You build a brand on the Web one click at a time. You destroy your brand by wasting your customers' time.
I am a customer of a number of banks. I judge these banks, at least partly, by the experience I have with them online. I used to really like the National Irish Bank experience. Then they 'improved' it, making it more secure. And this of course is the problem at the heart of security. You can make a process so secure that even the people for whom it is designed can't use it without huge effort.
Now, when I go to the National Irish Bank homepage I often get a 'page not found' error. Usually when I refresh the page that little Java icon appears. I enjoy spending time watching it swirl round and round. It reminds me of coffee. Then I get an 'error on page' message. I refresh again and I actually get to the homepage.
It used to be that it remembered my User ID. Not anymore. Now I have to go get it and paste it in, because it's long and I can't remember it. Then it requires my password, which I can remember. Next I get to a page where I have to enter a special security number from a card they've sent me. It's annoying and such a waste of time. It now takes me at least three times longer to get into my account. Once in, however, it's a really excellent experience, well designed and intuitive.
Bank of Ireland, on the other hand, is easy to get into. However, the subsequent steps are really clunky. The National Irish Bank interface has a feeling that it was designed for human beings. The Bank of Ireland interface feels like it was designed for robots. Whereas the National Irish Bank immediately shows me balance information for my main accounts (a top task), here's what I have to do on Bank of Ireland to get such information: click on a link called 'Accounts'; click on a link called 'Select All Accounts'; select an account from a list; click on a different link called 'Accounts' (Yes, there are two links called 'Accounts'); select 'Transactions'. It's a real pain, a big waste of time.
Halifax Ireland is positively primitive. You can't even transfer money. This is a top task for sure and if in 2010 a bank won't even allow you to transfer money online, then it loses a huge amount of credibility and trust.
This isn't usability. This isn't interface design. This is branding. This is marketing. This is advertising. This is management. And you know what? I'll bet senior management in all these banks could not care less about my online experience. In fact, I have rarely, if ever, met a senior manager with more than a passing interest in the Web. They think this stuff is technical - something you give to the IT department.
Where customers spend their time is where you build your brand. Organizations need to stop trying to use traditional advertising techniques to create false images. For an increasing number of customers, you are your website. It's about time senior management woke up to that fact.