Mobile banking at last goes mainstream: Are you ready?

4 October 2012

Mark Gunn, European, Middle-East and Africa (EMEA) Director APM, at Compuware examines the history and present performance of mobile banking systems, with reference to a recent study of three large UK retail banks’ mobile websites at Barclays, RBS/NatWest and HSBC. The study was carried out using Compuware Gomez’ mobile readiness test. This uses established mobile web optimisation best practices to try to provide actionable recommendations about how to improve mobile web application performance.

Mobile banking has promised a lot to consumers and banks, but has not truly delivered. The reason for this is largely a result of the false starts with mobile marketing and commerce, the uneven pace at which mobile banking technology developed, and a general mistrust by consumers about handling banking via mobile devices.

However, this mindset is starting to change. Many banks are now embracing the ‘mobile’ and forgetting past false dawns. But how are the banks doing in this new race for adoption and are their mobile websites and functionality up to scratch? Compuware Gomez set out to find out by providing a top-line view of the current state of play of mobile banking via an evaluation of the mobile website performance of three big UK retail banks, Barclays, RBS/NatWest and HSBC. As well as sharing the results I’ll share some high-level tips at the end of this article that I think other banks ought to consider as they implement or upgrade their own mobile strategies.

How the banks fared: Response times & availability

Part of rolling out a mobile banking website involves controlling the mobile performance of that brand and benchmarking it against competitors. With that in mind we looked at how HSBC, RBS/Natwest and Barclays compared with one another between 17 August and 7 September by looking at their page load speeds, availability and page sizes, among other things, on iPhones.

Barclays has the fastest performing mobile website with a response time of 2.65 seconds. Trailing behind Barclays is Natwest (2.9 seconds), RBS (3.2 seconds) and HSBC (4.1 seconds) – remembering that the middle two are separate brands even though NatWest is part of the RBS Group. Barclays not only leads the pack with a good response time, but it also has the highest availability score (98.10%), which is a measure of how available the site is every time a user tries to access it.

The rest of the tested banks’ availability scores were also good. NatWest had a score of 98.43% availability, while RBS and HSBC respectively had availability scores of 97.69% and 97.69%. Obviously this data does not take into account the week-long period earlier this year when RBS Group’s entire retail banking IT estate failed or any other large-scale bank outages.

Mobile traffic spikes

Aside from monitoring response times and availability, it’s vital for banks to monitor spikes in usage of their mobile websites that might affect performance. If not monitored and dealt with they can lead to other problems such as site crashes.

HSBC, for instance, experienced spikes in traffic and what was worrying about its spikes is that they occurred for prolonged periods of time. Furthermore, around the beginning of September there seemed to be a general internet / broadband issue which affected all of the sites – Barclays, however, was the least affected by this, while RBS, HSBC and NatWest all grouped around similar times.

Indeed, barring a few sporadic, slow tests, Barclays’ average response time score, which was already the highest, would have been much higher. It also had some extended content load times that caused some minor problems for mobile websites. RBS experienced similar issues: it had two major traffic spikes that affected performance.

The impact of page sizes

Page size is important for mobile sites, especially as the connection speeds used are often a lot lower than landline broadband connections. Ideally the page should be less than 500Kb to have a good response time. The sizes of the sites evaluated were Barclays (186Kb), NatWest (170Kb), RBS (278Kb) and HSBC (54Kb).

What is interesting with our analysis is that it reveals HSBC currently has the smallest page size, but the slowest response time. When we looked closer at possible reasons for this, the issue seems to be caused by increased first byte load times and fairly long DNS look-up times (sometimes over a second), which is a measure of the time the browser takes to look up the domain of the object being requested.

RBS currently has the largest page size. However, it appears to have an efficient system in place to deal with this, so that its response time is not far off from its competitors.

If we centre on Barclays for a moment, over the 21-day measurement period, the site operates at a 2.65 second average response time, which falls below the 3 seconds you would expect for a homepage load time.

Conclusion

According to recent Google research more consumers in the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan use a mobile phone (feature phone or Smartphone) than a computer (desktop or laptop). Furthermore a recent Morgan Stanley report predicts that the volume of mobile users will outstrip the number of desktop Internet users by 2014. And it’s widely predicted that in the next 18 months, 15-30 per cent of a company’s web traffic will come from mobile devices.

Therefore, there’s no doubt that mobile devices and websites are being used widely by consumers. The question, though, is whether banks are in fact meeting their customers’ mobile website performance management needs, and whether they are competing well with their competitors. The only way to find out is to measure it.

Best practice tips to ensure high quality mobile website performance:

Ask yourself the following questions and follow the suggested action points below to obtain a better mobile website performance at your retail bank:

  1. Does your bank have a regular web site, optimised web site or mobile app?

At the heart of this issue lies your understanding of what your customers want. Don’t second-guess what they want – ask them and find out. In order to deliver a solid mobile Internet strategy, you need to know what devices they are using, what networks they are on and where they are based. Don’t leave it to chance and then plan accordingly.

  1. Make your mobile content easy to find

Use automated redirects that recognise mobile users and lead them to your appropriate mobile content. Ensure you are providing content and functionality that supports what your customers are trying to achieve.

  1. Make sure your site works under peak traffic conditions

After all the expense of driving traffic and promoting your mobile service, you have to be ready for peak traffic conditions when interest – and expectations are at their height.

  1. Don’t underestimate the need for speed

Mobile users expect to make sacrifices – in content depth and its presentation – in exchange for any place, any time convenience. But the one thing they won’t sacrifice is speed. 58% of mobile phone users expect websites to load as quickly on their phones as on their desktops.

  1. See things the way your customers do

As many as two-thirds of all web site failures occur outside the firewall on the ‘last mile’ – where your customers sit. It is not always possible to spot the technical issues that could lead to the failure if you only view your web site from behind the firewall.Test your mobile web site on the internet backbone and on the last mile to ensure both bases are covered.

  1. Put your mobile site to the test

The Gomez mobile readiness test, outlined above, uses established mobile web optimisation best practice techniques to provide actionable recommendations about how to improve mobile web application performance. Use it, or similar offerings, to improve.

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