Our View On What Matters In European Retail Banking eBusiness & Channel Strategy

Benjamin Ensor

The past five years have been awful for most European retail banks. The financial crisis, and the resulting recessions in most of Europe's economies, nearly destroyed some banks and crushed the profitability of many of the remainder. Worse than that, it was a problem that was partly or largely of (some) banks' own making. Banks are being forced to shrink their balance sheets, sell off non-core businesses and cut costs (i.e. fire employees) just to survive. And Europe's ongoing financial crises are far from over as banks' fortunes are closely entwined with those of their indebted governments.

There's one small silver lining among these dark clouds. Over the past 15 years, eBusiness has evolved from providing an electronic brochure to become a fundamental strategic function within retail banks. One of the effects of the financial crisis has been to force most European banks to focus on how to generate profits in their core retail banking operations by serving customers efficiently. Digital banking is a big part of the answer. So, despite the bleak economic outlook, most retail banking boards know that they must continue investing in digital channels. Digital strategy is an increasingly important component in overall strategy.

I'm still surprised when I find heads of eBusiness who remain marginalized within their firms, reporting into IT or marketing rather than a centralized distribution channels function alongside branches. The leading banks no longer make that mistake. That has greatly increased the power and influence of digital banking executives, but also their responsibility for the overall success of their businesses.

Here's our view of the top five priorities for eBusiness and channel strategy executives at European retail banks:

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Learning From Digital Innovation At Commonwealth Bank Of Australia

Benjamin Ensor

There are a number of firms that we watch closely at Forrester because they stand out for sustained innovation. Behind the technology giants like Google and Apple, there are a number of established firms that are using technology to adapt rapidly and successfully to changing customer behaviour and needs. One of them is Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Over the past four to five years CommBank has introduced a series of digital innovations to serve its customers better including:

  • Finest Online. In the course of its "Finest Online" project from 2007 to 2009, Commonwealth Bank of Australia redesigned its NetBank Internet banking service with the objectives of building an excellent customer experience and driving online sales. The bank implemented new content and functionality to support the customer journey and integrated new secure site sales processes with in-person channels and the bank's multichannel customer relationship management (CRM) system. The two-year, cross-organizational project boosted online sales, increased customer satisfaction, and improved the bank's image. (Forrester clients can read our case study.)
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Barclays Bank Raises Its Game In Digital Financial Innovation

Benjamin Ensor

At our Marketing & Strategy Forum last November, Sean Gilchrist, head of digital banking at Barclays Bank, talked passionately about the importance of customer experience to the work being done by his team at Barclays. It's good to see some of the results of that focus on customers in two innovations introduced by Barclays in the past few weeks:

  • Firstly, Barclays has started rolling out a new online banking interface. While I'm sure that not every customer will like the change, the point is that Barclays is taking a modular (or widget-like) approach to displaying content and functionality in anticipation of having to serve customers on a rapidly growing range of digital devices. We think that approach is going to become increasingly common as eBusiness teams adjust to the fragmentation brought by the Splinternet.
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Finovate Europe 2012: Innovation In Digital Financial Services

Benjamin Ensor

A number of people asked me to repeat my blog post from last year with my impressions from Finovate, so I thought I would.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Finovate, it’s a fast-paced format with seven-minute live demos and pitches from 35 financial technology vendors. It’s produced by Online Financial Innovations, the people behind the excellent NetBanker blog.

I was lucky enough to go along to the show in London today. Unlike last year, when four or five themes dominated the day, this year’s exhibitors were more diverse. Among them were:

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The Next Generation Of Digital Financial Services

Benjamin Ensor

[With apologies to all those of you who had already read this, I'm re-publishing this as the Forrester gremlins ate my previous post.]

For the past few years, many eBusiness and channel strategy executives in financial services have had a nagging sense that today's websites would be rendered obsolete as new technologies emerged or younger consumers developed radically different behaviour patterns. We think that time if fast coming upon us. 

For the past six months we've been working on our vision of the Next Generation of Digital Financial Services, led by my colleague Alexander Hesse and inspired by the work of leading eBusiness teams worldwide. Although our vision is not an exact description of how all digital financial services will evolve, given the wide variety of markets that eBusiness executives operate in and the different strategies of their firms, we think the next generation of digital financial services will be characterized by five things:

  • Simplicity. Making it easy for customers to achieve their goals.
  • Ubiquity. Interacting with customers wherever they want.
  • Personalization. Making the entire experience relevant to individual needs.
  • Empowerment. Enabling customers to take action by themselves.
  • Reassurance. Providing human help whenever it adds value.
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Some Observations From Finovate Europe

Benjamin Ensor

For the past few years I have watched enviously as the Finovate online financial technology show has gone from strength to strength in San Francisco and New York. So I was thrilled to hear that Finovate was coming to Europe and today I was lucky enough to go along to the show in London.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Finovate, it’s a fast-paced format with seven-minute live demos and pitches from 35 financial technology vendors. It’s produced by Online Financial Innovations, the people behind the excellent NetBanker blog.

The big themes were:

                Money management: Figlo; IND Group;  Linxo; Lodo Software; LoveMoney.com; Meniga; Strands Personal Finance; Yodlee.

                Security: Business Forensics; miicard; SilverTail Systems; SolidPass; Voice Commerce.

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National Australia Bank Tops Our Australian Bank Content & Functionality Benchmark

Benjamin Ensor

A few months ago I wrote here about our benchmark of the sales content and functionality of UK banks' sales sites. My colleague Vanessa Niemeyer has just published a benchmark of the big four Australian banks' sales sites. Crushingly for an Englishman, the Australians beat us. The four Australian banks achieved an average score of 56 (out of 100), compared with an average of 48 for the British banks.*

National Australia Bank (NAB) came top, just ahead of Westpac in second place, with Commonwealth Bank of Australia not far behind. The Australian banks demonstrate a series of good practices in their application processes, such as cross-selling during the application and automated confirmations. We highlight many of the good practices that the eBusiness teams at the Australian banks have developed in the report which is available for Forrester clients here.

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Does The UK Need Another Online Payment System?

Benjamin Ensor

I am intrigued by last week's announcement from UK payment processor VocaLink and Australian financial software vendor eWise that they are collaborating to build an online banking transfer payment system for the UK. Online banking transfer systems make it (fairly) easy for online shoppers to authorize payments through online banking by integrating the payment details into their bank's secure online banking site. The customer is routed directly from the merchant's site to the bank to authorize the payment and back again.

In the Netherlands, the iDEAL online banking transfer system has been highly successful. It's now used by some 10 million Dutch online shoppers for about 5 million transactions a month. But the UK's online shopping market is different to the Dutch one in a couple of important ways. Firstly, debit cards can be used to pay online in the UK. Since almost all adults have a debit card, paying online is not a big problem in the UK, unlike many other European markets. Secondly, UK Net users have always been relatively complacent about online security compared with other Europeans. That means that one of the primary attributes of an online banking transfer system -- more robust security -- may not cut that much ice with British online shoppers.

Forrester has long argued that any new payment system needs to overcome three hurdles to succeed: providing a clear improvement over the existing alternatives, driving consumer and merchant adoption, and developing a viable business model for all parties.

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The Co-operative Bank Tops Our UK Bank Content & Functionality Benchmark

Benjamin Ensor

One of the most common questions banking eBusiness executives ask Forrester analysts is: "What do you think of my Web site?".  That's always a tough question to answer because what I think of a Web site depends on who I am and what I'm trying to use it for. To help UK bank eBusiness executives answer that question, my colleague Vanessa Niemeyer has just published a benchmark of the sales content and functionality on the Web sites of 10 of the UK's biggest banking brands, from the perspective of a typical customer trying to switch current account provider.

Some background: UK Net users are among the most likely anywhere in the world to use the Net to research and buy financial products. According to our Consumer Technographics® surveys,  almost 60% of UK Net users have researched a financial product online in the past 12 months, more than in any other European country. Two out of five UK Net users have applied for a financial product online in the past year, which is double the Western European average. So you might think that UK bank Web sites are all highly effective sales sites.

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