What’s better—a mobile app or a mobile-optimized website?
While 79% of mobile users surveyed by Boston-based research firm Dalbar responded that they prefer the app over the site, a wave of app-like practices on mobile sites are beginning to blur that distinction.
Users prefer apps because they appear more accessible than sites — there’s no need to type in the URL each time, for example — but financial firms are now leading the way in “appifying” their mobile sites.
To cite one example, mobile app users like to “favorite” content within an app, allowing them to quickly return to that content on their next visit. Franklin Templeton now provides that functionality, allowing users to select their favorite mutual funds, which will appear on the site’s homepage on the user’s future visits. Just 9% of financial services firms have that capability presently, according to Dalbar.
The firm has expanded its annual survey, this year rating 46 financial services company mobile sites, one more than the previous year, according to 11 distinct evaluation categories (up from nine the previous year). The criteria include design, security, mobile optimization, ease of use, personalization, support, interaction with the firm, interactivity, navigation, core content and behavior centric.
Of the 46, we include the 10 with the highest raw scores, though they fall unevenly across Dalbar’s three audience categories of mutual funds, insurance and annuity, and retirement sites. Of the 10, four are mutual fund sites, just two are insurance sites and four are retirement providers.
“What makes these 10 mobile sites paragons of excellence is their understanding that, above all else, they must establish a meaningful presence on their customers’ devices,” Dalbar’s managing director Kathleen Whalen tells ThinkAdvisor. “They are able to achieve this by using innovative strategies when providing financial content for mobile consumption.”
Here are 10 mobile site innovators in the financial services space:
No. 10 (No. 4 among mutual fund sites)
The indexing giant was a top performer in two areas — security, a crucial requirement of any financial website where consumers must be made to feel confident that their data is protected — and “behavior centric,” which rates features that support a user’s choice to conduct his affairs online. For example, the ability to verify or cancel requests prior to a transaction is a behavior-centric quality.
“Vanguard received a top score in this evaluation area due to its consistent offering of aid,” the Dalbar report states. “Fund information can be both filtered and sorted for more simplified viewing. Once a fund is chosen, links are provided to helpful information such as ‘How the potential for risk affects your investment.’ Finally, when completing transactions there is the option to both verify and cancel the transaction before it is submitted.”
No. 9 (No. 3 among mutual fund sites)
The mutual fund company’s site stands in two areas in particular: mobile optimization and ease of use. The former category involves appropriately formatted pages, incremental data loading and the like, whereas the latter category features adequately sized buttons, recognizable site control options and the like.
So while two firms are praised for offering fixed navigational bars enabling users to scroll vertically on the page while offering quick menu access, Dalbar writes that “Federated Funds…goes a step further by not only providing the static bar at the top of the page, but tapping the menu button within that bar reveals the slide-out navigation from the left side of the screen. Once this area has been opened, users may continue to scroll vertically, yet the menu remains static on the left side of the screen.”
In other words, you explore all you want on one side of the screen while not losing sight of the site’s broad menu optinons.
No. 8 (No. 4 among retirement provider sites)
The nonprofit teacher’s retirement behemoth achieved high scores in five areas: design, security, personalization/customization, interaction with the firm and interactivity.
Dalbar praised the firm’s mobile site customization thusly:
“TIAA-CREF’s responsive site personalizes the user experience by offering several notable features such as the ability to create a custom performance watch list as well as remember the user’s credentials for future logins. The site also offers a welcome message that is specific to the account holder.”
Dalbar also comments on the firm’s recent redesign of its mobile site, which among other things improved customers’ ability to interact with the firm, by presenting links to its social media pages as well as an enhanced fund performance information page.
No. 7 (No. 3 among retirement provider sites)
The defined contribution firm stood out in both security and navigation. A top score in that latter area means unobtrusive menus, ease in getting back to the home page, location clarity, balanced use of controls and logical placement of site elements.
As Dalbar sums the matter, “providing users with a clear indication of where they are relative to the entirety of a site can be challenging due to the limited screen space available on smartphones.”
Milliman is one firm that has surmounted that challenge.
No. 6 (No. 2 among retirement provider sites)
Great West Financial