Note: This data is compiled using Google’s free Trends service.
Banks vs. Credit Unions
Banks generate nearly eight times the amount of search traffic on Google as do credit unions. While bank-related searches have grown steadily over the last decade, the relative search volume for credit unions has remained flat.
What’s most interesting about this graph isn’t necessarily the apparent relative disparity between the big four US banks (which can be explained a number of different ways). What’s fascinating is the changes over time, specifically for “Bank of America” and “Wells Fargo.” Bank of America hit a peak for search volumes in August 2011 and has been on a steady decline ever since — approaching the same search levels as Chase and Citi. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo has seen its search volumes double since May 2010. What causes these changes? What prompts people to search more for one big bank or the other at any given time?
Brick-and-Mortar Delivery Channels
Pundits and banking industry observers love to debate the “death” of branches and ATMs. But every indicator — including consumer searches on Google — suggests that interest in both branches and ATMs isn’t waning. In fact, search volumes have actually been on the rise since about 2009. One could argue that the emergence of smartphones is behind this surge — that the geolocational features of smartphones coupled with the ability to look up anything you want enables consumers to search for things like “nearest ATM.”
Consumer interest (and adoption) of mobile banking solutions is taking off, with no signs of letting up any time soon. Graphs like this illustrate how the financial industry can be totally transformed by new technology; one day it’s status quo in the banking business, the next day Steve Jobs rolls out the iPhone and suddenly everyone wants to have a bank in their back pocket.
Consumer interest in mobile payments has grown steadily over time, but not as quickly as many experts in the banking industry predicted (or hoped). With the introduction of Apple Pay, that may change. Interest in mobile wallets has followed a similar trajectory.
Mobile Check Deposit
“Mobile check deposit” didn’t even exist as a search term prior to June 2010. The previous term bankers used to describe the method of depositing checks using a smartphone camera, “remote deposit capture,” was so horrible the industry all but abandoned it not long after the phrase was coined in 2006.
Bankers will be talking about those heady days prior to the subprime meltdown for decades. But it seems unlikely that we will see mortgage lending return to levels seen in 2006 anytime soon, perhaps not in our lifetimes. Just looking at Google search volumes it’s clear that the home loan market is a shell of its former self, with searches down roughly 60-70%, and it’s still in decline. Even so, you can still see the seasonality of mortgages. January through August is strong, while October, November and particularly December are weak.
Interest in business loans has been on a steady, downward trajectory for nearly a decade now. There is also a clear seasonal trend: searches for “business loans” drops sharply every December, but that’s usually followed by a significant uptick in January.
In the wake of the financial meltdown, depositors were scrambling to find a safe place to park their money. By January 2009, search volumes for “CD rates” hit their peak. Then it looks like savers just gave up — why bother searching for the best CD rates when everyone basically has the same (lousy) rate? You could sum up the current state of the CD market in two words: “why” and “bother.”
It’s clear that consumers were hit hard by the financial crisis of 2007. When people own homes, they feel better about their financial situation, and they have equity they can borrow against for things like college tuition. You don’t need to read Pew’s research on the decaying market for higher education; just look at Google’s search trends. In June 2005 and 2006, students were thinking about college immediately after graduation. But in 2007, they waited until August… and there were fewer of them. Same thing the year after, and the year after that. Now the once-steady rhythms of the student lending market have devolved to the point where there is almost no discernible pattern or seasonality.