The increase of mobile phone use to complete e-commerce activities across all demographics is already well documented. Traditional financial services (FS) providers are adapting to deliver a “mobile first” experience to their customers to keep pace with this rapidly changing landscape, with huge amounts of investment being made to deliver secure, easy to use, mobile banking applications. At the same time young fintech startups are challenging for their market, unencumbered by legacy processes and technology.  

But how does the experience of actually joining a bank compare in this digital channel?

This was the starting point for my recent research – to assess the customer experience across 3 banking brands (from a large multi-national to a small online only UK challenger) of opening a personal current account, a critical first stage of a new customers engagement with a bank.  Money spent on marketing and advertising to capture new customers can all be wasted in an instant if the journey is not frictionless, engaging and fast to complete.

I examined 5 key elements of the customer journey, namely

1 - Navigation and Signposting – could the account opening page quickly be found from the banks brochureware pages? If there were choices of account were they easy to compare? Was it straightforward to follow the process?

2 - User Interface (UI) - were the screens and any forms clearly laid out? Were the forms optimised for mobile? Were they graphically led?

3 - Customer Effort – was it challenging filling in the forms? Could they be completed within the digital channel? Was there much friction? Were the questions straightforward to answer? Could any required documents be uploaded digitally?

4 – Assisted Support – was support available throughout the journey? Was it contextual? Could I stay within the digital channel? Was it via a bot or personal?

5 – Overall Experience – was there an instant answer on acceptance of my application? Was any follow up collateral received in a timely manner? Overall, was there engagement and empathy with the brand?

I did not look at the features or services offered with each of the accounts once opened (such as digital receipts, banking app, touch ID etc)

To save their blushes I have removed all references to the individual banks involved. For the sake of this article I will refer to the banks as follows;-

International– international bank with global presence

Regional – regional UK bank with branches in the UK

Challenger – online only UK challenger bank

Let’s now dissect the key parts of the journey

Navigation and signposting

All banks performed pretty well here – with mobile optimized brochureware pages that clearly signposted me towards the relevant section where I could find more about their current account offerings. A straightforward and easy process to compare account options (where there was choice).

User Interface 

This is where the journeys differed massively. If it was not for completing the research I would have quickly given up with the international bank as its electronic application form was so utterly terrible. It was not optimized for mobile which meant I had to expand its size to read it, resulting in endless scrolling which was a hideous experience. The form itself was aesthetically dull and looked like it was built several years ago.

The regional bank did much better although there was obviously some old and new here – passing through a more conventional looking web page to newer pages with completely different branding. It also offered me a banking app to use but before I could access that I had to have an account name/number so I had to stay on its online pages.

The Challenger bank was by far the best laid out and straightforward to use. I was pushed down the route to download its app and this then enabled me to complete the application process.

Customer Effort

The International bank fell apart completely here. The number of clicks required to complete the application was more than double those required to complete the application of the challenger bank and the number of questions overall was over double. The international bank is obviously operating on a massive scale and has been fined by the regulator so I understand it needs to do a fulsome job here – but does it really need so much data on me? It felt like it was purely an exercise to gather as much information as possible to market other products and services to me once the account was created.

The regional bank was also high on clicks and questions asked compared to the challenger bank. The challenger bank was the most frictionless experience and the other banks could take a leaf out of its book to go on this journey and experience how slick it is.

International BankRegional BankChallenger Bank
# of clicks to complete application927141
# of fields that required a typed response192214
# of questions asked overall during the application615827
Time to complete form17m 55s15m 44s4m 58s
Time to having active account>3 daysN/A8m 30s (inc uploading ID and verification)

Assisted Support

The international bank and regional bank provided contextual field level support with their forms. However, by clicking on the relevant icon with the international bank I was taken to another page (opening another tab). The regional bank support icon opened a support box within the form making it a much better experience. The regional bank also offered support options at the bottom of each page of the form with phone numbers and an email address. The challenger offered chat as an option within its brochureware pages but no specific option once filling in the application on the downloaded app. However it was such a well laid out form and so easy to use it really didn’t need any level of support.

Interestingly no bank offered chat (reactive or proactive with a human or bot) during the application process. This surprised me as at this part of the journey I was obviously showing clear intent to buy yet was not offered live support within the digital channel to complete my transaction.

Overall Experience

The journey with the international bank was so very poor there is no way I would have completed it if I was not doing this little piece of research. At the end of the process I was presented with a screen telling me to expect communications from the bank within 5 days to inform me if my application had been successful. I would then be required to sign some paperwork and send in copies of documentation to identify me, yet more effort.

I did then receive a letter from them after day 3 to inform me my application had been unsuccessful as I had failed to provide my employers full address including the postcode. I went back to the recording I had made of the journey and noted on the page where my employers details were requested there was no field for a postcode and the only address field was limited to 30 characters. Thus the bank is building in failure to every application it receives, increasing its costs and increasing the chance that customers will not complete the journey. The final nail in the coffin (although the lid was already pretty well fitted) was the closing line of the letter – “If we do not hear from you within 14 days we will assume you no longer want to open the account”. So there I was, a potential new customer on the brink of opening an account and I’m dismissed for not filling in a form “properly” that the bank has built that doesn’t work!

The experience with the regional bank was much better. It was frustrating I couldn’t download the app and create the account within the app but the actual form filling was straightforward. The issue I had here was the volume of clicks and questions I had to answer to be able to open the account – why do I need to answer so many seemingly irrelevant questions?

The challenger bank experience was by far the best – allowing me to complete the entire journey from start to finish (including uploading a photo of my passport and a video of me speaking to the camera on my phone) within 10 minutes. So immediately I had a live open account with an overdraft facility, an ability to link this to my Apple Pay account and within 3 days my debit card had arrived beautifully packaged in a presentation box.


The journeys across the 3 organisations were very different. The international bank that has, one would imagine, the deepest pockets to provide the best customer experience actually produced the worst journey. The small start-up working to tight budgets, unencumbered by organizational complexity or legacy IT infrastructure, provided the best experience. Not offering customers any form of chat when they are in a buying cycle from a digital device seems a huge missed opportunity to close out a sale. Building an application form that will fail every time, resulting in a letter being printed, posted and ultimately thrown in the bin adds huge costs and means conversion rates plummet. Surely someone within the bank should be spotting this?

Working within the Customer Experience industry for a technology company these results come as no shock. As organsiations scale, organically or through acquisition, they lose their agility and ability to quickly innovate, getting bogged down with regulatory, risk, marketing and legal departments all needing to be consulted and signing off any changes. Technology innovations become more expensive and time consuming to deploy, maintain and upgrade and legacy applications prevent rapid change. Those that don’t “build for change” (as advocated by @Pega) struggle to overcome these challenges.

Let’s hope the current crop of challenger banks, no doubt using low cost point solutions, don’t also fall into the same trap over the coming years as their technology needs change. If they invest now in a platform approach with a build for change framework they will be well placed to avoid the pitfalls being experienced now by their elders.