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Kathy Burger
Kathy Burger
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Lost on Easy Street

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE the cluelessness of the American public -- because then you'll be better positioned to make money off it. That seems to be one of the lessons that can be gleaned from the results of a study released earlier this month by ING U.S. Financial

Services. The ING Financial Planning and Investing Study revealed that nearly 75 percent of the more than 1,000 American consumers surveyed by Roper GfK said they would switch to a financial services firm with a reputation for making the financial planning process easier. More than one-third of the respondents said it is difficult to understand most financial services information. Respondents also were asked what they think makes a financial services experience "easy." The No. 1 answer, cited by 79 percent of those surveyed, was, "How knowledgeable [my] representatives are." Other highly ranked criteria were:

  • The ability to provide information in straightforward language that I understand;,

  • Responsiveness to my needs;,

  • Quality of customer service;,

  • Whether they offer products that clearly address my needs; ,

  • How clear my advisers are about all the costs, penalties and restrictions; and,

  • My advisers' understanding of my needs and goals.

    The good news for banks (especially, I guess, for ING, which no doubt is going to contrast its own performance and presumed customer friendliness with the research data) is that these findings indicate a tremendous opportunity. Persuade unhappy consumers that it's "easier" to do business with your organization, then stand back and wait for a flood of new customers to come through your doors.

    But, ultimately, these statistics are discouraging. First, they suggest that the industry has failed to get consumers to incorporate technology in any meaningful way into their banking experience.

    Furthermore, what does this say about banks' efforts over the past 15 years (or longer) to gain more-detailed insight into customers, improve the branch experience, expand channel offerings, focus on cross-selling, pursue convergence and nontraditional partnerships, develop targeted products for different customer segments, and generally provide better service? Not much, unfortunately.

    Katherine Burger is Editorial Director of Bank Systems & Technology and Insurance & Technology, members of UBM TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services. She assumed leadership of Bank Systems & Technology in 2003 and of Insurance & Technology in 1991. In addition to ... View Full Bio

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