How do consumers discover brands when looking for a new current account provider? And how do they make their final choice?

What works best when you want to open a current account? Use search sites? Think of a bank and check out their website? Or opt for the comparison websites? A new Global Reviews shortlist report analyses how consumers discover current account providers, how they make a shortlist of brands to investigate further, and how they make their final selection, writes Rebecca Jennings

Rebecca Jennings is a Principal Client Advisor at Global Reviews, where she advises clients such as Allianz, Nationwide, Aviva and SSE on how to improve their customer experience and increase online conversions. She has been widely quoted by a variety of media titles.

Prior to Global Reviews, Rebecca spent 10 years at Forrester Research, where as a Principal Consultant she wrote innovative and original research and consulted on consumer behaviour, marketing, and social media. Clients included major worldwide consumer goods companies, retailers and financial services providers including Unilever, Michelin and Santander. She has a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University.

What works best when you want to open a current account? Use search sites? Think of a bank and check out their website? Or opt for the comparison websites? A new Global Reviews shortlist report analyses how consumers discover current account providers, how they make a shortlist of brands to investigate further, and how they make their final selection, writes Rebecca Jennings

Global Reviews asked respondents to research for a personal current account in exactly the way they would in real-life. They visited a variety of sites, with 87% using search sites, 81% visiting provider websites and 55% visiting comparison websites.

The research showed that, on average, UK consumers spend around 4 hours researching a new current account, over a period of a week. Most (73%) of consumers did three quarters of their research online.

When respondents were asked about their preferred current account providers – without being prompted on specific brands – the most popular choice was Lloyds TSB (68%). This was followed by Barclays (63%), NatWest (57%) , HSBC (52%) and Santander (50%).

Some 60% of respondents already had a preference for a current account provider before they started the research; 15% of this group preferred Lloyds TSB, 14% preferred NatWest or Halifax, and 12% preferred Santander. Barclays captured just 7% of pre-research preferences, behind The Co-operative Bank and Nationwide as well as the above-mentioned brands.

The most popular reason given for this initial choice was brand; 60% said they made their choice because it was a reputable brand, while 53% had used the brand before, and 52% said they trusted the provider.

Comparison sites

The leading comparison site was MoneySupermarket, with 30% of respondents visiting it, double the percentage who visited the next most visited site, Money Savings Expert. The three most visited brand sites were Halifax (32%), Barclays (31%) and Lloyds TSB (30%).

There were interesting findings on the use of search engines too. A total of 45% of search engine users said they used one because they do so out of habit, while 42% said they wanted to see if providers were promoting good deals. In addition, 46% of search engine users used generic terms such as "best current account", whilst 54% searched for specific brands.

Shortlisting behaviours

By shortlist, we mean a list of around three brands that respondents intended to look at more closely before their final decision. Halifax was the most successful at the shortlist stage, despite a poor showing in terms of unprompted awareness (just 47% of respondents mentioned them unprompted).

Yet 32% visited the Halifax site and 35% put them on their shortlist. This contrasts with Lloyds TSB, which despite a high level of 68%unprompted awareness, only attracted 30% to the Lloyds TSB website with just 28% putting Lloyds TSB on their shortlist.

The top three shortlisted brands? They were Halifax (shortlisted by 35% of users), Santander (31%) and Lloyds TSB and Nationwide, both 28%. The top three reasons for these shortlist choices were availability of online banking (53%), good deals/offers (49%) and familiarity with brand names (48%).

For those who shortlisted Halifax, good deals/offers and online banking were the top considerations. Those who shortlisted Lloyds TSB said familiarity with the brand was the top reason.

While Barclays is widely known, just 18% of respondents shortlisted the brand, suggesting it might be failing to communicate its product offering or online banking clearly. Just 58% of users who first visited the Barclays website shortlisted the brand, a smaller percentage than all others.

When respondents were asked about what they thought were the most important elements of a bank’s website during their research, the two most important features were information about fees/charges and the ability to manage the account online.

The role of comparison sites and search results in putting brands on shortlist is very strong. In the case of several brands (including Santander, Nationwide and The Co-operative Bank) more respondents put them on their shortlist than visited the bank’s website. This may be the result of pre-research preferences.

Or, in the case of The Co-operative Bank, it may be that respondents encountered branding on search pages or comparison pages. For example, 22% of respondents shortlisted The Co-operative Bank, even though only 13% either visited the bank’s website or named it as their pre-research preference. This suggests that 9% of respondents decided to shortlist the brand as a result of comparison site content.

Final Preferences

In terms of final preference, Santander (15% of respondents) narrowly beat Lloyds TSB (14%). Halifax, Nationwide and The Co-operative Bank got 11% each, closely followed by NatWest at 10%, and Barclays as well as First Direct each with 8%.

The top reasons behind final decisions were online banking (cited by 55%), familiarity with brand names (52%) and good reputation (49%). The sixth most popular reason was good deals/offers, with 31% of respondents mentioning this.

Reasons for final preference differed widely. For example, 80% of those who chose First Direct cited the bank’s good reputation as a reason for the decision, though only 32% of those who chose Halifax were motivated by good reputation. Halifax loyalists were more likely to be swayed by good deals/offers (59% of those who chose Halifax said this was the reason for their choice).

Yet 60% of those who chose First Direct cited good service as a factor, while only 17% of those who selected Santander were swayed by this. Those who chose Santander were more motivated by familiarity with the brand and online banking.

So what does this mean for current account providers? It underlines the powerful influence of external websites on shortlisting behaviours: comparison sites and search certainly helped to promote brands to the shortlist stage. It showed too that the bank brand’s own website needs to communicate its key values and product strengths well.

Rebecca Jennings, is senior client advisor at international benchmarking firm Global Reviews.