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I recently had a chance to catch up with a former colleague of mine, who’s now CEO of Facilitas, which recently launched findabetterbank.com.

It’s a pretty nifty tool. It walks the user through a five-step process, asking about location, types of accounts/banks to include (e.g., Internet-only, student accounts), account feature preferences, and fee preferences. The site then presents the user with a listing of banks based on those preferences, which can be sorted by fees, percent of desired features met, closest branch location, or number of locations within a specified range.

Site visitors can click on any bank listed and see details about account features, fees, bank contact info, and a Google map of the nearest branch location.

Neat stuff. But what will ultimately differentiate this site from anything else will be Facilitas’ ability to let site visitors execute the switching of their accounts from their current bank to a new one, using the capabilities it has developed over the past couple of years (go here for a beta demonstration).

A few years ago, I met with the then-CEO of bankrate.com and suggested to her that the future of sites like bankrate was in the transaction, not the advertising. What I meant was that I thought it would be a whole lot more valuable to banks (Bankrate’s customers) to deliver a customer, and not just eyeballs and clicks. This is the vision that Facilitas is looking to deliver on.

But granted, today, it’s still a very small player compared to the millions of hits that bankrate.com gets. But banks and credit unions should still pay attention. Here’s why:

1. Customer data. If Facilitas can succeed at driving traffic to its site, the info that it will collect about customer account and fee preferences should prove to be an invaluable marketing tools for banks and credit unions.

2. Competitive data. A number of banks have tried to present competitor comparisons on their sites. It takes a lot of work to maintain that competitive information, and banks risk presenting outdated competitive information. Facilitas helps to overcome that problem.

3. Site design. I think there’s an opportunity to widgetize findabetterbank, and embed it into a bank’s or CU’s web site enabling a truly objective comparison of its accounts against the competition. I might not go as far as providing a map to my competitors’ branches, but providing objective guidance is a great way to being seen as a customer advocate. If you think this approach doesn’t work, talk to Progressive Insurance.

Having said that, there are a few things I’d say to Facilitas before I would incorporate the tool on my site (if I worked at a bank or CU):

  • Spiff up the interface. The functionality of the tool is great, and the ability to get more details on fees and see “what’s missing” from desired account features is great. But the interface has a Web 1.0 kind of look and feel to it, and moving back and forth between steps in the process (after going through it the first time) is a little kludgy.
  • Improve output features. After selecting a particular bank, it’s easy to print out the info for that bank. But printing out, or saving to a file, the comparison chart isn’t available. Personally, it’s the comparison chart I’d want to walk into a bank branch with.

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