Study: Do Customers Prefer Online Banks?

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More Americans than ever are logging on to save. Not so surprising, is it?

According to a 2009 study by Javelin Research, in 2009, the U.S. population was estimated at about 306 million people. That includes 232 million adults, 118 million households and 86 million households that are online. Of those “online” households, more than 70 million now bank online.

Compare that to 1998, where only 6.6 million American households were banking online, and 32 million houses banking via the Internet in 2003, says IDC Research.

It’s all about four factors: speed, ease of use, cost savings and control. Time and time again, those are the four factors that lead consumers to online banking.

OK, but now on to the real surprise — a new study by Mintel Compermedia says that, despite all the acknowledged gains from online banking, consumers still prefer to conduct their banking business on a face-to-face basis.

Whether it’s due to anxiety or mistrust (or a combination of both) bank customers seem to value bank contact on bank premises.

According to the Mintel study, 65% of survey respondents told Mintel they want to contact their bank in person, versus 44% who opt for their bank’s Web site; and 34% who prefer to reach out to their bank via e-mail. Mintel says 43% like to let their fingers do the walking and contact their banks via the telephone.

“When it comes down to it, people still crave personal contact when communicating with banks. Talking in person or over the phone brings on feelings of familiarity and confidence, which are especially important to consumers in light of the financial crisis,” says Susan Wolfe, Vice President of financial services at Mintel Comperemedia.

Here at BankingMyWay.com, we’ve seen other studies that offer conflicting viewpoints on how bank consumers like to reach out to financial institutions. For example, a 2009 American Banker’s Association study says that online banking is on the rise and branch banking is in decline. That’s especially true of younger bank customers, 38% of whom like to bank online, versus 11% of over-55 survey respondents, the ABA reports.

On that point, both the Mintel and ABA studies agree (Mintel reports that more than 50% of both Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers prefer to bank online).

As the American demographic picture changes, and more and more younger Americans open bank accounts, the Mintel snapshot will surely fade away. Here’s a prediction, and no, it doesn’t qualify for surprise #3. A decade from now, assuming we’re not hiding our cash under mattresses, online banking will dominate — until, of course, something better comes along.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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