BOSTON -- Credit unions trying to pin down that elusive return on investment in online banking are not alone. So are the big boys.
Despite long-standing high expectations, banks big and small continue to struggle with locating ROI in the channel, according to a new report from Aite Group's Ron Shevlin.
The think firm surveyed 22 of the nation's top 100 banks and found that, while nearly seven out of 10 envisioned ROI as the primary reason to expand online solutions, this same number reported failing to generate return dollars to support this initiative.
In fact, Shevlin's report said, despite their scale, the great majority of these institutions struggled mightily with both generating profits and improving customer service via online methods. This, said Shevlin, places online bank executives under an even greater financial spotlight.
"While these execs might think that they're already under the gun to show bottom-line results...online banking executives will face even greater scrutiny into their channel's performance over the next few years," he predicted.
Perhaps not surprisingly, sales generation--at 55%--was the most important goal of the banks surveyed by Aite Group. Quantifying this goal, however, remains elusive.
"There's a big difference between generating the sale and taking the order," Shevlin said in his report. "Just because a customer applied for a product online doesn't mean that direct mail, mass media advertising, branches or the call center didn't play a role in influencing a customer's decision."
A similar battle exists in measuring customer satisfaction gains stemming from online banking. Simply put, few, if any, bank customers are online only, something that could be said of credit union members, as well.
Moreover, tales of gains achieved via online offerings would likely be received as anecdotal at best from those in charge of other consumer touch points at the financial institution, Shevlin said.
To tackle these challenges, database marketers are introducing advanced ROI measurements specific to online banking. These measurements aim not only to quantify customer service gains from online channels but also to track them incrementally. A recent Epsilon study found financial services companies are already integrating their marketing campaigns in hopes of accomplishing this same measurability, Shevlin said.
And despite significant measurement and ROI challenges, Shevlin sees a bright future for the online banking channel.
"With the interactivity of the online channel, the richness of information available online and the increasing deployment of online product selectors and configurators, it may very well turn out that the online channel is a major influencer of sales."
To know for sure, financial institutions must first tighten their measurement criteria, the Aite Group report said. For instance, many of the marketing tools used to track online banking are a rough fit at best for this channel. Such tools focus solely on Web reporting, ignoring consumer and other marketing analytics needed to track online ROI gains. He also noted that online research often leads to offline purchases.
Also, much of the baseline online banking data originates from outdated, overly lauded studies that don't correlate well across the marketplace, Shevlin said. For instance, the "nearly legendary" Bank of America online account and deposit growth and more recent SunTrust electronic billing profitability studies are soft benchmarks for a now more robust online banking sphere, the Aite Group analyst argued.
Instead, Shevlin said, financial institutions should adopt more rigorous testing and measurement protocols native to individual needs. These efforts should sync with existing marketing analytics to provide true individualized baseline data.
"The online channel groups at many banks have historically been forces for change and innovation in their firms: Here's another opportunity for them," Shevlin concluded.