Internet Changing Financial Service Brand Perceptions

An estimated 10.3 million Americans have changed their opinions about financial service brands as a result of information retrieved online, according to research by Cyber Dialogue. The findings are part of a larger ongoing study of online branding impacts in different industries.

More than 25 percent of cybercitizens have changed the financial service provider(s) they use as a result of what they learned online, the research concludes. This equals some 3.1 million financial services customers who have changed service providers as a result of their online experience.

“The online revolution has moved beyond such early goals as building Web site awareness and capturing online customers, and is now in a more profound realm where financial services brands, themselves, are being fundamentally defined by the Internet,” said Thomas Miller, vice president of Cyber Dialogue. “The success or failure of service providers to master the basics of interactive brand management plays an increasingly important role in shaping how cybercitizens trust those brands.”

Factors such as site navigation, personalization features, responsiveness to inquiries, user education features, and the ability to compare other consumer opinions all help shape user perceptions of online financial service brands, according to the research. In addition, the research shows the Internet is introducing financial service brands to customer segments that were often poorly targeted prior to the online revolution. The value of establishing brand loyalty among such online target segments as women, young professionals, affluent minorities and blue-collar workers could prove to be substantial over time, according to Cyber Dialogue.

“More Americans are managing their money, investments, and insurance needs both offline and online now than ever,” Miller pointed out. “Online financial services providers have an unprecedented opportunity in cyberspace to establish long term interactive brand relationships both with very active financial service users as well as segments that have traditionally been underserved.”

Other Cyber Dialogue online branding impact research findings include:

  • The insurance sector is most likely to experience brand switching among financial services studied, with 30 percent of adults whose opinions of insurance companies were changed due to online content reporting that they purchased a different brand as a result.
  • In investing, 18 percent of adults whose opinions of investment firms changed due to online content report that they changed investment service providers as a result.
  • In banking, 16 percent of adults whose opinions about banks changed due to online content report that they changed online banking service providers as a result
  • Ease of finding things on a Web site was consistently cited by online financial service users as more important than brand name in incentivizing return visits.

Cyber Dialogue’s findings are part of its American Internet User Survey (AIUS), which conducts in-depth interviews of 1,000 Internet users and 1,000 nonusers four times per year.

According to research by Harris Interactive, approximately 40 million people have gone online in the last year to look for information about investments or stock trading, but only about 9 million have actually bought or sold securities online. The results are from a nationwide Harris Poll conducted online among 12,170 adults.

Some other findings of the online Harris Poll included:

  • Over one-third (36 percent) of all adults who are online have used the Web to look for information on investments or stock trading in the last year
  • Among those with incomes of over $75,000, the figure is much higher (61 percent)
  • As approximately 110 million people are online, this translates into approximately 40 million people using the Web to look for information about investments.

Frequency of using the Internet to look for investment information varies greatly. One-fifth (20 percent) of those who do this have done it more than 20 times in the last month. A quarter (27 percent) have done it once or not at all in the last month. More affluent investors use it more often.

Most people (85 percent) of those who looked for investment information online found what they were looking for, but over a quarter (28 percent) of those people say it either did not help them or they are not sure if it helped.

Overall, half (50 percent) of all those online own stocks, bonds or mutual funds and a third (33 percent) have bought or sold securities in the last year. However, only a relatively small number (8 percent) have bought or sold securities online, but among those with incomes of more than $75,000, more people (19 percent) have traded online.

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