Consumer Trust in FS Sites Weakens

Customer concerns about privacy and trust are not satisfied as well they should be by financial services Web sites, according to The Customer Respect Group. The research and consulting firm's "Second Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of the Financial Services Industry" reveals the sector is below average regarding trust and privacy, though financial services Web sites tend to be more usable than those in other industries. The firm benchmarks the practices of more than 2,500 corporate Web sites in a variety of industries and conducts surveys of broad representative samples of adult Internet users to identify the best usability, communications, and trust. These criteria and their subcategories comprise the Customer Respect Index. According to recent surveys, more than half of respondents say that a poor Web-site experience has a major impact on the overall view of a company, its reputation, and its brand image. In overall usability, financial services scored 6.7 out of 10, says Terry Golesworthy, Customer Respect Group president. Golesworthy called that 6.7 a very good score. In the firm's recent "Net Impact Customer Survey" (a separate study), 82 percent of online users said they would either leave or limit usage of a Web site that was hard to use, whether it was hard to navigate, slow to load, or difficult to read. As part of that, the study also considers how well an industry handles those users with slow Internet connections, according to Golesworthy. Here, financial services scored well again, by doing a good job of not forcing customers to use graphically intense and slow-to-download Web pages. Navigability of financial services sites scored well on the study, with exceptions. "[Financial services sites] did particularly well with site accessibility, compared to other industries," Golesworthy says. This was not necessarily the case for users with impaired vision. Seventy-five percent of Web sites had poor color contrast, for instance, a problem for visually impaired or color-blind users. "When we look at usability, we also look at what people are excluded," Golesworthy adds. Despite this, he continues, "They did a better job with the visually impaired and other handicapped groups in terms of accessibility than many other industries." However, financial services firms, including some of those with the highest usability scores, fared poorly when it came to customer trust, according to Golesworthy. One problem is that many financial services firms are unclear about other firms with which customer information should be shared. Many financial services firms require customers to opt out of such information sharing and don't make that requirement very clear--leading to low trust scores, according to Golesworthy. This is true whether the other firms are under the same corporate umbrella or not. "Trust is especially crucial for the financial services industry," Golesworthy says. "The Internet has had two major impacts on the vendor/customer relationship: The relationship has become much more impersonal and the Web has facilitated independent browsing and vendor research. Customers are now more willing than ever to move between vendors. In our recent survey of customer attitudes, concern about the security and misuse of their personal information on the Web was very clear." Related article: Trust Will Drive Market Share for Banks
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