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New research by marketing agency Teamspirit shows that even those IFA firms which do have websites are not offering a positive experience for customers. Teamspirit creative director Richard Hayter says: “Many IFAs are failing to capitalise on the opportunity by not providing a straightforward online experience for users.” Site usability is a major issue as online IFA customers spurn clever technology in favour of simple, easy-to-navigate websites. The reassurance of a voice on the other end of a phone should also not be underestimated. Hayter says: “Poor design and construction of a website is a big turn-off for many consumers. Imagine a site which is difficult to navigate, awkward to execute and is short on educational material or other relevant information.” The ease with which users can visit, navigate and transact on an internet site has become a key factor for financial advisers. The average internet user does not have the patience to navigate complicated sites and if they do not get what they want straightaway, they tend to go elsewhere. Teamspirit’s survey starts off by giving each site it researches a score of 10 and then deducts points if the site fails to fulfil the user goals. Factors taken into account include users’ emotions and frustrations of navigating the site, whether the links work and general design of the pages such as whether the text is easily legible and relevance of information provided. The survey was conducted using a random sample of 50 internet users aged between 18 and 65, with a bias towards those who have money to invest. Teamspirit examined several websites and here are some opinions on four in particular. PSFM (www.psfm.com) emerged on top, for as soon as the home page opened, the site gave an impression of being useful, which came as a pleasant surprise after viewing some other sites. The signposting, such as prompts to other pages is clear and the general navigation simple. Hayter says: “The site is well thought out with a general feeling that the users’ needs have been accommodated. Headings which include My Money and My Family lend a tone of empathy with the consumer.” There is also interesting information on such topics as house price averages, the retail price index and current indices. However, the use of a giant logo and stock photography dating back many years detracts from the overall good feel of the site. There is excellent content behind the home page and plenty of it, with clear descriptions of pretty much any retail financial service product on the market plus the ability to compare a range of rates or prices. There is a series of financial guides which answer common questions on a range of products. A great deal is expected from a company of the calibre of Towry Law (towrylaw.com) but the general consensus from the survey respondents on the website is one of disappointment. Teamspirit concludes that building a website to address so many audiences is tough and the home page looks either very corporate or rather cold and uninviting. There is confusion over the content, billed as being aimed at individual clients, as navigation relies on the user knowing which product they want. Only later is the user given the option to explore the site based on their need or lifestage. This would have made an excellent initial means of navigation. The content is deemed to be thin, with the apparent main aim to have the user complete an information request form, which gives the impression that the whole process of buying an investment is like you are applying for planning permission from the local council. Websites can date rapidly and com-panies have to re-evaluate their online presence constantly. The website Alexander Forbes (www.alexanderforbes. com) appears to be outdated, according to the survey. The initial impression of the site was that it was built nearly 10 years ago, an epoch away in net terms. The layout is that of a very dated “semi-portal”. Survey respondents pointed to text which is centre-aligned, poor signposting, outmoded photography and a dirty-brown colouring. The site’s saving grace is a link on the homepage to its investor centre, which opens a new window. This has a radically different layout to the home page, with a poor photo composite but sporting a really elegant and compact navigation tool at the top of the page. However, clicking any of the links lead to dull, long, copy-heavy pages. Positive Solutions(www.thinkpositive.co.uk) opens with what used to be called a Flash intro. In this case, it is a statement about how “different” it is, which comes across as a bit of puffery, delivered in a way that could be considered old fashioned. However, the site is cleanly designed with simple drop-down menus and a good use of colour. Hayter says: “Each piece of information is kept short and to the point, so there is no scrolling. Interesting but seemingly unrelated photography is used to express some of the brand values.” The front of the site is, however, another online brochure, with the real content of the site behind a log-in, where the design suddenly and uncomfortably changes. Hayter believes there is an increasing requirement for sites to be fast, efficient, informative and easy to use.He believes that problems often occur because companies tell designers what they want without putting themselves in the shoes of the user. Do online IFAs want to do business or do they want pretty pictures of people peering over their financial investments? It is an obvious question but some companies do not seem to have asked themselves it.