March 10, 2010

Image Gallery: Take an inside look at First Tennessee Bank's new customer-facing web site.

There are few areas of a bank's IT environment in which a five-year-old system would be considered old, but as First Tennessee Bank ($26.4 billion in assets), a subsidiary of First Horizon National Corp., discovered recently, a half-decade-old public-facing Web site can seem outdated. "It hadn't been redesigned in more than five years," Dan Marks, the bank's chief marketing officer, says of First Tennessee's Web site, FirstTennessee.com. "The layout was optimized for an 800 x 600 [display resolution] browser. It was feeling small compared to today's standards." (Today, the majority of Web surfers browse at a resolution of 1024 pixels x 768 pixels or better.)

In addition, the Memphis-based bank's IT team was feeling constrained by the Web platform that supported the site and was seeking an upgrade. Coupled with a desire for a more search engine-optimized site, the aging Web design and platform led First Tennessee to rebuild its Web presence from the bottom up, Marks reports, culminating in a new customer-facing site that launched in August 2009.

Work on the redesign began in July 2008 with six months of "blueprinting" in partnership with Boston-based technology consulting firm Sapient followed by six months of in-house development and implementation work, according to Paula Beale, creative brand manager at First Tennessee and point person on the Web redesign project. On the back end, the IT team upgraded the bank's core Web platform to a new version of San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe's ColdFusion, she adds.

The basic principle behind the redesign was to provide customers with a Web experience that closely mirrored the bank's brand promise in other channels, Beale relates. "That brand promise is about convenience, advice and helpful employees," she explains. "A lot of things you can do on the site now that you couldn't do before relate to those main themes."

To optimize that experience, the new site features a more intuitive interface and easier navigation, while also providing both business and individual customers with more-interactive advisory tools, such as a loan recommender, savings calculator and business resource center. Many of the new interactive tools -- which the bank developed in close collaboration with its advertising agency, Memphis-based Thompson & Co. -- make heavy of use of Adobe Flash technology. "It's not just brochure-ware -- it's real advice that is specific to life events, whether that's in your business or personal life," Beale says. "A lot of times, those are catalysts for thinking about your financial life."

Particularly on the retail side (as opposed to the bank's commercial business), the bank built the tools around life events. "It's easy for consumers to think about buying a house, saving for college, retirement and putting together an estate plan," Beale comments. "Those are events that trigger needs for adding financial products or changing financial products. That's the easy-to-interface type of approach that we use. Then we developed content based on that, and Thompson helped us with the execution."

Little more than six months after the new site's introduction, the project already is paying off, according to Marks. He says Web traffic has been growing at an annualized rate of about 12 percent since the launch. In addition, thanks to the search engine optimization (SEO) efforts, First Tennessee is driving a greater percentage of Web traffic through organic search.

Those benefits, though, did not come without a great deal of hard work, Marks notes. "Building in some of the capabilities and doing a lot of the work internally presented a sort of learning curve. It's been well worth it, given what we are trying to accomplish over the next couple of years," he says, adding that the bank expects to roll out significant enhancements to its online banking capabilities later in 2010.

Image Gallery: Take an inside look at First Tennessee Bank's new customer-facing web site.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR