It should be pretty easy to find out what's on offer from any major bank from its web site, but do Australia's big banks actually deliver? A new report from Forrester Research rates the user experience for Australian bank sites, and concludes that they're actually all substandard.
Forrester's local analyst Steven Noble rated the "big four" banks -- ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac -- to see how they stacked up. (While there are plenty of other choices, included second-tier banks, credit unions and building societies, those four do account for a massive proportion of the local finance market.)
Forrester's review didn't specifically focus on online banking for existing customers, but examined how easy each bank made a specific task: applying to open an everyday savings account after checking interest rates, account conditions, branch locations and hours and ATM details. Forrester has a detailed ranking methodology that assigns sites an overall score, with 25 considered a pass mark.
Astonishingly, despite the fact that Australian banks are hugely profitable and spend a fortune on site development (and marketing their customer service chops), none of them actually managed to reach that score. Westpac came closest with 24, followed by Commonwealth (17), NAB (9) and ANZ (-4).
The big flaw identified by Forrester was the lack of effective search functions across the site, making it fiddly in many cases to answer a basic question like "Is there a branch near me that is open on a Saturday?":
For example, a search for “weekend banking” on NAB’s site returned a result from the FAQ section, with no indication of whether the FAQ would actually answer the question, which it didn’t. Likewise, the search results jumbled unrelated types of content. For example, the same search on ANZ’s site returned a newspaper reprint, a memorandum for mobile banking customers, and more irrelevant results. None of the sites allowed the user to narrow her search results according to content type or other criteria.
In an era where many people use search functions to locate everything they want online, having a poor search experience really is a major problem, and unsurprisingly at the top of Forrester's list of recommendations for how the banks could improve their web experience. Reducing jargon and ensuring consistency are also key considerations.
If you are hunting for a new bank account, the lesson seems to be: you'll need to be prepared to spend some time digging out the detail. Whichever bank you favour, don't forget the basic rules for online banking security.
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.