Forrester’s two recent reports — 2011 US Bank Secure Website Rankings and 2011 Canadian Bank Secure Website Rankings — highlight the incremental improvements banking providers have made over the past year. Overall, scores among US and Canadian banks rose by an average of five points. The biggest gains can be seen in the improved usability of the websites, with big advances in users’ ability to navigate banks’ secure websites. Canada’s six largest banks gained more ground than their counterparts south of the border, with firms such as Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank rolling out completely overhauled secure sites. In terms of individual banks, we found that:

·         Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase take the top three spots overall. Wells Fargo’s secure website is the only one we evaluated that scored above a 90 (out of 100) in the category of transactional content and functionality. In addition, it ranked first or second across all four categories of usability we evaluated. Bank of America earned an overall score of 81 by offering best-in-class alerts and self-service functionality. Chase, meanwhile, had a strong showing with convenient secure website functionality such as multiple bill payment options and solid mobile banking features.

·         RBC earns the highest score among Canadian providers. Among Canadian banks, RBC Royal Bank took the top spot, with high scores across all six broad categories. Moreover, RBC’s scores are significantly above minimum standards in two categories, including transactional functionality. The firm also improved considerably in some areas, including a redesigned landing page, automatic credit card bill payments, and more prominent messaging around its personal financial management (PFM) offering.

In addition, we found that:

·         Banks are successfully using alerts to help clients keep track of their financial lives . . . Delivering relevant alerts and reminders to bank customers can be a win-win, deepening the relationship clients have with their bank, encouraging them to make additional transactions and buy additional products, and conveying the idea that the bank is doing what’s best for its clients, not just its own bottom line. Bank of America, Chase, and RBC shine here, offering relevant types of alerts to secure website users. Scotiabank recently rolled out bill pay and info alerts as part of its secure website overhaul. CIBC, meanwhile, demonstrates best-practice alerting capabilities with up to five delivery endpoints, including SMS, email, and voice messages to multiple phone numbers. 

·         . . . but most firms still lack personal financial management (PFM) tools. Of the 12 banks Forrester assessed, just four had any type of personal financial management (PFM) offering on their secure websites. And most of these are new additions, rolled out as part of recent secure website enhancements. Bank of America’s “My Portfolio” and Wells Fargo’s ”My Money Map” are two examples of PFM offerings, as are RBC’s myFinanceTracker and BMO’s new MoneyLogic service. These offerings help users track, understand, and manage their financial lives, with tools that sort income and expenses into categories, create budgets, and compare finances with other consumers across a range of criteria. 

So what’s next for North American banking providers? Forrester’s website rankings demonstrate that banks’ eBusiness teams have improved secure websites — now they must innovate. This will mean making strategic investments in digital services like PFM and expanded alerts, as well as fast-emerging touchpoints including the mobile Web, smartphone apps, and tablets like the iPad and Kindle Fire.

What do you think is the future of banking providers’ secure websites?