The Financial Brand’s annual study of Google search trends paints a fascinating visual picture of the financial sector in 19 charts.
Note: This data is compiled using Google’s free Trends service, which is an amazing tool to play with.
Banks vs. credit unions
People searching for banks on Google outweigh credit unions by a factor of at least four, but the gap appears to be narrowing slightly. Credit unions are holding steady while banks seem to be in an ever-so-slight decline.
Checking accounts vs. free checking
More and more people are searching for just plain old “checking accounts,” while fewer consumers are using the more specific search term “free checking.” Maybe people just expect checking to be free these days. Or perhaps the decline in the number of institutions offering free checking is having an impact on people’s search behaviors?
Debit vs. prepaid cards
After experiencing a slight lull during the Great Recession, searches on Google for both debit and prepaid card are growing at a healthy clip. In 2004, people search for prepaid cards more than they did for debit cards, but now it’s the other way around. Twice as many people are looking for debit cards as they are prepaid cards.
Big data is a trendy topic on the rise
A mere three years ago, the subject of “big data” was barely a twinkle in data analysts’ eyes. But starting in January 2012, the topic started to weave its way into business vernacular. Now it’s a full-blown trend. Executives are searching for the term “big data” more frequently, as everyone continues to wrestle with what it is and how they might implement it.
Credit scores concern consumers
Consumers are increasingly concerned about the importance of their credit scores. As you can see, there appears to be a degree of sawtooth seasonality to people’s searches for information related to “credit scores.” You’d think this trend might suggest a possible renewed interest in consumer lending… that is until you look at the next chart.
Consumer lending: auto loans are the only bright spot
You can see the spike in lending searches occurring somewhere between 2006 and the middle of 2007. But lending-related searches have been down and have generally stayed down for the last five to six years. The only exception is car loans, which appear to be making a rebound to pre-crisis levels.
Home equity loans flatline
Millions of borrowers are upside down with their mortgage. Many have been foreclosed. Others sold their homes and now rent. Looking at Google search traffic volumes, it would appear that the home equity lending market will remain depressed for some time to come.
Credit cards climb steadily
According to Google trend analysis, consumer interest in credit cards is greater than it’s ever been, well above levels seen before the financial meltdown.
Bank branches are wildly popular
Google searches for bank branches are surging at a mind-numbing pace — up roughly 200% in the last six years. What this means isn’t entirely clear — particularly in light of the charts that follow — but it certainly doesn’t suggest that “branches are dying” (as many pundits have predicted).
Mobile banking’s meteoric rise
Seven years ago, practically no one searched Google for anything related to mobile banking. And then… the iPhone came along. Now consumers see smartphones as an integral part of the financial toolbox. Consumer interest in mobile banking is climbing at a sustained 30° angle, with no signs of letting up. Do you need any more convincing that mobile devices are the future cornerstone of transactional banking? Then look at the next chart…
iPad and tablet banking take off
If it weren’t for Apple, banks and credit unions would be minus two extra delivery channels they have today (iPhone and iPad). As you can see, the introduction of iPads all of a sudden spurred a whole new wave of innovations that spark consumers’ curiosity, resulting in a surge in Google searches.
Video banking looses its luster
Video banking seems to be a concept that saw its zenith around 2010. Interest appears to have tapered off, but at least it’s holding steady. Don’t expect this trend to continue though. At some point in the not-too-distant-future, video banking (and similar video chat services) will be commonplace in the banking world.
Omni-channel banking: a concept that’s in vogue
Now there are so many retail delivery channels to manage that we need new terminology to describe the process. In the last 24 months, the concept of “omni-channel” strategies have become the latest rage to sweep through the banking world.
Facebook and Twitter: Banks vs. Credit Unions
One look at this chart and you’d quickly conclude that Facebook is the only social channel that matters in banking. By comparison, Twitter barely registers. Searches for credit unions on Facebook (green line) are about half as frequent as searches for banks on YouTube.
Social media levels off
It appears that the banking industry’s fascination with the subject of social media is starting to normalize.
Content marketing: a new code word for “social media”
Expect to hear about “content marketing” more and more in the years to come. First it was called “web 2.0.” Then it was called “social media.” These days, the vogue term for social media is “content marketing.” Practitioners will tell you content marketing encompasses more than just social channels (e.g., newsletters and email), but at the end of the day, the bulk of the output is generated for social platforms — primarily Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs.
Big purchases: new homes and cars
Consumer interest in new and used cars may be on the decline, but it appears interest in homes for sale is on the rise for the first time in three or four years.
The chart’s a bit messy, but if you follow each line — one for refrigerators, stoves, dryers, washing machines and air conditioners — you can see a steady climb across the durable goods category starting in 2009. This is perhaps one of the strongest indicators of an economic recovery that Google search trends can provide.