5 Ways to Ensure Your Banking Website Works in a Digital-First Economy

Some institutions still basically run 'digital brochure' websites when advanced players are incorporating video and other leading-edge techniques. Want to know what works and what's a turnoff? Try asking some consumers.

When Americans shop for a new credit card, mortgage or deposit account, the vast majority — 87% — begin the process online. In fact, of the remaining 13%, while they begin by consulting family and friends as well as social media contacts, they generally wind up Googling the recommendations. So in reality 100% of such customer journeys begin online.

Is your institution’s website designed with that in mind?

Many financial institutions have an odd sense of priorities when they conduct studies of their customer service. James Robert Lay, Founder and CEO of the Digital Growth Institute, whose firm’s studies produced the statistics above, says additional research has found that nine out of ten financial institutions never mystery shop their websites, in order to test how well they work. By contrast, 72% conduct mystery shopping for their physical branch locations.

In a time when so many routine banking transactions, as well as an increasing proportion of sales and account openings, have migrated to the web, Lay suggests that the numbers indicate that the industry’s thinking is upside down. Likewise, while it is common for branch mystery shopping to examine competitors’ branches as well as the institution’s own, many institutions fail to test their rivals’ online presence.

Websites are Never Finished:

Many bankers and credit unions executives still fail to understand how different branches and websites are. When a new branch goes up, the industry is inclined to treat it as a project with a firm completion date. By contrast, there is no closure date with a website.

A website is a continuous commitment, says the consultant. He believes that even if an institution can’t continually refine its site, that it should be conducting a review every 90 days to determine pain points, outdated practices and more.

For executives who want web development to be “done,” Lay suggests that they instead stop thinking of their websites as banking site and more as part of the ecommerce world. He ticks off some of the leading ecommerce players. While many banks and credit unions redesign their sites every three to five years — and some as infrequently as every seven years — leading ecommerce sites like Amazon and Chewy are constantly making changes and improving.

Here’s a Tip to Spur Creativity:

Between website reviews the institution could maintain an “innovation jar” in which good ideas gleaned from other sites can be stockpiled for potential development and launch.

The consultant made these observations during a webinar presented by The Financial Brand for Optimizely. The following additional points are drawn from the suggestions made during the event by Lay and host Laura Dolan, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Optimizely. They cover design considerations as well as their thoughts on content, how to handle failure and what website aspects to prioritize.

1. Tap into the Power of Website Video

One of the most important shifts made during the pandemic was the growing use and acceptance of video in multiple formats, from video messages on websites and embedded in emails to video banking to the ubiquity of Zoom calls.

“Video communication is the primary way to humanize a digital experience,” says Lay. During the pandemic video messages were used to project courage and confidence to banking consumers at a time when many were confused and frustrated.

The medium can continue to serve this role post-Covid, Lay says. Trust is a critical asset for the industry and video can help enhance it.

“92% of all communication consists of body language,” says Lay. He believes it can not only help maintain connections with current customers and members, but that it can be tapped as a sales tool. Even follow-up emails to sales prospects can include an accompanying short video customized with the person’s name to humanize the outreach.

“We have found in our lead generation research that the faster we can get a prospective customer in touch with another human being at the financial brand, the higher the propensity for conversion.”

— James Robert Lay, Digital Growth Institute

“Zoom calls don’t have to go away just because the world is starting to open back up,” says Optimizely’s Dolan. This and similar services have become proven methods of keeping in touch with people when flexibility is required, she says.

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2. Get Your Head out of the Era of Newspapers

Financial institutions should spend more time on the content they want to reach out with and then have the website design accommodate the content, rather than having the design lock Marketing into a certain inflexible kind of messaging, according to Lay.

“Let the content inform the design,” says Lay.

One example of old thinking, to Lay, is the concept that everything important must be “above the fold” on a webpage. Of course, there is no actual fold on the web because there is no paper. The concept goes back to printed materials.

Adopt Web Concepts:

Think in terms of “scroll depth,” a concept that should be considered for both websites as well as mobile apps and mobile sites.

Lay points out that people will continually scroll along, provided there is something they want to read or see. Consider how deeply some infographics range — far beyond the depth of a computer screen.

One caveat here: The “call to action” of a piece of content should be close to the top of the page, so it is clear what the institution hopes the consumer will do. Lay says only 20% of visitors to a page typically see a call to action that’s at the bottom.

Think of Messages, Not Words:

Banking sites tend to be very text-heavy, due to the nature of the business and compliance requirements. But images, such as icons, can communicate a great deal in a small space.

“The human mind can translate iconography many times faster than it can the written word,” says Lay.

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3. Trust can be Built in Years (and Destroyed in Minutes)

While it is an essential for banking institutions, trust can be an inexact matter and not always understood. A point Lay made frequently during the webinar is that the consumer, not the institution, should be the focal point of website and other digital marketing.

That’s why mystery shopping of an institution’s site to see what items rub consumers the wrong way is critical. Subtle factors may make a site overall or a particular part of it a bolster to trust or an eroding factor. Consumers need to be probed for what they think.

“Trust is the currency we trade on in today’s digital world,” says Lay.

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4. Follow Up Religiously on Abandoned Queries

As much as practical and possible, when in a selling mode a banking website should capture essential contact information early on. This includes email addresses, full first and last name and phone number.

The idea is twofold.

First, if a consumer begins to show interest in registering for more information about a particular product or service, they may be interrupted in mid-stream. If the basics are captured first, follow-up is possible.

Second, in some cases a site may be set up to refer a consumer, seamlessly, to another provider that the original institution is working with. The third-party may not “nurture” the prospect the way the referring institution may like. If they blow the deal, but the contact information has been obtained by the original institution, further contact can be made.

Failure can be Turned to Success:

The idea is that leads are too valuable to let them simply fall into the cracks. One institution Lay works with makes 20%-30% more conversions by focusing on abandoned applications.

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5. Put More Focus on Content and SEO

While Google’s ending of third-party cookies has been postponed, it will still likely happen at some point. And changes Apple is making to iOS will also make it harder to obtain lead information.

As a result, both Dolan and Lay see content quality and search engine optimization becoming more important in the near future for making websites a key part of the institution’s sales effort.

These can be inexact sciences, with some efforts scoring well and others bringing “crickets.” Dolan stressed the need to not get discouraged. If something flops, move on and try something else.

Also, Dolan underscored that while many think SEO can work wonders overnight, that’s not the case. It can take months of SEO effort before the institution moves its needle at all.

Regarding beefed-up content, Dolan says that “it’s not enough to just have a robust content strategy.” Promotion of content on the right social media channel or channels for your audience is essential to making sure the content is actually seen and consumed.

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