Responsive Web Design For Financial Institutions: Fad Or Strategy?

It's frustrating for bank and credit union marketers to build three separate websites -- one for desktop computers, one for mobile phones and one for tablets. But with a responsive web design, your site will automatically scale and adjust to every device and every screen size.

The debate around mobile app vs. mobile web vs. hybrid app for mobile banking is certainly one that is unlikely to be resolved in the immediate future, as the pros and cons of each approach waffle around with various technology developments. As a consequence of this unresolved conundrum, an ever growing number of discrete applications are being used by customers to access the same sites. Sadly these are not well handled by financial institutions.

In a Mapa Research study earlier in the year, only one third of 103 banks researched can detect mobile users on their main public site. As a result, visitors using their mobile devices are, in the majority of cases, not being redirected to a specific site designed for their device. The net result is they are having to compromise, and experience a below-average user experience.

However, a new technique is weaving its way into the ever-changing mobile landscape. It’s called responsive web design. And it is likely to make a luddite approach to the mobile channel even less acceptable than it is now.

So What Is Responsive Web Design?

A website that is responsively designed is one that changes, scales and adapts to the device a user is on. There is no application to download, and no need to redirect visitors to a mobile device-specific site. The website is fluid across all desktop computers, tablets and other mobile devices (namely iPhones and Androids). This approach delivers a consistent customer experience across devices for all users — something that many financial institutions struggle with today.

Just don’t kid yourself: It’s a big task, and it isn’t easy.

While few financial institutions are using it today, you can expect to see an increase in adoption — particularly as mobile networks get faster, mobile traffic increases and tablets become ubiquitous.

For each of the examples provided below, you should definitely load the website in a browser and test the responsive designs yourself. Squeeze the window down as narrow as you can… stretch it out… resize it. Play around. It’s not only slick, it’s also fun.

Jyske Bank

Jyske, the largest bank in Denmark, is one of the most creative, progressive financial institutions in Europe. They have been been consistent online innovators, and they continue to forge ahead with their responsive website (launched in 2012).


Kiwibank has over 800,000 customers across New Zealand. Being a fairly new bank, the process of rolling out a responsive site may have been easier than for bigger, older, less nimble competitors. The content significantly adapts and is tailored as the screen size reduces always ending up with clear options for the user on a mobile phone (e.g., log in).

It is evident Kiwibank uses mobile detection for tailoring displayed messages.

Army Aviation Center Federal Credit Union

AACFCU is based in Alabama and has over 107,000 members. Although a small credit union, their new responsive site shows they are forward thinkers. “By using responsive design, you don’t have to scroll back and forth to see all of the content, or zoom into the screen see what you’re looking for,” pointed out Angela Norris, web master for Army Aviation, in an article over at American Banker.

Gateway Bank

Gateway Bank sought the help of Forty, a customer experience design firm, to realign their brand experience and design a compelling responsive website that automatically adjusts to multiple screen sizes. The new site helps people find the information they need quickly and easily on all platforms and devices.

“We’re excited to be the first Arizona bank — and one of the first in the country — to offer a responsive website,” said Gateway President and CEO, James Christensen. “Designing our site this way instead of developing a separate mobile app saved us time and money, and it just made more sense for our users.”

Is This Just Another Web Fad?

Only time will tell if/when financial institutions will develop responsive websites en masse, but 2012 has seen the beginnings of growth in this area.

Other financial institutions using responsive web design in the market include BNZ, (Bank) Simple, Countryside FCU, First Central Bank (Alabama), SB1 Federal Credit Union, and S&T Bank. And non-financial firms have been building responsive sites for a while, including popular sites like Time, The Boston Globe and Microsoft. The investment by each of these organizations was undoubtedly significant, but they were clearly committed to delivering a much more consistent user experience.

10/27/2021 Editor’s Note: SB1 Federal Credit Union has rebranded under the name Ardent Credit Union.

Financial marketers have been fooled by some over-hyped yet unproductive web innovations in the past, so they may understandably be wary. But make no mistake: Responsive web design is not just another fad. As always, the challenge is knowing when to have to jump in.

If you aren’t sure you’re ready to bite off a complete redesign of your website, you can always try dipping your toes in instead. One example of a financial institution dabbling with responsive web design is Handelsbanken, a Swedish big bank. Handelsbanken TV (in Swedish) is a responsive microsite dedicated to discussing finance issues. This is a great way you can test the water with a new technology this. By using a separate standalone site (like a microsite), you can learn what’s involved with building a responsive layout on a much smaller scale vs. overhauling your main website.

For your next marketing campaign, you should consider experimenting with responsive web design. Give it a try. Learn the ropes. Familiarize yourself with the process, workflow and costs. Then you’ll know whether your financial institution is ready to pull the trigger.

Gregor McKelvie is part of a team that oversees the operations and development of Mapa Research. He is the resident source of technology news on mobile trends both inside and outside of banking. Mapa Research has been providing research and benchmarking services to the digital financial services industry for the last 15 years. The company services clients globally from offices based in the UK and Scandinavia.

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