I’m quite pleased to announce that we just published two reports that grade the user experience at major US banks and major Canadian banks, respectively.  What makes these reports special is that our colleagues who serve the eBusiness role published their own complementary reports on the same day. You can see their US report here and their Canadian report here.

Here’s some background: For several years Forrester has published annual reports that ranked public-facing bank sites from the perspective of an eBusiness professional. This year our customer experience research team collaborated with our eBusiness research team to create our own grading reports tailored to the unique needs of customer experience professionals. The result is a stereoscopic view of 12 banks (six in each country) from the different perspectives of two professional roles that work closely together in real life.

The reports from the customer experience team dive deep into user experience issues. They grade how well customers can accomplish their goals on bank sites. The reports from the eBusiness team summarize some of these findings and add in a competitive benchmark of bank content and functionality.

To stay consistent, we used the same user description and user goals for all four reports. This allows readers to make apples-to-apples comparisons across banks and countries for each role.  We based the user description and goals on insight supplied by research from the eBusiness team into how consumers use bank sites. Once we completed our evaluations we compared results and reviewed each other’s work. I feel that all four reports are much better for having been the product of collaboration – I hope you will, too.

Rich Gans (our “go to” Researcher for site reviews) and I worked together on the report about US banks. We evaluated the public-facing sites of Bank of America, Chase, Citibank, PNC Financial Services, US Bank, and Wells Fargo with our Web Site User Experience Review methodology.

We found that US banks as a whole are notably better than the average site we review (and we’ve reviewed almost 1,400 to date). Bank of America came out on top but Citibank was a very close second.

What’s interesting is that there are some usability flaws that are very common across most (or sometimes all) of the sites. For example, Chase, PNC, Wells Fargo, and US Bank all had instances of inefficient task flows that forced users to go through extra steps. This adds time and frustration to users and also increases the likelihood that users will make errors.

And please don’t get me started on text legibility! (No, really – I start ranting.) Every one of the US bank sites made it hard to read critical pieces of content.  Wells Fargo was least bad – with a little work that site could pass our tests. The other sites, however, need a serious typography re-think. BTW, the reason that poor legibility sets me off so much is that it is easy to fix, no rocket science required. When I think of some of the really hard things that bank sites do well I just can’t fathom why they can’t get this one right.

Speaking of things bank sites do well, the sites were all reliable and speedy – important factors when you're trying to build trust. In general, forms were well designed and gave useful feedback for customers applying for a credit card or trying to find an ATM.  This kind of interaction design can be tricky on the best of days so it was a pleasure to see most banks getting the job done so effectively.

I’ll leave Ron Rogowski (customer experience) and Brad Strothkamp (eBusiness) to describe their own reports. I loved working with them on this project and look forward to more collaboration in the future.

Let me know what you think of the reports! We have a lot more like them coming up over the course of the year and want to make each one better than the last.