Time on your hands, not your handset

David Black, MD of Finance & Services at Google UK

When the Bank of England was founded in 1694, it had a staff of just seventeen clerks and two gatekeepers – humble beginnings for an industry now worth an estimated £124bn to the UK. King William III explained in the Royal Charter that the institution was founded with the intention to “promote the public good and benefit of our people”. While banking has changed a great deal in the intervening 300 years, the core mission statement remains the same – to work for the good of their ‘people’, or in today’s terms, their customers.

For a bank, working for the benefit of the customer now means finding faster and more convenient ways for them to be able to engage with the business and access their money. The early work of the Bank of England involved formulating the first ever bank notes. Where previously notes were hand written and denoted the specific amount deposited by a customer, the Bank of England introduced printed notes in denominations of £10.

It’s interesting to see how the role of digital technology in banking today is almost reversing this trend with physical notes being used less frequently – just 62% of all payments in the UK are now made using cash, and by 2026 UK Finance predicts that cash will be used for a mere 21%.  TSB CEO Paul Pester recently noted that “my most popular bank branch is now the bus journey to work”, illustrating how digital transformation means that more and more people are primarily using their smartphones to engage with their bank.  The impact of this shift in consumer attitudes, and the importance of getting the online experience right, has been highlighted by TSB’s recent online banking struggles.

People are using smartphones more and more, generally. People look to their phones for almost everything—from booking a restaurant to browsing for a new jacket, to learning about their digital banking options. They are looking for ideas and advice, researching every decision they make—no matter how small.

This behavioural shift has a massive impact on banking. Banking is about working for the good of the customers, so it is crucial to be able to communicate clearly and quickly through consumers’ medium of choice. Jerome Powell, current Chairman of the Federal Reserve, noted that “mobile devices, high-speed data communication and online commerce are creating expectations that convenient, secure, real-time payment and banking capabilities should be available whenever and wherever they are needed”.

Google’s research echoes Mr Powell’s observations. The rapid rise in the capabilities of our smartphones is parallel to a rise in consumer expectations – Google research shows that half of people surveyed think sites should load in less than two seconds yet, in the UK, the average is a whopping 8.9 seconds. The research found that Britain is behind the curve in general when it comes to how quickly sites load on mobile, coming tenth out of the 17 major European countries surveyed.

The impact of this discrepancy between the service consumers expect and the one currently provided by banks and financial services brands is tangible. Research from Google shows that 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes three seconds or more to load. And that percentage quickly increases as page load time increases – if you keep mobile users waiting just one second to five seconds, the probability of them deserting spikes by 90%.

As technology advances and customer behaviours continue to evolve, a brand’s ability to meet consumer needs and expectations will define its capacity for growth. Despite the ongoing change and transformation in the industry, banks continue their core principles of working for the good of their people. In this new mobile-first world, it’s crucial for banks and financial services to recognise that faster is better, and less is more. When it comes to mobile pages, speed and size matter – here are three simple ways to speed up your mobile experience:

 Unpack the essentials first – Prioritise above-the-fold content over anything else. That way, users consider your site fully loaded earlier on, and can start browsing faster. Having multiple files concerned with font, size, colour and spacing can have a big impact on site speed, so have these load later on.

Make fewer trips to and from the van – Each resource on your mobile site requires additional requests from the server, so try to group similar files together. Small images under 10KB can also be combined into a sprite format. Sprite formats allow a collection of images to be filed under a single image, reducing the amount of server requests and speeding up loading times.

Lighter boxes make easier carrying – Large images take longer to load and slow things down. Compress your images to below 100KB wherever possible. GZIP is a free to use software that can also reduce the size of text-based files, like JavaScript, by as much as 70-80%.

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