Australia and New Zealand Banking Group unveiled a complete refit of its ageing website at the weekend as it took the first step in a plan to revolutionise the way it deals with customers online. The site has been expanded to take up more space on larger, modern-day computer screens, as well as drastically streamlined and simplified.
It is dominated by the bright colours and large images popular in today's multimedia-based web environment.
ANZ's group managing director of its personal division, Brian Hartzer, said the site had been set up to match the needs of the bank's almost two million internet banking users in Australia, rather than reflecting the corporate structure of the bank itself, which he said was how bank sites had traditionally been designed.
After conducting research, the bank found the majority of people using its site were personal customers. Therefore, the site will default to ANZ's personal offerings, with users having the option to change their individual default home page to match other business needs.
Much of the change is being driven by ANZ's new head of online banking, Sam Plowman, who joined the bank about three months ago after leaving his position as general manager of online real estate for Fairfax Digital.
With a previous background managing online properties for Telstra's Sensis division, Mr Plowman joked in an interview last week that he was "almost like the godfather of dotcom", with about eight years experience in the short-lived internet industry.
Despite Mr Plowman's lack of first-hand experience in the banking sector, ANZ's managing director of banking products, John Harries, said the executive had brought ways of thinking and web development techniques to the bank which were more commonly found in online publishing houses - and which were much needed by today's internet-dominated financial services sector.
"What we really had before . . . was brochure-ware," he said of ANZ's website.
"Some of it is not bad, but unfortunately not enough of it. We're going from brochure-ware style to an information and marketing portal."
Mr Plowman said ANZ had an enormous amount of in-house content and information it wanted to share with its user base as it developed a more interactive presence on the web.
"It's something that we need to see as a future window of real importance to be able to communicate through," he said.
For example, the bank is discussing new ways of interacting with customers online such as blogs, forums and live question and answer sessions.
ANZ's regional expansion into Asia will lead to integration with online mapping services, such as Microsoft Virtual Earth, so customers can see where the bank has ATMs and branches.
"I think users are starting to expect that from websites," Mr Plowman said.
"It's not a quick journey, and in this sort of space it takes time to actually get into that very interactive website publishing position.
"But we have to start thinking this way, and we have to start freeing up our code structure and the actual site to enable us to do it."
In other areas ANZ is already leading. For example, along with Suncorp it has recently become one of the first major financial institutions in Australia to introduce banking via mobile phones.
Mr Harries said more than 1000 people had registered to use the service and the introduction of converged mobile devices, such as Apple's iPhone, could speed adoption.
"Our summary on mobile banking is that it's early days," Mr Plowman said.
"We're in the market, we're trying stuff, and we're going to be taking on as much feedback as we can."
Although the planned website changes will be gradually pushed through in an interactive fashion, some more substantial modifications will take longer.
For example, Mr Plowman said the bank was continually looking at how it could integrate its own website and that of its popular stockbroking subsidiary, E*Trade.
"The scope of work is big," he said.
One initial aim will be to allow customers to log-in to both sites with a single set of details.
The bank's internet banking platform has recently been rebuilt with the assistance of Indian technology firm Infosys and is using the Pinnacle platform, whereas E*Trade uses different underlying technology.
In comparison, some rivals, such as Rabobank, already have platforms that allow savings deposits and other investments like managed funds to be managed through the same portal.
Another area is internet banking security. Unlike its major competitors and some smaller firms, ANZ has not started offering consumers two-factor internet banking security technologies, such as SMS authentication or token password authentication, although it has started a trial of the technology for business customers, including small to medium-sized businesses.
The bank is pursuing alternatives. For example, last week it introduced an internet banking guarantee that means customers who have lost money as a result of fraud would be reimbursed within five days, and it has also won awards for its fraud detection systems.
Mr Harries said ANZ was comfortable with its level of security, but was evaluating options, including SMS authentication controls, that would be best practice in future.
At the heart of all the planned or proposed changes to ANZ's online technology will be usability concerns. The bank has established an internal useability lab to make sure everything it does is accessible in a simple way to users.
Fairfax Business Media