Online banking success hinges on creating a positive user experience

7 December 2011

By David Flower,
Compuware APM

The number of customers opting to do their banking online continues to grow. In the UK mobile banking has overtaken telephone banking while a US Consumer Briefing shows that 17 per cent of the population now use mobile banking (1). Around the world the Internet is becoming the preferred way to access personal information and to carry out transactions - everything from bank transfers and bill payment to creating and managing an online investment portfolio.

In a relatively short space of time a substantial percentage of customer interactions have been moved out of the branch, off the phone, and onto the computer screen and mobile device, accessible by anyone at any time. And for the banks themselves online banking is not simply a customer convenience, but also a critical component of managing costs - online transactions can be significantly more cost-effective than those that occur in a branch or over the phone.

By enabling greater customer control over accounts, combined with exceptional convenience, banks have a huge opportunity to attract new customers, forge deeper relationships with existing ones and reduce operational costs as more transactions are conducted outside of physical branches.

But banks need to consider the performance, availability and overall quality of the online experience they are offering, whether that is via desktop, mobile website or slick iPhone app. Poor web performance - for example unplanned outages or slow page loads - is no longer acceptable to customers. Banks looking to take full advantage of the online banking opportunity must deliver superior experiences that match customer expectations. But that’s not always easy...

Greater web complexity

Today’s websites and applications are increasingly complex, having rapidly evolved from limited functionality tools to ‘composites’ incorporating content and services from inside the data centre as well as from third party providers beyond the firewall. A website may well incorporate content from third parties such as online ads served directly via an ad network. While features such as this can enable a richer, more satisfying online experience, they also present a liability since external components are estimated to comprise an overwhelmingly large portion of time a customer waits for a website or application to load.

Instant gratification

The rise of the Internet has led to the belief that users can access whatever they need quickly and easily online. News, entertainment, books and music are all available from a browser window. But as users get used to faster and faster connections, they expect faster and faster services - the Google effect. When a bank gives customers access to their banking data anytime from anywhere, anytime, the reality is that people will actually do it. At home, at work, on holiday, and while on the move, customers expect speedy and convenient website access and financial transactions wherever they are. And they will react negatively if they do not get it.

Testing, testing

For this reason banks must test and ensure performance of websites on an end-to-end basis, from behind the firewall all the way to the customer’s device, as well as drill down to understand and optimise the performance of any and all third party services comprising their applications.

From a web performance perspective, this means banks need to consider that the traditional “Fortress Mainframe” approach is no longer relevant because the customer’s experience with the bank begins at their home, office, or mobile phone, not in the bank’s data centre. Until Internet banking arrived on the scene, banks could manage systems and connectivity in a very structured way. Green screens were in the branches, and they connected back to the central data centre over controlled links. Even though banks were networked, poor performance of systems and connectivity could be filtered by a cashier, manager or operator on the phone.

Today the Fortress Mainframe has been breached and the Internet is streaming data out across networks, desktop PCs and mobile devices that banks don’t control. But banks should not throw up their hands in defeat and declare there is nothing they can do to manage their performance all the way across this web application delivery chain. While it is true that no one can possibly manage all the performance-impacting variables that make up the Internet, successful websites and online businesses do everything they can to manage their Internet presence and its many challenges.

This means that a banking website has to be planned, designed, built and deployed so that performance is a key foundation element from the start. In effect, this means that banks with an online presence must consider the Internet as a part of the data centre - and they are responsible for delivering exceptional web performance in spite of all the possible web “noise” that can affect the customer experience.

Another part of managing an Internet presence is the ability to measure what is happening on the Internet from a customer perspective. This means measuring not just from the data centre, but from the “outside-in,” across the web application delivery chain and from the ‘last mile’ where customers really are - using different carriers, ISPs, devices and browsers to access the web. What’s more, as the mobile web becomes an everyday reality for customers, banks need to equally plan, design, build and deliver quality web performance for their mobile-optimised sites and applications.

There is no doubt that the Internet has brought about a revolution in the way banks interact with their customers. Now it’s time for a revolution in the way banks perceive the Internet. Trying to react to issues and manage the entire Internet is clearly a futile effort.
Understanding how websites and applications work from a true end-user perspective, and then identifying, isolating and fixing performance issues that may exist both within and beyond the firewall, before they impact customers, is the only true way for banks to pro-actively improve web performance. This is managing for the Internet and it is vital in order for online operations to strengthen banks’ customer relationships and brand while reducing costs.

Key considerations for optimising web performance

• Use the real-world perspective of customers around the world as the ultimate measure of truth. Comprehensive worldwide testing networks give a first-hand view into the customer experience. This allows websites to identify which customer segments may be experiencing a performance degradation and trace back across all the elements “standing” between their customers and their own data centres (ISPs and CDNs, for example) to identify, isolate and fix the root cause.

• Ensure end-to-end application performance, including all third party services beyond the firewall. Still leveraging the true customer perspective as a basis for understanding, modern testing and measurement solutions enable companies to drill-down to gauge the performance of critical “parts” making up the “whole” customer experience.

Furthermore, modern testing and measurement solutions enable companies to measure end-to-end application performance under various load sizes, in order to proactively address any “weak links” and ensure their website and applications will continue to deliver strong performance no matter what size traffic loads may come to bear.

• Emphasise a “one web” approach which includes both the PC web and the mobile web. Companies looking to tap the vast customer reach and revenue-generating potential of the mobile web must deliver mobile web experiences that match those of traditional websites downloaded from desktop PCs. Because in the eyes of your customers, there is only one web and they expect excellent performance regardless of their mode of access. By leveraging the same web performance management tools that have been used for the PC web, online brokerages can simplify the process of managing and optimising performance for all their web operations (PC-based and mobile), which saves time and increases efficiencies.

• Incorporate benchmarking. Companies can now leverage industry benchmarks to understand how the web experience they’re delivering compares to competitors and respective industry norms.


Today’s web plays a huge role in supporting vital engagement with customers, and is growing increasingly critical in terms of how customers evaluate products, services and capabilities. For banks, one thing remains constant - your website’s performance is too important to be ignored, and your customer experience is directly and inextricably impacted by poor performance.

With so many variables - both internal and external - to manage, assuring consistently superior performance can seem like a daunting challenge. Fortunately, today’s web performance management solutions offer comprehensive worldwide testing networks which serve as a foundation for performance optimisation efforts, while being flexible, cost-effective and easy to use.

1. Forrester Consulting reached these conclusions based on the feedback of 621 U.S. Consumers who bank or trade online. “The Impact of Poor Web Site Performance in Financial Services,” published by Akamai Technologies, Inc., 25 August 2010

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