17 Essential Features Your Financial Institution’s Website Must Have

The need to have your website effectively support multiple goals has never been more important. Realistic budgeting for a website update or redesign must start with identifying the most important components to ensure this vital channel can readily adapt to changes in technology, strategy and consumer expectations.

The roller coaster impact brought on by the pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty for banks and credit unions as they enter the budgeting and planning season. But one thing is clear: A strong website that can support your brand now and be scalable to adjust to whatever comes your way will help you do your job and support your audiences best.

Realistic budgeting for a website redesign needs to start with a list of the features your new site needs to have. Like a car, most websites come with some basic features, but the majority of institutions find the need for more than just the base model. Let’s explore what items should be on your website checklist, whether you are redesigning your site or simply making updates.

1. Mobile-Friendly Design

Having a site that isn’t built using responsive design best practices is the first signal to visitors that you don’t prioritize their user experience. Having been a standard for many years, not having a responsive website may even make your financial institution appear behind the times — putting off potential customers. So, the first must-have of any website redesign should be the equal consideration of both your desktop and mobile experiences.

2. ADA Conformance

Websites should be accessible to everyone, including those with disabilities such as dyslexia, epilepsy, blindness and more. The latest Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.1) help website owners understand how to maximize the user experience for ADA conformance. Any new website should be designed and developed against these guidelines, and any existing site should be retrofitted if possible. Additionally, a plan should be in place to train website managers on keeping the site in compliance once it is live, as well as to conduct regular ADA scans to keep on top of any issues and avoid any legal or negative user experience implications as updates are made to your website over time.

3. Intuitive Site Architecture

Site navigation strategies go through trends — but what hasn’t changed is the need for visitors to quickly find what they’re looking for. Your site should be organized in a way that makes the most sense to your audience, which may in fact be quite different from how your institution understands and refers to its own solutions. A good site architecture should be simple and scalable and be something you can edit yourself as your institution or audience’s needs change. Search engine optimization (SEO) best practices will undoubtedly also play a role in your decisions, as you’ll want to have distinct pages within your site architecture to allow for optimization of priority products, themes and related search terms. (More on this at point 7.)

4. Helpful Site Search

A well designed website will make it easy for consumers to easily find what they’re looking for, but since website users are so accustomed to using a search feature on popular sites and apps like Google and Amazon, they may be inclined to use your site search as well. Your website should minimally include a prominent search option that presents an easy-to-read search results display. Ideally, it would surface the most popular searches, such as your routing number, rates, lost card and contact options, or even include inline answers to frequently asked questions related to an inquiry. This can be achieved with custom development or third-party solutions that streamline this type of content management.

5. Self-Service Features

A successful banking website is one that puts the visitor’s top needs in the driver’s seat. Your mission should be saving people time when they have simple requests. This could be solved by offering a chat feature, quick links, a robust site search or other elements that deliver immediate answers. Planning for a site redesign should involve determining what these key self-service priorities are, and how to provide for them. A website that respects people’s time for the “little things” will go a long way to establish a positive brand impression and trust when it’s time for the “big things” — like new accounts or loans.

6. Online Loan and Account Opening

If you are one of the institutions that still hasn’t invested in having the ability for consumers to open an account or loan online, you are doing them and your institution a disservice. Offering online loan and account opening is an option that your site must offer in order to be competitive, respectful of people’s time and, currently, to be more pandemic-friendly. Similar to offering online and mobile banking, opening an account or loan online is simply an expected experience.

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7. SEO Strategy

Most institutions are looking to rank highly on key organic search terms, which makes a well-defined search engine optimization (SEO) strategy vital to a redesign strategy. Ranking highly on banking products and services is extremely competitive but can be done successfully with proper planning. Define your goals early on, work with an SEO expert to determine what it will take to achieve them and be sure to have a plan in place for ongoing optimization once the site launches. Understand that continued content optimization is going to be an important part of this process, as it remains one of the major contributing factors to SEO success. Most institutions also have a paid search engine marketing (SEM) strategy along with an organic SEO strategy so that they can drive immediate, qualified traffic on top search terms.

8. Campaign Landing Page

If you are spending money on a marketing campaign, be sure to also invest in at least one reusable campaign landing page template. Landing pages eliminate any unnecessary elements and only focus on the specific offer details and getting the visitor to convert. Well-designed and developed landing pages can help support the success of your campaigns and are a smart investment for any bank or credit union. A good template will allow you to keep branding and fundamental layout components consistent (e.g. headline, image) but give you the ability to easily customize them for a specific campaign.

9. Relatable Content

The quality and quantity of content on your website is important to having your website be a helpful communications channel, an inbound marketing machine, and to support your intended brand impression. At the minimum, you will need a web copywriter to evaluate and likely rewrite your content to fit your new site design. This professional should also be trained in SEO best practices so that your copy supports your online visibility goals.

10. Personalization

You have likely read many articles about website personalization and wondered how it might work best for your institution. Banks and credit unions have had success personalizing content by geography, referring URL, previous browsing behavior or other meaningful criteria. By making content more personalized to a visitor’s persona or perceived interests, it increases the likelihood that the site is relevant to their needs and will encourage them to take the actions you desire. Personalization can be a large effort that is best approached in phases, but with proper planning and implementation, it can greatly help improve overall website engagement.

11. Privacy and Security Considerations

This is an area of utmost importance to consumers. You will need to understand the exact privacy requirements from your legal or compliance teams, which may include adherence to the CCPA (California Consumers Privacy Act), GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or other guidelines. It will also be important to revisit your privacy policy to ensure it aligns with the most recent regulations for transparency given the many changes over the years. Additionally, your security teams will need to be involved to confirm that your site meets all requirements for consumer data protection. This area constantly evolves, so engage your teams early on and frequently to make sure that your website is always fully compliant.

12. Financial Literacy and Helpful Resources

Now that consumers seek answers online instead of at the branch, providing access to financial literacy resources online has become increasingly important. In addition to handling banking transactions, your site should also be a go-to hub for financial resources and advice — just like your locations. Buying a home, for example, is an involved process that requires research and guidance. By offering information and tools to help consumers along that journey, you’ll establish and nurture relationships. From financial calculators and videos to articles and infographics, this content not only helps makes these topics more palatable but also fosters brand loyalty, leadership and trust — which can ultimately contribute to product adoption. Also, this content can serve as great email or social media content.

13. Product Selection Features

Choosing which product is best based on specific needs and preferences can often be complicated for financial products. Offering a product finder tool on your website can aid in the user experience and help support conversions. Certain products are more conducive than others for product finders, like checking and savings accounts or mortgages. By presenting users with a series of questions or the ability to filter by feature, you are helping lead them along their decision-making process.

14. Rate Management

Deposit and loan rates can change frequently, so having a built-in tool that allows you to centrally update all of your rates within the content management system (CMS) is essential to making site administration easier and maintaining compliance. Plus, this tool may allow for scheduled publishing or unpublishing since rate information may need to be updated on a day, or at an hour, when you may not otherwise be working.

15. Location Management

For institutions with many branch locations, the ability to manage location information centrally within their website’s CMS is a valuable and necessary feature. This is not only helpful for ensuring that this frequently accessed information is easy to update by administrators, but also affords the opportunity to integrate with third-party ATM networks or even local listing platforms. Since location information is vital for local SEO, this feature should be designed and function in a way that is SEO-friendly.

16. Alert Management

You more than likely got to experience the need for a site alert feature when the pandemic initially hit. In an instant, you needed to tell audiences that branches were closed and then provide continued updates about how your institution was handling the situation. You may now still be using your alert feature to remind consumers about mask requirements or communicate other important messages. From weather alerts to planned online banking platform maintenance to yes, even a pandemic, an alert feature is a must-have for any financial institution site. Because of the time sensitivity of alerts the feature should be easy to edit, schedule and unschedule.

17. Custom Analytics Tracking

Most banks and credit unions set goals for their website, yet many don’t stop to think about how they’re currently measuring success. For example, increasing auto loan applications after a redesign by 10% means tracking the number of applications before the site redesign, including the source of the application. Analytics tracking has gotten very sophisticated in recent years, so investing in custom analytics tracking and reporting — including through to third-party sites — is extremely important to understand the ROI of any digital project. This is an area that is likely to evolve once a new site launches, so be sure to have a plan for your current site, your redesigned site and ongoing analytics support afterwards to evaluate how your efforts are contributing to your goals.

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