One of the most common questions banking eBusiness executives ask Forrester analysts is: "What do you think of my Web site?".  That's always a tough question to answer because what I think of a Web site depends on who I am and what I'm trying to use it for. To help UK bank eBusiness executives answer that question, my colleague Vanessa Niemeyer has just published a benchmark of the sales content and functionality on the Web sites of 10 of the UK's biggest banking brands, from the perspective of a typical customer trying to switch current account provider.

Some background: UK Net users are among the most likely anywhere in the world to use the Net to research and buy financial products. According to our Consumer Technographics® surveys,  almost 60% of UK Net users have researched a financial product online in the past 12 months, more than in any other European country. Two out of five UK Net users have applied for a financial product online in the past year, which is double the Western European average. So you might think that UK bank Web sites are all highly effective sales sites.

In fact, there's a lot of variation between the good and the not so good. The Co-operative Bank, which is one of the UK's smaller banks, topped our 2010 UK bank sales site content and functionality benchmark because it provides the best support for customers as they research and then apply for a current account online. Congratulations to the team there. Among my favourite features on the Co-operative Bank's site are its simple list of "15 great reasons to change to a current account plus today" and its customer service guarantees (though sadly the bank seems to have dropped its promise to pay customers £15 if those guarantees aren't met). The other banks that scored relatively well include NatWest in second place and Santander in third. 

Overall though, many of the UK banks' sites aren't giving prospective customers enough help, particularly when it comes to comparing different accounts and helping customers work out which account is right for them — features that many online financial researchers say they want. Designing Web sites well isn't easy of course, particularly when you have to deal with the limitations of legacy systems. But by failing to support customers with the content and functionality they need throughout their journey, banks risk encouraging customers to go elsewhere for information — like the comparison sites that seem to bombard Britons with TV ads every day. 

My colleague Jonathan Browne has published a companion report on UK bank Web sites that looks at usability elements such as navigation and presentation.