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John Lovett & Chris Musto, Gomez Inc.
John Lovett & Chris Musto, Gomez Inc.
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Site Performance Shines Amid Upgrade Blitz

Considering the rapid rate at which banks are rolling out innovations to their online offerings and the inexorable rise in customer adoption, you might think site performance would inevitably suffer. Think again.

Considering the rapid rate at which banks are rolling out innovations to their online offerings and the inexorable rise in customer adoption, you might think site performance would inevitably suffer. Think again.

The Gomez Performance Index for banking indicates that despite continuous form and functionality enhancements, site performance of the nation's leading Web banking offerings has improved over time.

Over the past 12 months, the average response time for all firms on the index has been 13.5 seconds among a relatively stable field of the largest U.S. banks, measured by retail deposits. Yet, there are notable exceptions.

For example, BankOne consistently ranks atop the speed charts with the fastest response times -- hovering around 5.9 seconds on average (benchmark averages vary each month but typically range between 10 and 15 seconds). Yet, Bank of America challenges BankOne's reign by stepping up on occasion to snag the top response time spot. Bank of America's rise to the top of the response time ladder is impressive because up until October of 2002 the bank was the slowest performer on the index. Since then, the bank made significant changes to its infrastructure that enabled it to move from the slowest performer to among the fastest.

Successful transactions are also on the rise (from 94.9% in June 2002 to 97.3% in May 2003), a trend that's sure to please both banking executives and customers alike. Historically, sites experience availability problems at the login page or when pulling transaction histories. Many sites use proactive messaging at the login to notify clients when applications are inaccessible due to unscheduled maintenance or traffic spikes. This is an effective practice that carries over from IVR channels where customers are informed of expected wait times prior to being connected.

The Particulars

Historically, the login process is the bottleneck for tasks involving secure password-protected applications. Our tests here gauge average wait time (across a T1 connection) for pages to load after the customer username and password were entered. In all cases, the first page to load upon login is the Account Summary (or overview) page, which typically reflects all accounts held and balances for each. Each of the Gomez test accounts possesses linked checking and savings accounts with similar transaction histories.

The greatest response time improvements to the Login Process occurred at Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Bank of America's performance improvement is notable because the bank's response time average declined from 9.5 seconds in Q4 2002 to just under 3 seconds in Q1 2003. During this time the bank also moved up its login fields to the homepage from a location that required customers to click through. Thus, the bank improved the speed of its login process and site navigation, making the online platform both faster and easier to use.

Transaction history pages reflect the biggest performance improvements across sites monitored in our page-level analysis, which is largely due to two sites in particular. Again, Bank of America and Wells Fargo both showed marked improvement on their respective Transaction History pages over the past year. Bank of America experienced the largest response time decline, dropping from a 12-plus second average in Q3 2002 to under 1.5 seconds in Q1 2003. Bank of America also rolled out check imaging over the past year, which again indicates that the site's page performance is improving amid continuing functionality enhancements.

Wells Fargo slashed its response time by more than half, with a second place industry average of 1.05 seconds in Q1 2003. BankOne and Fleet Bank also exhibited stellar consistency on their Transaction History pages, respectively.

Gomez research shows that current and prospective online bankers want to get more out of Web banking. In particular, they seek online check image and statement delivery and account-based alerting.

Banks are responding well to these demands, with the proportion of banks offering each of these services rising since last year. Online banking is ultimately about convenience and accessibility. With customers attempting to transact with encountering faster and more reliable Web sites, banks are on the road to creating an online experience that generates increased loyalty and task fulfillment as well as accelerated return on investment from this fast-growing channel.

John Lovett is senior performance analyst and Chris Musto vice president of research at Gomez, Inc., an Internet benchmarking and improvement strategies firm in Waltham, MA. They can be reached at jlovett@gomez.com or cmusto@gomez.com, respectively. A description of their methodology can be found at gomez.com.

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