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Regionals Better Than Top Banks At Handling E-Mail Communications, Survey Finds

The survey found that many of the top 100 banks are at best mediocre and at worst totally unresponsive in communicating via the Internet.

Regional banks are better at communicating with prospective customers online than the nation's ten largest banks, a survey has found.

Conducted on behalf of Amacis, a U.K.-based customer interaction software company, the survey found that many of the top 100 banks are at best mediocre and at worst totally unresponsive in communicating via the Internet. Only 38% of inquiries were responded to satisfactorily within one day. More than a third of the responses sent within 24 hours were unsatisfactory, while almost 25% of inquiries went unanswered.

The survey ranked the top 100 U.S. banking groups according to how well they fielded a variety of simple information requests. Performance measures included how quickly they responded to e-mails and the relevance of their final response. The top five performers (with top 100 ranking) were Marshall & Ilsley Corp. (24), WesBanco (100), United Bankshares (73), Keystone Financial (77) and Hibernia Corp. (51).

By contrast, the ten largest U.S. banking groups scored 20 percentage points lower on average than the top performers. None of the ten largest banks appeared among the top performers, and 14 of the top 100 had no e-mail submission capability.

Independent observers were surprised by the results. "Intuitively, one would think that the large banks, with more technical prowess, would be better at answering e-mail than smaller banks," said Matt Cain, an analyst at Meta Group.

In another survey-also conducted on Amacis' behalf-Internet banking strategists at large banks were asked how long, on average, it takes their organizations to respond to e-mail and Web inquiries. Two-thirds said their organizations responded within 24 hours, while the rest said within two days.

The two surveys side-by-side reveal a wide gap between perceived and actual response times. "Many of the systems used by banks to handle e-mail and Web inquiries were developed in-house. This may help to explain why the majority of banks claim to be meeting or exceeding their target response times," said Erik Hille, vice president of U.S. marketing at Amacis.

Meta Group projects that by 2005, half the U.S. adult population will state that e-mail is their primary means of interaction with banks. Those organizations that have installed an e-mail handling capability will enjoy an advantage. "Some companies are more proactive about setting up an infrastructure. Others get to the point where they're hemorrhaging with e-mails, then they look for some automated solution," Cain said.

In the Amacis survey of e-banking strategists, 79% of respondents stated that Internet banking would be the most important channel in three years, topping ATMs (74%), bank branches (63%) and telephone banking (42%). None of the respondents said that e-mail would be the most important channel, but many expect substantial growth in the number of e-mails. More than half are looking for a technology solution that will allow their bank to manage e-mail and mobile messaging, and to integrate these with the rest of their business.

Despite their bullishness about the Internet channel, respondents don't expect the branch channel to disappear. Integrating Internet banking with other bank operations was perceived as their second most important challenge, topped only by retaining customers.

Other challenges include improving customer satisfaction, encroachment by investment firms and insurance companies into banks' territory, shrinking margins and commoditization of bank services.

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