The Global Finance financial magazine takes a closer look on the financial services, and awards the “best consumer internet bank” title to the appropriate institute each year. In 2009, the first round winner in Hungary is Budapest Bank - congratulations! My only concern with the evaluation is that it focuses on the measurement of business success from the banks’ point of view:

I prefer to concentrate on the customer-centric aspects (point 4 and 6), those are a bit under-represented. No problem with that, we just have to handle this in it’s rightful place. Let’s face it, “the increase of the number of online customers” is not a worthy aspect for the average user - unless it makes the system go slow.

What makes an internet bank (not) good?

In the last six years, I helped a few banks with defining their on-line strategy. On workshops, on the preliminary presentation, I usually as the board what they think about what makes a good internet bank. What makes an internet bank “the best”? Sometimes, I got interesting answers, from which we were successfully derived a whole strategy, but the usual response is dead silence with disturbed looks on the faces. It is not a coincidence, the answer is more complex we might think of.

The “best” as a concept in street terms assumes the existence of a one-dimension scale (for example: number of functions) to measure the internet banks. (Weighted multi-dimension scales are the same thing, don’t get fooled.) Whoever has the most point, wins the title of “best” - simple as that. From this aspect, we can make a nice illustration:

Internet Bank service level 2008.02.01

The figure shows the state of service level as of 2008 February: how many services are implemented from the set of all internet bank services available from the biggest banks of Hungary.

On the other hand, the users do not appreciate the service on a one-dimension scale (for example: it is useless to have a very fast funds transfer function when sometimes the whole system is not accessible at all). To make things worse, the customer set is inhomogeneous, their requirements are changing from segment to segment: no decision maker ever should state “our customers are doing things this way…”, because it would be a self-deceit. It’s natural to have different requirements from an internet bank for a university student or 50 year old father.

Beside this, there are universal values not to be neglected:

Neglecting any universal value, the customer reaction is quite simple: dissatisfaction (“there’s a problem with the internet bank, again”). This is a bad thing, because the dissatisfied customer sooner or later moves to the next bank.

Then again, what makes an internet bank good?

Browsing through the forums, direct reactions, call-center calls, blogs, and focusing on the positive responses, I came to the conclusion that only one thing is relevant in labeling the internet bank “good” - besides the universal values - is the symbiosis of services. The bank having popular financial services that can be accesses / used / controlled on the internet bank too.

You can have the best available off-the-shelf internet bank software, if you don’t have services (even worse - you have bad service) backing it up. It’s the same to have a wonderful service portfolio and making the products accessible only in the branch office.

Now the product development team has a definite task: every new product (even a promotional deposit) has to have an internet bank related side defined. It’s not an easy road, but definitely goes to the right direction.

Which is the best internet bank?

I get this question is often from family or friends, when we talk about my work. I used to cite the big consultancy firms’ surveys. Then I saw a video on TED, where Malcolm Gladwell talks about the perfect spaghetti sauce - takes a closer look on the connection between customer preference and product development. (Wonderful lecture, absolutely recommended!) After the “enlightening” I use a different answer: there is no such thing as a best internet bank, but there are good internet banks. Anything else is the matter of personal preference.