Banks are doing a poor job of making their Web sites user-friendly, according to a survey by NetSmart America.

In the survey, based on interviews with 1,000 people who use the internet at least one hour per week, 81% of respondents said bank Web sites are difficult to navigate, and 85% had left a bank Web site out of frustration.

With the sharp rise in the numbers of internet users, “banks are missing out on an unprecedented opportunity,” said Bernadette Tracy, president of NetSmart America, a strategic marketing company.

Ms. Tracy said bank Web sites tend to be more egocentric than customer-centric, meaning corporate information often is easier to locate and use than the transactional services consumers really want.

Consumers are demanding easy-to-use services that let them manage their money on-line, and “banks are not addressing that need,” Ms. Tracy said.  “Banks need to have simple icon buttons like ‘Bill Pay, click here.’ ”

Ms. Tracy recommended banks keep the information and transaction sections of their sites distinct. Such separation would help solve many of the other problems reported by survey respondents:

  • Too many clicks to get to the desired area (78%)
  • Got lost in the site (56%)
  • Confused by home page (65%)
  • Distracted by self-serving content (61%)

Ms. Tracy said banks generally are doing a good job at promoting on-line services, but may be driving users away with usability problems.

“Banks have made the customer enthusiastic about the concept of on-line banking and built up expectations,” Ms. Tracy said.  But often when consumers come to the sites “it’s a nightmare.”

Since only a small fraction of all consumers currently bank on-line, the consequences of having hard-to-navigate sites have not been too severe.

But the stakes are rising. Forrester Research expects the number of on-line banking households to swell to over 18 million in 2003 from 3.4 million at the end of 1998. And banks with easy-to-use sites will be among those best-equipped to attract and keep customers, Ms. Tracy said.

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