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The Evolution of the Virtual Branch

By Michael Bouchard

Recently, the analyst group Javelin Research & Strategy predicted that by 2015 over 50 percent of new accounts will be opened online. Pannos Winzeler Marketing has already seen clients coming close to reaching that mark. An increasing preference to apply for loans and open accounts online has begun a rapid evolution in the way financial institution (FI) websites are designed and the capabilities and information offered. Where websites were once little more than brochures limited to providing general information about products and services, now web-savvy customers expect to do more online.
Today financial institutions’ websites are modeled after successful retail sites like Amazon and Best Buy. Applying for a loan or signing up for a new account is usually just a click or two away and the key metrics are no longer just page views and visit duration. Conversions – converting a visit to a customer – is the critical measurement used to evaluate performance. Analytics are employed to study the path of customers through the website to the point where they become customers or sign up for additional products. This combined with online advertising, means financial institutions are able to measure their marketing efforts with more precision.
The evolution to a more retail-based design has many financial institution’s homepages looking to enhance engagement and deliver a powerful brand experience by employing high quality imagery that project local connections and a commitment to personal relationships. Today websites are also focused on improving the user experience with intuitive navigation featuring easy to use buttons to open accounts and access frequently sought information.
One of the more radical notions from online retailers that has been adopted by a few FIs is the ability for customers to post product reviews and rate products. Online retailers have seen that reviews create trust and provide additional information about products and services. FIs who allow customers to post reviews and share them recognize the value of social recommendations and user reviews.
Another feature of retail websites that is gaining widespread adoption is the integration of online chat allowing customers looking for assistance or information to quickly reach a customer support representative. Many FIs are also investing in financial literacy providing educational content on their websites. Some develop the content themselves and others use third party providers like Truebridge to help customers better manage their financial lives.
Many customers no longer make frequent trips to the branch, often preferring to visit their bank’s homepage in order to access their online banking. As a result, many homepages now take advantage of these frequent visits to promote social communities. Every visit gives customers a chance to interact and connect with real time updates from Facebook, Twitter YouTube, Blogs and other social sites. Much like a trip to the branch, a visit to the homepage can now provide the chance start a conversation and create a deeper relationship than one may have ever imagined.
A new challenge for tomorrow’s websites is customers’ rapid adoption of mobile devices. Not only are customers looking to find new financial relationships online, they increasingly want to be able to open accounts using a tablet or smartphone. Andera, a large provider of online account opening technology, recently noted that in June 9.55 percent of traffic originated from mobile devices, an increase of 130 percent over the year. We have seen similar growth on our own clients’ websites. As a result most FIs will be considering developing a separate site for mobile devices or developing full mobile optimized websites that seamlessly fit any device or desktop computer.
Overall, the biggest change in websites has been their increasing role in customer acquisition, maintaining customer loyalty and delivering customer service. Most financial institutions have been successfully using physical branches to accomplish those goals. In the future your website, and the ability to access it on any device may be as important to your success as your branches and your staff.■

Michael Bouchard is web director for Pannos Winzeler Marketing.

Posted on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 (Archive on Monday, June 24, 2013)
Posted by Scott  Contributed by Scott


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