February 07, 2011

Corporate Insight, which closely monitors the websites of 16 banks and "bankerages" (such as e*trade and in the near future Schwab) throughout the year, has given out awards to many of these sites for consumer-friendly attributes such as ease of use and navigation. "If customers can't find a tool, it might as well not exist," notes Doug Miller, senior banking analyst, who shared with us a preview of the award results. "So ease of finding things is important as well as being able to easily use a tool for the first time."

KeyBank's website won a gold award for the ease of opening new accounts through the use of online forms. The bank lets customers apply for several accounts simultaneously and draw money in from external accounts or send a check to fund a new account. "They pay a lot of attention in their application to the details," Miller says. The bank also offers a private chat tool so that a customer service rep can guide customers through the process.

Bank of America's site received three gold awards. One was for its bill payment center, where Corporate Insight staff found it easy to set up bill payments. The bank also lets customers link non-BofA accounts to its bill payment center and draw funds from external accounts to pay bills, Miller says.

The bank's second gold award was for its funds transfer capabilities, such as the ability to transfer money to another BofA customer's account fee-free and to set up a recurring schedule for most transfer types. The third gold award was for the bank's private site (the password-protection portion of its website) help features. BofA provides a central pop-up help center that includes a help index, a linked glossary of terms and information related to whatever the customer was just trying to do. "We call that contextual help," Miller says. The pop-up format means the customer can view the transaction he's trying to conduct and the help information on the same page.

Citi received a gold award for the online self-service options it offers, such as letting customers change their own contact information, online password, and ATM PIN on the website and sign up for overdraft protection.

Corporate Insight gave e*trade a gold award for the way it presents account information on its private site home page. An Ajax-enabled search feature lets users search and filter transactions by time period and type. e*trade also offers a feature that projects the customer's balance over the next seven days, taking into account any online payments or recurring funds transfers between accounts, Miller says. "That's a good way to make sure clients are kept alert and reminded about things they've set up," he says.

Capital One, Chase and Bank of America were all recognized for the alerts they offer through their websites. Bank of America offers 11 types of user-activity alerts for checking and savings accounts (e.g. being notified when a check clears) and 11 security alerts that are sent automatically, for example when purchases outside of a customer's standard profile have occurred.

PNC Bank received a silver award for its account selection tools, which help customers determine which type of account is appropriate for them through an Adobe Flash-based questionnaire. "The usefulness of Flash is that it's more visually appealing and it reduces load times," Miller notes. Wells Fargo was noted for suggesting a second choice account as well as a primary recommendation.

"Bank of America, Chase and KeyBank all do a nice job with the discrete tools that help make up the online banking experience," Miller says. "All three do a nice job giving clients the features and tools they need to get the most out of online banking."

Corporate Insight staff tested the 16 sites using Internet Explorer, which they view as the most commonly used browser at large financial institutions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR