A Misanthrope’s Journey: Assessing the US Online Account Opening Experience

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26 August 2015


Celent evaluates the account opening process from the consumer’s perspective.

In a new report titled A Misanthrope’s Journey: Assessing the US Online Account Opening Experience, Celent visits 26 bank sites to describe what it was like to attempt to open an account online (or via mobile, where available).

Celent’s methodology was shamelessly customer-centric, evaluating the process solely from the consumer’s perspective. A checking account applicant doesn’t care how hard it is to change processes, doesn’t know how difficult it can be to deal with compliance, or understand why banks have to collect so much information when he is the one giving them money.

The quality of the experience varied widely; some banks we thought would be excellent were not, and vice versa. Leaders have moved beyond taking paper forms and putting them online, but there is still an immense amount of room for improvement. Some prominent names still required wet signatures, or made applicants spend a lot of time before telling them that they couldn’t be served because they didn’t live in the right zip code. Others tried to implement technology that didn’t quite work (like capturing name, address, and the like by taking a picture of a driver’s license). The neobanks’ processes on an iPhone were shockingly clunky. The best — like SunTrust, USAA, and Ally — made the process seamless, simple, and as painless as possible with quick entry, easy KYC methodology, and a wide range of choices appealingly presented.

The report lays out the seven key steps in the account opening process, sets forth current best practices, and suggests relatively simple customer experiences that none of the surveyed banks currently offer. Some banks are current or former Celent clients, others are not; it made no difference in our assessment.

Celent recommends four account opening ideas.

1. Design the process from the applicant’s perspective, not the bank’s.
2. Consider the capabilities offered by the new medium rather than simply transferring a paper- and branch-based process online.
3. Avoid self-censorship: question why certain processes are used (e.g., wet signatures) and refine them when they don’t make sense.
4. Develop a strategy to implement the next phase of account opening: mobile.

“Opening an account is the customer’s first substantive introduction to a bank. The institution has only one chance to make a first impression,” says Dan Latimore, Celent’s Banking Senior Vice President. “We were surprised at the variability in the quality of the experience and believe that many banks should make improvements online even as they begin to make mobile account opening available.”

This 94-page report contains 74 figures and four tables.