How's Your Virtual Curb Appeal?

Just how important is online banking anyway? According to a recent American Bankers Association survey, a whopping 62% of consumers list it as their preferred banking touchpoint. That figure is growing at an astonishing rate – up 26% from 2010. Yet, even as online banking popularity surges, many financial institutions fail to deliver a satisfying online experience.

Poor navigation, inconsistent branding and design, and irrelevant or out-of-date promotions are common problems says Kathy Ligman, AVP and Product Manager for retail online banking solutions at Fiserv. She estimates that 40% of community bank websites are not what the average user would consider attractive or user-friendly.

"The financial services industry lags other markets in online optimization," says Ligman. "Popular sites like Amazon have raised expectations for usability sky-high. Consumers are accustomed to researching products online and finding what they need immediately." Ligman sees the issue as one that financial institutions can easily solve by devoting more of their annual budget to keeping up with online trends. For community and regional banks, who spend an average of $1 million a year on their branch locations,* a competitive online channel can be offered at just a fraction of the cost.

"Banks should approach their websites with the same vigor as their branch environment," says Ligman. "They'll be pleased to find that even modest improvements to the user experience can have a big impact."

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Does your online banking presence offer these elements to engage consumers? An up-to-date online presence is especially essential for attracting the latest generation of consumers, who live online and expect a seamless, convenient experience across multiple connected devices. This increasingly mobile and social generation represents the future of your online market, if you can capture them.

Where to begin? Ligman offers these four tips for assessing your virtual curb appeal:

  1. Take a fresh look. "When it comes to websites, you can't just set it and forget it," says Ligman. If you haven't made major updates in several years, it's time. An online makeover can create consistent branding, improve the user experience, cut costs and provide more self-service tools to enhance customer satisfaction.
  2. Survey and research. Poll your customers, employees and stakeholders to find out what's important to them. Online surveys are simple, inexpensive and can yield valuable insights. Visiting popular sites outside of your industry is another great way to see what works well. You can also check out a recent white paper from Fiserv to learn more about  best practice from online retailers.
  3. Consider your branch experience. What does it do well? Personal attention. Translate that to your online channel with personalized messaging and conveniences like online chat. A good website design also reflects the brand strategy you've established in the branch and makes commonly requested information easy to find. You should also take steps to ensure that nearly any banking function available at the branch can also be accomplished online, so consumers in a hurry have a choice.
  4. Encourage online behavior. Making online banking faster and easier is one of the best ways to encourage online behavior among current users. For your less tech-savvy customers, education should be done online and at the branch. "The next time a customer comes in your branch to check a balance, ask if they knew it could be accomplished quickly, safely and easily online," Ligman says. Those who are already visiting your website should see several references to online banking right on the home page. Banner ads and online videos can also be used on your website and within online banking to promote convenient services like bill pay and e-statements.

If you're in need of an online makeover, or just want to find out more about the latest services and solutions available, there's more information available to help build your unique online growth strategy.

*Based on physical premises expense data from the 2010 FDIC Call Report.

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