At their annual ThinkBanking event last Thursday (Sept 9th) in Sydney, the Google Financial Services Team released their latest behavioral research supported by Global Reviews' Customer Experience Benchmarking. The results are a shock to those expecting traditional marketing methods to strongly influence customer behavior in respect to product selection in the financial services space. Barney Pierce, the Head of Industry - Finance for Google in Australia articulated that the research "shows a fundamental shift toward the online channel dominating research for financial products and services. A large part of which is search related activity."
Greg Muller and his team at Global Reviews who assisted with collecting the research explained that the research was conducted across Australia with a sample size of over 900 people from all walks of life - it was directed at all users of financial services products. In the research customers were simply asked to find either a deposit product, a credit card, or a mortgage and report back on the process they used to find and select a product.
88% of customers research online
Staggeringly when it comes to financial products, 88% of customers today start their journey online. For deposits and credit cards, 78% of time spent researching options overall is done in the digital space for an average of 3 hours and 20 minutes. (that's up from 58% in 2008) For mortgages and home loans, 62% of their overall research is done online spending upwards of 11 hours and 25 minutes before settling on a product. 77% of those surveyed said that they didn't know about the product they finally chose before when they started the task.
The data shows a significant shift in behaviour when it comes to the selection process. Traditional marketing theory suggests that brand marketing and campaign marketing are strong influencers of behaviour when customers are selecting products, but this most recent data flies in the face of accepted theory. 51% of customers had a preferred brand when they started, but of those that used search to attack the task, 58% didn't search for their preferred brand. Of those that started with a preferred brand 1/3rd (31%) ended up selecting a different brand.
What about the branch?
So what about the role of branch, call centre and other channels in the actual application process? 68% of those surveyed prefer to apply online, compared with just 29% who prefer the branch experience. However, 89% of people said they are open to applying online in the future if bank's and FI's get their approval processes up to scratch.
The research shows that for poor usability was the primary reason that customers would abandon a website and pick a competitors brand online. The highest % of customers who stay with online throughout are the $100k+ p.a income bracket, in fact, 82% of High Income customers total research is done online today and 74% of these indicate they would prefer to apply online for deposits & credit cards.
ConclusionsThe data indicates the following shift has taken place in the last couple of years:
- Consumer behavior has radically shifted in respect to financial products with brand and search being the top 2 mechanisms for product selection/choice these days,
- Financial Institutions need to invest big time in Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Support, and
- Financial Institutions need to streamline and produce highly usable web experiences so they don't lose customers looking for their products.