Optimization for Banks: Lessons from 3 Financial Marketing Experts

Banks have been around for hundreds of years, but the internet has only exploded in the last 30 or so. The intersection of these storied institutions with new technology can be fraught with obstacles. What is optimization for banks? Some customers will always want to do their banking in person, but more and more are converting to online banking options (as many as 36% of Gen Y users, according to this a study by Accenture).

What is optimization for banks, and how do you optimize your website to best serve both customers and your business goals?

Effective Experiments interviewed digital optimization experts from SunTrust Bank and The Cooperative Bank to discuss how they handle their optimization challenges with financial sites and what their biggest learnings are.

We asked our three experts these questions:

  1. What are the most challenging parts of optimization for you? 
  2. How have you approached these challenges, and what advice would you give to someone just starting out, knowing what you know now?

Robert Martin: Vice President, Digital Channel Web Optimization at SunTrust Bank

What are the most challenging parts of optimization for banks?
“Generally speaking, I’ve found one of the most overlooked and challenging parts of optimization is finding the correct problem to solve.

In order to solve the correct problem, you need to be able to understand what a visitor to a website is trying to do and what is obstructing them from completing that task. Data will help uncover the visitor’s motivation and what they are trying to accomplish.

However, this is where it can get challenging for banks as you are dealing with people who have very different motivations. For example, someone coming to the website looking for a savings account is going to behave differently than someone who is looking to apply for a loan or a current customer who wants to view their checking account balance.

Because of this, you need to be able to dig deeper into the data and only look at data that pertains to the area of focus.

Let’s use the checking page as an example and assume we have seen a decrease in checking accounts opened over the last month. The data shows the conversion rate has lowered from 3% to 2% and the amount of traffic has remained the same.

On first glance, we could assume the page is now underperforming. However, when you remove people who only come to the checking page to login to their account, we find the conversion rate is actually 5% and traffic has decreased.

Further data discovery could show the underlying problem was actually people having trouble navigating to the checking page.

This is somewhat of a simple example but highlights how different people’s motivations coming to a bank’s website could skew data. Analyzing data at a deeper level will allow you to better understand what the actual problem is.

Optimization for banks: varying products

Another challenge of optimizing banking websites has to do with the varying products offered. (This directly contributes to the first challenge mentioned of having different motivations to understand.)

This can make traditional CRO and A/B testing very difficult. For example, let’s say we finished running an A/B test and the treatment increased conversion rate by 5%. On the surface, this seems to be a winning experience.

However, the 5% increase largely came from more savings products being opened at the expense of fewer credit cards being applied for. We actually created a losing experience since credit cards are more profitable for the bank than a savings account.

You need to be able to understand the balance between increasing volume and quality of accounts as well as the profitability of each. A good exercise to help overcome this is understanding how many savings accounts 1 credit card is worth.”

How have you approached these challenges? What advice would you give to someone just starting out, knowing what you know now?

“My advice would be to learn how to pull and analyze data or work with someone who does. Always ask questions that will allow you to dig deeper into the data to get a better understanding of what it is telling you.

Try to get as specific as possible when looking at a set of data and be sure it is for the specific task/goal you are optimizing for. The more data you have and the better you understand it, the better chance you have of understanding what people’s motivations are and what the real problems are.

Having too much data hasn’t hurt anything, but not having enough data can lead to misinformed decisions.”

David S. Bacon: Vice President, Digital Testing and Optimization, Consumer Digital, SunTrust Bank

What are the most challenging parts of optimization for banks?

“Conversion rate optimization can be complex, especially with the staggering amount of data that most companies have at their disposal. This data can create situations where leaders, who have been successful based primarily on their personal experiences, may find data that challenges these experiences.

While this data does not always contradict the subjective opinion, it is a more empirical indicator of the environment and a better basis to make decisions.

I have found that the best leaders are very comfortable with recommendations based on metrics, even if they don’t necessarily align with their own intuition.

Another challenge is parsing testing ideas into valid tests. See if this sounds familiar, “I bet if we changed the color of the button we’d get more sales” (or something to that effect). While it may, getting to what we test involves careful methodology which may not result in this particular strategy.

For example, if the issue were a drop in sales, we would start with an analysis of what might have changed to cause the drop. (Did we lose traffic? Did our prices go up? Did our competitors advertise more heavily? And so on.)

Only after we had a direction to pursue would we design a test. It’s challenging because as testing professionals, we live and die by the data which doesn’t support every testing idea we receive.”

How have you approached these challenges, and what advice would you give to someone just starting out, knowing what you know now?

“In college, statistics and quantitative methods of business were not terribly exciting. Today, they are an integral component of CRO success.

Mastery of data and the ability to connect cause and effect will provide you with a unique and marketable skill set.  Truly successful marketers know how to make a business case using metrics and generate results through testing.

And while you may have the facts, remember that you are still working with people whose opinions and experiences may not align with the data. Be confident – and flexible – and learn how to succeed through solid testing principles and the credibility it brings.”

Becky Franks: Digital Content and Optimization Manager, The Cooperative Bank

What are the most challenging parts of optimization for banks?

  • “Getting the right teams to engage and drive the value of testing. People need to get into the mindset of testing and how it can help them reach their targets.
  • Working in a regulated environment, all changes have to go through a sometimes long approval process. This often means that concept to go live can take months.
  • Many of the web pages have low traffic, this means achieving statistical significance can be difficult.

How have you approached these challenges, and what advice would you give to someone just starting out, knowing what you know now?

  • Have a clear and prioritized optimization and testing backlog with a clear hypothesis, benefits to the business and the customer – it is the nature of people to question what you are doing and why, if you have a prioritized backlog with data and insight to backup you test plans this really helps.
  • Be resilient – the slow process of sign off can start to become frustrating if you let it, accept that you work in a regulated environment and don’t try and fight it, work with it.
  • Don’t be afraid to push back – just because you have been asked to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do, validate the data and if it doesn’t justify a test don’t do it.
  • Check your traffic volumes before starting.”


Robert Martin says his two biggest challenges in optimization for banks are:

  • Identifying and addressing customer motivation.
  • Varying product needs.

His 3 biggest lessons are:

  • Learn how to analyze the data or hire someone who knows how.
  • Ask specific questions.
  • Always get more data than you need.

David Bacon says the two biggest challenges in optimization for banks are:

And his 3 biggest lessons have been:

  • Mastering data collection and understanding cause and effect will up your game.
  • Be confident.
  • Be flexible – let the data guide you.

Becky Franks says her three biggest challenges in optimization for banks are:

  • Getting the right team together.
  • Bureaucratic delays.
  • Achieving statistical significance o low traffic pages.

Her 4 biggest lessons are:

  • Have a clear and planned test backlog.
  • Be resilient.
  • Don’t be afraid to push back.
  • Check your traffic volumes before you start.
Manuel da Costa

A passionate evangelist of all things experimentation, Manuel da Costa founded Effective Experiments to help organizations to make experimentation a core part of every business. On the blog, he talks about experimentation as a driver of innovation, experimentation program management, change management and building better practices in A/B testing.