Monday, January 08, 2007

My Bank's Website

When I logged on to my bank's website last week, I was struck by how dated it appeared. My statement appeared in a pop-up window, recognized as bad practice five years ago; by default I got a monthly view with a clunky "type your start and end dates" forms for viewing other data when it hasn't been "archived"; there were no reporting or charting functions; there was no search; and the user interface was from 1998.

I happen to know this bank spends several billion dollars a year on IT. A pretty poor performance for all that money! But most other banks are no better.

The irony is that having spent so much time and money fixing and integrating their core systems, banks are not taking advantage of it. They've done the hard bit, all they need now is a bit of simple javascript and HTML!

An imaginative approach to retail banking would use best practice from the likes of web email providers (e.g. Google's gMail), financial portals (e.g. Yahoo Finance) and communications apps (like Skype). That's because although banks see themselves as different, in fact they're just another consumer services industry.

Here are some ideas for breathing new life into ancient-looking bank websites:

  • Allow me to tag statement entries into categories, star them for follow up, and add comments against them. If gMail can do it for my email, then so can my bank
  • Enable search, as per Google. Why shouldn't I be able to quickly find that payment to my phone company?
  • Introduce interactive charts and graphing on every page. If Yahoo Finance can do it, then so can my bank
  • Discard the monthly statement paradigm - the internet is on-demand. I should be able to drag a graphical timeline to view all the entries between two dates, and set my own default (1 year, 3 months, 1 month, 1 week etc)
  • Enable mobile internet access
  • Enable authenticated RSS feeds of my statement
  • Create alerts - I should be able to set thresholds and receive emails, texts or phone calls when they are passed.
  • Use email, IM, phone and videophone technology for sales and customer services, 24 hours a day. Why shouldn't I click on a link to be called immediately? Or even, as a premium service, be put straight through to a personal advisor via web cam?

This may sound straightforward - and it is, from a technical perspective. But from a cultural perspective, it requires a major shift from the attitude "we are the masters of huge enterprise IT systems that need integration" to "let's improve our website".

That's why I predict there is still scope for new internet banks to disrupt the industry. The internet has changed, and it's time that banks caught up.

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