From Ugly Duckling to Beautiful Swan

By Becky Miller

Why First Bank Financial Centre (FBFC) completely overhauled its website.

While we happen to think ducklings are adorable, our previous website was anything but. Using a canned template from our web hosting provider, we found the design and back-end reporting was seriously lacking when it came to usability, search engine optimization, and the overall customer experience.

We embarked on an 18-month process of research, development, and implementation. The result: a website to be proud of—one that provides our customers and communities with the information they need to make informed financial decisions, while having a little fun along the way.

Keeping an eye on our future customers, we wanted to ensure that whatever changes we made would be beneficial to the millennial generation. Not since the baby boomers have we seen a generation this size. According to a recent study, 62% of millennials feel scared, overwhelmed, or anxious about managing their money. This is a statistic we hoped to help change with our new website.

Our first step was to gain buy-in and approval from executive management for the project.

We presented a case outlining the challenges with our site, demonstrating that it acted more like an online brochure than an online resource.

Though we didn’t intend to change or remove a lot of the material on our site, we did recommend changing the way it was presented. We continued by presenting additional challenges with the site including:

  • Ease of Use – Users weren’t always able to find what they were looking for as some of our content was buried several clicks deep.
  • Brand Differentiation – We know there is so much about FBFC that helps us stand out from our competition, but you wouldn’t know that unless you really went exploring through the site.
  • Non-Responsive Design – The site was non-responsive, meaning it wouldn’t adjust in size for users on their tablets or mobile devices. Since our own analytics showed that traffic to the FBFC website from smartphones had increased 106% between January 2014 and May 2015, this was an aspect we couldn’t ignore.

In addition, over the last few years, we had been working to improve our search engine optimization (SEO)—a task made very difficult by the limitations of our old site. Those limitations included:

  • Google Algorithm – In April, 2015, Google implemented a new algorithm that ranks websites in a Google search based on whether or not that site is mobile friendly. Since our site was not, if someone searched “Oconomowoc Bank,” one of our competitors who was mobile friendly may have appeared at a higher ranking than us, even though we are headquartered in that community and enjoy a 48% deposit market share.
  • Advanced Coding – What differentiates truly successful campaigns is the ability to parse data and communicate user-relevant data to search engines. Our old system was unable to implement schema markups, advanced tracking code, and custom CSS.
  • URL Structure – Creating URLs to be more descriptive helps provide context as to where that page is in the greater hierarchy of the site. For example, ending your website with /checking.aspx is less descriptive than /personal/banking/checking.

Upon receiving the green light to proceed, our next step was to choose a vendor that would best suit our new vision.

That vision included responsive design, improved SEO, a new, more inviting tone and voice, easier navigation, and more comprehensive reporting. We researched several firms (including our then-current web service provider) and ultimately selected a local, third-party organization we had used for various web projects in the past. Over the entire 11-month build, we worked closely with our account rep and the developers to give our new site the life we envisioned from the beginning. While our developers created the design, look, and feel of the site, we took on the challenge of re-writing hundreds of areas of text, bringing a friendly and inviting tone to our updated pages.

Finally, in December of 2016, we were able to unveil our labor of love.                           

We were very deliberate in our communications to employees and customers. We let them know the update was coming, what they could expect, the new features they would be seeing, and how easily accessible it would be from their mobile devices. Thanks in part to these communications and the great support from our call center and eBanking team, we were able to flip the switch with minimal customer impact or concerns.

Until we decided to revamp our website, digital channels weren’t the main focus of our marketing efforts. At the time, we didn’t offer technologies one would like to see when driving customers to an online platform—technology such as online account opening, Apple Pay, and P2P payments. During our research for this project we found that 60% of our competitors offered either responsive design or a mobile site to their customers, 30% offered Apple Pay, 48% P2P payments, and 48% online account opening. Since launching the new site, we’ve found it to be the perfect vehicle to roll out online account opening, with Apple Pay and P2P payments not far behind.

Best of all, it’s a living, breathing resource, and we’ve only just begun.

We continue to make small tweaks and changes to ensure the new site is ever-evolving and is providing our visitors the best possible online experience. According to a Bank of America/USA TODAY Report, 41% of millennials are “chronically stressed” about money. Furthermore, 65% report that anxiety about money affects their emotional well-being. It’s clear to us that the need for financial education is high and as a community bank we take that need very seriously.

For that reason, we added a Financial Education Centre; an entire section of our website dedicated to financial literacy and education through product video demos, interactive financial learning modules and an account recommendation tool. Our goal is to provide a non-sales environment where people can simply learn more about banking and their finances without any pressure or judgment.

Moving forward we will continue to evaluate the services provided by our website and the way they are presented to our customers and communities. The project was a long time coming and incredibly worth it in the end. Don’t believe us? See for yourself! Check us out. Take a digital stroll around our organization and brand—you may even find a thing or two to help improve the customer experience on your own site.

Becky Miller is an officer in the Corporate Marketing Department of First Bank Financial Centre, a $1.1 billion bank headquartered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Miller is the manager of the company’s online presence, including content strategy and development. Email: [email protected].