The Gist

  • Digital banking’s popularity. Nearly two-thirds of the US population, including a majority of millennials, use digital banking services due to their convenience and accessibility.
  • User friendly? While most banks are offering remote account opening options and moving other services online, the digital experience they provide could be more user-friendly, with ease of use and efficiency being the lowest-scoring attributes.
  • Frictionless experiences. Banks must provide a frictionless digital experience, which includes easy and intuitive access to support, to differentiate themselves and increase customer confidence in converting to their products.

Nearly two-thirds of the US population uses digital banking services, according to Bankrate. The number is even higher for younger consumers, with almost four in five millennials doing their banking online.

It’s no wonder. Digital banking saves time by allowing people to access services wherever and whenever they are and on whatever device. Digital banking's popularity, already rising for years, soared during the pandemic and hasn’t let up.

Digital maturity is rising across the whole banking sector, according to a Deloitte study that found 70% of banks now offer a remote account opening option, compared with 55% in 2020, while increasingly moving other offerings such as card management and investment services online.

Thus, delighting customers in digital channels has become a prerequisite for banks, and those that do it best have a real opportunity to differentiate themselves.

How Well Are the Biggest Banks Doing?

To find out, my company asked 1,500 people (a study published today) to visit the websites of five major US banks — Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank and US Bank — and see what it’s like to perform three common activities: find the interest rate for a savings account, apply to open a savings account and get customer support.

After they completed each activity, participants were asked to rate five qualities of the digital experience: ease of use, ease of understanding, trustworthiness, aesthetics and efficiency.

What we learned was that most banks are doing well, but still have work to do.

Related Article: Improving Customer Experience With Human-Centric Design

Banks Have Room for Improving User Friendliness

In general, users’ experience had many positives but too many negatives.

For example, participants tended to praise various aspects of the visual design. “I like how you guys gave icons for each of the sub-categories (like a piggy bank for a savings account),” one said after looking for interest rate information on one of the sites. Another said, “I am more of a visual person and I don't pay attention to words a lot. Having these icons can help me organize my thoughts while searching for things on this website.”

But overall, ease of use was the lowest-scored attribute across all five sites, receiving an overall rating of 3.97 on a scale of 1 to 5. Efficiency was next lowest, at 4.03, followed by trust (4.08), aesthetics (4.40) and comprehension (4.59).

All of this means that the online experience banks are providing may not be as universally frictionless as it should be.

Banks Get an 'A' in Comprehension but ...

At the same time, there was good news: The highest-scored attribute was comprehension, which means that once people found information, it was fairly easy for them to understand it.

And yet when they did want more information or had a question, many users found it could be a struggle to quickly contact the bank.

Let’s drill down more:

For the first activity — finding the interest rate on a savings account — the quality of the experience varied widely by bank.

After interacting with one bank’s site, one person commented, “I was able to find what I was looking for within seconds. There was no ambiguity on where to look, and the information was presented in an easily consumable manner.”

Learning Opportunities

But on another site, some users struggled with navigation (such as a menu that disappeared when a category was clicked), encountered confusing language, had a hard time finding the information they wanted or felt they were given too much information.

On the second activity — applying to open an account — one bank received a high compliment from a participant: “As a busy mom, it's important to me that I can get tasks like this done in a quick and efficient way. I like that I would be able to cross this off of my to-do list quickly.”

Yet on another site, users reported various bugs. “The drop-down menu wasn't behaving properly,” one said. “It kept closing whenever I tried to select the savings account section. I had to do a search to get to the section because it was the only way to access it.”

Similar ups and downs plagued the third task — involving customer support. Many found it easy and intuitive to access help, but others had complaints.

Related Article: Exploring the Crossroads of User Experience and Customer Experience

Customers to Banks: Where's Chat and Contact Us?

The most common criticisms centered on difficulty in finding support info and the lack of chat function or otherwise obvious “Contact Us” button. Many users sought out chat but found it wasn’t available. That suggests banks aren’t keeping up with digitally savvy consumers who are used to live chatting with retailers, airlines and other businesses.

“Finding a way to get in contact with the bank was more difficult than it needed to be,” one said.

Overall, participants' perceptions of the experience of the first task (find interest rates) scored lowest (4.03 on the 1-to-5 scale), followed by the third task (contact customer service, 4.28) and then the second (open an account, 4.34).

What Banks Can Learn About Better Digital Customer Journeys

What banks can learn from these findings is that people won’t go to open an account if they don’t fully understand the product and/or can’t get their questions answered with support. So while banks may be working to optimize each individual part of the journey to try to convert customers, the reality is that the entire experience needs to hang together for people to be confident enough to actually convert.

One additional note: In some cases, experiences showed a curious gap between perceived success of completing a task and actual success.

For example, on one of the sites, 82% of participants thought they obtained all the interest rate information they had set out to find when, in fact, only 65% really did. The lesson there is that working with some sites may seem simple but the experience itself is causing users to make mistakes and miss important details — without realizing they are in the wrong.

As these observations show, banks recognize the importance of serving customers online and do a good job at it — much of the time. In an age when digital banking has become a primary channel, however, banks might want to take a look at how they can turn that into “all of the time.”

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