information to sink a landing page of old, but with Flash and similar technologies, all of the messaging streamed along, staying long enough in the visual field only to tantalize. (Each product page features a “Tell me more” email generator or “Apply Now” link to generate leads or applications.) When it searched for a partner to help update the site in 2007, Legence was interested in making the site look modern while signaling the bank’s “with-it-ness.” Transactions needed to be kept intuitive. Designed in 2008 by Austin-based First ROI, the Legence site now succeeds on those terms, notes Vicki Commiskey, senior marketing and communications counsel.
“If there’s an opportunity to provide a useful service, we want to make it happen,” she said. Wayne Garret, vice-president of IT chimed in: “We’re always on the hunt for good vendors to partner with to do more with the channel.”
Big-bank sites not always better
Thanks to a face-off among internet vendors to improve product offerings as an extension of their core processing services, the old divide between big bank and community bank capability is closing. Of the consolidated base of vendors that remain, channel products are meeting community bank needs.
Take Farmers State Bank of Munith, Mich. Laurie Goodlock, director of marketing-certified financial services at the $62 million assets community bank, says, “we don’t have Flash or flashiness on our website. It wouldn’t fit our image and brand.” Yet the simple exterior houses a sophisticated site. The bank offers internet banking, bill payment, and mobile banking from FundsXpress/First Data.
Goodlock advertised Farmers State Bank’s mobile banking with banners at branch locations and with a direct mailing. “We are just starting to get high-speed internet access and we need more towers to make mobile service more widely adopted here,” she says.
Still, the bank wanted to move slightly ahead of the technology curve in Goodlock’s region because she thinks that such moves will reach tomorrow’s bank customers. For that reason, she is also thinking about experimenting with Twitter and Facebook. “Our official tagline is ‘The bank where you feel at home’,” Goodlock says. Naturally, if tomorrow’s customers feel at home in the so-called remote channels, then that’s where she’d like to be.
Although site experiences vary, generally, mobile and internet channels are each undergoing rapid incremental change. Once thought of as merely an extension of a website, mobile is beginning to be it’s own “thing,” literally and figuratively, certainly in the mind of the customer.
At the same time, the internet has flowered. In five short years, internet banking has been affected by Web 2.0, the rise of rich internet applications (RIA), and other advances that make the web experience closer to what people expect from their computer desktop software.
Rapid change in small steps
As a result, static, crowded sites are giving way to something more flexible and informing. Yet, the hunt to add value never ceases—nor should it, say experts.
Critics of these channels continue the call for a nonstop advancement in design and capabilities—including doing more with actionable alerts—as they urge banks to do more with technology and complain that change isn’t coming fast enough, nor is it as significant as it could be.
The era of the banking transaction is out, they say; the time of the value play should be ushered in, including use of personal financial management (PFM) tools. “Banks need to be thinking about what, beyond storage of money, they can do for customers,” says Mark Schwanhausser, a research analyst with Javelin Strategy and Research, Pleasanton, Calif. (Nearly everyone mentioned the buzz around PFM and sites such as Mint.com—a free online money management site that boasts more than one million users—and most experts were certain that it was a development that would have legs.)
Most banks tend to favor a more measured approach to their website upgrades, both for compliance reasons and because they don’t like to disrupt customers with unnecessary change.
“When you’ve trained your customers to step through a certain process, and then you change it, that can be the equivalent of when your local grocery store alters the layout and makes it harder to find your favorites,” says Dan Fisher, a former banker and currently president and CEO of The Copper River Group, a financial services-targeted consulting organization based in Fargo, N.D. Fisher may not be big on change for its own sake, yet he urges bankers to drop bank-centric views and get on with new technologies, however uncomfortable they might feel. “Bankers need to push beyond their own experience and think about what mobile can do for them.”
In a recent blog entry on ababj.com, Fisher wrote: “Cell phones have morphed from emergency communication only to constant communication. Furthermore, the cell phone has become more important than the computer when it comes to getting things done and they’re being used not only by your customers, but also your employees.” As one example of the types of services a bank might consider using internally, Fisher offers a private chat room service called www.chatterous.com that banks can use as a way to host a virtual conference with IM, email, or texting options available.
What goes on behind the firewall?
The first bank website area generally in need of some renovation? That would be behind the firewall, within the authenticated site, where placement of product information and buttons calling the user to action are often less than ideal, points out Ron Shevlin. A senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group, Shevlin specializes in retail banking issues, including sales and marketing technologies.
“The idea is to guide the customer through each step in a process—it’s about details in messaging and screen design,” he says. “Some banks have it down, but it’s far from the norm.”
“When you set expectations online, you need to deliver,” confirms Emmett Higdon, senior analyst, eBusiness and Channel Strategy, Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.
While simple transactions such as bill payment have matured nicely and are fairly simple to execute, Higdon explains, more complex transactions such as wire transfers or account transfers or online account openings can leave customers stranded—or on the phone to the bank, driving up costs.
Or, as Shevlin put it, is your multi-step process anxiety-provoking or self-explanatory? “Bankers need to think of convenience in terms of ease-of-use,” he adds.
Adding to the complexity is that development teams and designers tend to vary from the public site to the authenticated site, resulting in a mishmash appearance that loses from a marketing perspective and can be confusing. Offering a seamless transition is a better idea.
This kind of thinking drove much of the development work at Royal Bank of Canada. Jim McGuire, vice-president of Online Strategy and Client Experience, says his award-winning site was partially the result of 18 months of customer experience research. “We work with personas [an extension of psychographic, or behavioral, segmentation] in order to shape messaging and workflow,” the banking executive explains.
During a slew of systematically introduced upgrades, RBC also paid careful attention to consistency from the customer site, through to the authenticated site, and among product lines.
“It’s important to standardize naming and navigation conventions,” says Mark Schwanhausser. “This should happen within the authenticated site. It should also happen from channel to channel. If you’re calling a checking product one thing online and another thing on the phone, you create confusion,” he adds.
Mobile nudging internet banking along
Mobile banking has raced through several iterations. It’s gone from text-based alerts and balance-check via applications derived from niche vendors, toward easier to install and upgrade applications from a consolidated group of vendors including ORCC and Digital Insight.
Mobile, in some cases, has nudged the internet forward, particularly among the largest banks that tend to be bogged down with internal development for both channels. “The best mobile and internet services have landing pages where multiple transactions can be done and which offer consolidated views of all product holdings with the bank, says Ron Shevlin.
In the case of Citibank says Javelin’s Schwanhausser, mobile is edging out the internet site in terms of offering the customer consolidated views of account holdings. On the whole, mobile will probably pull all internet transactional capability into a schedule of more frequent customer-friendly upgrades, he and others say.
Bank of America, which is known for leading in bill payment and, says Schwanhausser, “offers pockets of really impressive capabilities although some of the interior site is clunky,” also supports services such as alerts to email and mobile devices.
The Javelin analyst believes that one consequence of bankers’ renewed interest in keeping mobile relevant is that banks will finally give up batch systems once and for all. “There is this tendency to serve up stale information and banking customers increasingly will be impatient with this,” Schwanhausser explains. BJ