Creating a positive online banking experience

4 April 2012

By David Flower, VP EMEA, Compuware Gomez

The American Bankers Association conducted research last summer to establish how people in the US like to do their banking. It discovered that 62 per cent of US adults see online banking as their preferred banking method, compared to 36 per cent in 2010.The findings emphasise the growing importance of creating a great online customer experience in the digital age. Monitoring and benchmarking usage can help to deliver ease-of-use, customer loyalty, and ultimately business.

Parin Mehta, an industry analyst at Google UK, has been stressing the role of social media and other online channels in delivering effective customer service: “The recent economic environment means that people are increasingly opting for brands that promote values of trust, security and stability. Customers are harnessing the potential of social networks to voice their opinions and are increasingly empowered to bank online in the way they find most convenient.” A mobile end point may also be used, of course, to link to an existing website or as a native application to access banking services, furthering empowering the customer and placing responsibilities on the bank.

With these thoughts in mind, it is clear online banking will continue to grow in popularity. If UK banks want to develop the strongest possible relationships with their customers, they need to ensure they can provide access to banking information online, quickly and efficiently across the many devices and platforms people are using these days.

A good starting point in delivering an outstanding online performance is to understand that today’s websites and mobile applications are increasingly complex. They have 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 bank’s firewall.

A website may well also 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 app 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, clothing, food 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 – we call this the Google effect.

When a company gives customers access to their products or services anytime from anywhere, the reality is that people will actually use it so be prepared. At home, at work, on holiday, and while on the move, customers expect speedy and convenient website access wherever they are. And they will react negatively if they don’t get it.

As a result, poor web performance is not just an IT issue. Poor performance impacts on your customer experience, resulting in increased page abandonment, diminished trust and customer loyalty and possibly even closed bank accounts. A lot is at risk. Revenue. Customers. The brand. The business. What else is there?

Benchmarking performance
To help identify how well your brand’s website is performing, it is good practice to get an initial view of its current level of performance and to benchmark it against rivals and industry best practice. This enables you to establish what improvements need to be made to the site.

By benchmarking the performance of your website you are able you to better understand its response time, availability and consistency; track key transactions, home pages and mobile applications; and see how your website ranks against your competition and the top sites worldwide. Ultimately it provides context.

If your company’s website downloads at 5-seconds on average, how do you know if it is doing well? What if the site recently went through some hardware upgrades and used to download in 7-seconds on average? It’s likely you would feel good about the improvement. But, what if you benchmark against your competitors’ sites and find that their sites downloaded in 3-seconds on average? You would probably feel differently about your improvement with the knowledge that other sites are creating increased performance expectations for your site’s visitors.

HSBC’s web performance versus RBS
Compuware put two of the leading retail banks in the UK head-to-head in a web performance test. It tested the home pages of HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) from 3rd February through 7th March 2012 to see how they performed from an availability, response time and consistency perspective. To do this, it used the Gomez performance network and tested the sites from the Internet backbone (the data centres of ISPs such as BT, Global Crossing and Verizon) and from real end-users’ desktops via its last mile peer community.

When Gomez evaluated the response time and availability of these sites from the Internet Backbone, RBS’ website performed better than HSBC’s. The average response time of RBS was 1.54 seconds, around 1 second faster than HSBC, which took 2.36 seconds.

Our analysis also showed that the response time of HSBC’s home page was extremely changeable during this test. This was particularly evident during the period from 8th February through 17th February when its home page load speed performed sporadically.

From 17th February to 27th February, HSBC’s website delivered a stable performance with 1.5-second average response time. However, from 28th February through to the end of the test on 7th March the average response time went up by 1 second. The byte size of the home page increased by 100kb on this date and it is likely this is the cause for the slower response time.

Gomez also evaluated the consistency scores of these two websites. Consistency is important because it indicates how consistent the response time is each time a user visits a website. Highly variable response times indicate an inconsistent performance that may be caused by poor website performance.

RBS’s consistency score placed it 5th among 22 other competitors in the Gomez benchmarks for the period measured, while HSBC came 19th – almost at the bottom of the table.

We also looked at the performance on the last mile: the most realistic view of a customer’s experience. Usually these are slower than the Internet Backbone times. HSBC’s response time to real-world customers was 5.644 seconds while RBS’ time took 3.272 seconds on average.

In addition to this, HSBC users would have experienced daily average homepage download speeds that vary from 4 seconds during the last few days of January, to around 50 seconds on the 12th of February.

Compuware’s benchmarks can highlight the huge disparity between banks that are getting web performance right, and those that could be improved. The key considerations for optimising web performance are:

  • 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, which allows websites to identify which customer segments may be experiencing a performance issue.
  • 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’ of customer experiences.
  • Emphasize 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 specifically mobile web experiences that match the speeds of traditional websites downloaded from desktop PCs. In the eyes of your customers, there is only one web and they expect excellent performance regardless of their mode of access.
  • Incorporate benchmarking. Companies can now leverage industry benchmarks to understand how the web experiences they’re delivering compares to competitors and respective industry norms.

The crucial questions you should ask yourself when benchmarking web performance include the following:

1. Track performance against industry leaders and your competition

  • Where does our site rank?
  • How does it compare?
  • What are others doing better?

2. Baseline your own performance and track it over time

  • How are new marketing initiatives affecting performance?
  • Did the infrastructure upgrade improve performance?
  • Are we keeping up with the competition?

3. Align IT and marketing on prioritised performance-based optimisation investment

  • Where do we want to be?
  • When?
  • How much should we invest in performance initiatives?

There is no doubt that the Internet has brought about a revolution in the way banking takes place. But it’s vital that banks invest further in 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.

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