Behind the Scenes of a Banking Website Makeover

Every spring, marketing, communications and technology experts in banking from across the world flock to Las Vegas for the Financial Brand Forum — the largest and most anticipated conference for financial marketers in the world. One of the most popular sessions at the event is the Website Makeover session, during which one lucky institution gets a “live” website makeover on stage.

Sponsored by ZAG Interactive, the behind-the-scenes work to pull off this digital transformation began many months before. In early 2016, Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) was chosen as the makeover candidate. As the largest university-based credit union in the world, MSUFCU boasts over 200,000 members, nearly $3B in assets and over 600 employees. Their website, like so many financial institution sites, was long overdue for an overhaul.

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Identifying the Problems

ZAG began the MSUFCU digital journey with a discovery session, during which over 20 project goals were identified. ZAG’s strategy team then began digesting all of the information that MSUFCU provided — reviewing competitor websites, understanding key wants and needs for various target audiences, and teasing out insights from behavioral and usage data from their current website. Collaborating with ZAG’s design team, several themes and patterns began to emerge.

Creating a Digital Branch

Like many banks and credit unions, MSUFCU realized that their new website would need to be built using a mobile responsive design. They also wanted it to be simple and more contemporary, eliminating the clutter that plague so many sites as they grow over time.

To achieve these goals, ZAG identified strategies and tactics that would yield two creative approaches: one high touch, the other high tech. The High Touch approach catered more to MSUFCU’s flourishing family audience, offering life stage insights and other vital information that would help members improve their financial lives. The High Tech approach skewed more towards a Millennial audience, favoring innovation and simplicity, coupled with financial guidance and an emphasis on social influence and a content marketing strategy.

Website Architecture & Content Plan

ZAG’s strategic team first applied these two approaches to a new website architecture. While looking for opportunities to simplify the site, the team also sought to expand content in ways that would support inbound marketing goals, including SEO. This yielded two distinct structural options — both focused on visitor needs rather than institutional offerings. At the same time, the models were mindful of scalability and an intuitive user experience. Each approach prominently featured the most the popular links, including online banking login, locations, contact info and rates.

Strategic Design Foundation

Once the two architectural models were finalized, the two design approaches were fleshed out. ZAG’s design team began with preliminary sketches of potential page layouts, then moved to wireframing which helped develop the foundation upon which additional design elements would subsequently be applied.

Meanwhile, the team immersed themselves in the MSUFCU brand — understanding what makes the brand unique, what the competition had to offer, and what requirements would need to be layered in. What emerged were two home page designs, each with a unique style and set of tactics, while also sharing many of the same core goals and foundational best practices. The design team then extended each approach by executing key internal pages. Versions for tablet and mobile devices were also created.

High Touch Concept

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High Tech Concept

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Powerful Technology

While the design and strategy teams were formulating these unique approaches, ZAG’s technology team focused on ensuring that the responsive site would be highly functional and scale appropriately over time. The two designs were prototyped to ensure that everything would look and work correctly across all devices. At the same time, ZAG’s quality assurance team ensured that the designs and technology would be conformant with ADA standards so that all visitors would be able to successfully interact with the new site.

Marketing Plan for Success

Meanwhile, ZAG’s marketing team was hard at work planning for what to do with the site when it launched. Working alongside the design and development teams, the marketing team began mapping out a strategy around each page template. Additionally, marketing experts conducted local keyword research to ensure that the new site architecture would be optimized for search engines and help support MSU FCU’s inbound marketing goals. The team also looked at opportunities to gather solid analytics around key actions to better understand site interactions and ultimately its ROI.

The Big Reveal

“Thank you for the great design work! It was a fabulous makeover experience!”
— Deidre DavisVP Marketing & Communications, MSUFCU

Finally, the day arrived where ZAG’s team presented the designs to MSUFCU. ZAG’s Director of Marketing, Michelle Brown, along with Art Director Jennifer Buccini, walked MSUFCU’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Deirdre Davis, through the full website makeover process, while over 200 enraptured financial marketers looked on.

Presenting two designs (and a third, bonus “hybrid design”), attendees learned what it takes to develop a strategic foundation for a new website, what goes into the site strategy, design, development and marketing, and what opportunities and challenges the process presents.

The result? One very happy and excited institution, and an audience who discovered a newfound appreciation for the planning — and rewards — inherent in a website makeover.

Michelle Brown is the Director of Marketing at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency based in Glastonbury, CT that has built hundreds of bank and credit union websites. If your institution’s website needs a makeover, contact the experts at ZAG Interactive by calling 860.633.4818 or send an email.

This article was originally published on June 8, 2016. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

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