Despite the recent up-tick of the financial markets, brokerage firms remain entrenched in a down market mode replete with cost-containment and contingency plans to confront an even more prolonged market slump (if one materializes).
Given this backdrop, Gmez sought to discover how online user experience strategy is managed by discount and full-service firms on our Scorecards. Our objective was to provide clarity regarding which business area -- IT or product management -- ultimately has final say. Of the thirty firms represented in the Scorecards, seventeen firms responded to our e-mail survey. Of the seventeen, fourteen were from the self-directed broker space; six were full-service houses*. We asked the firms two simple questions:
-- "At your firm, does the IT group have primary control over the user experience (i.e., usability, flow, interdependencies from function to function)?"
--"At your firm, does the IT group primarily own the application of design principles and branding to the information architecture?"
Product marketing, our survey shows, continues to own the user experience. This is evinced by fifteen of the firms that responded to this effect in our first question. Fourteen, in fact, claimed product marketing owns the design principle and branding process relative to information architecture.
As many firms look to outsource technology, IT departments are feeling the sting. They are seeking ways to reinforce the strategic value they contribute to the organization, as pundits from academia to Wall Street question the role IT plays in building competitive advantage, tighter customer relationships and more cost-effective operations.
Control of the online channel is one such avenue but primary ownership by IT is a misstep, as technology groups are not structured (nor do they have the expertise) to effectively manage the online channel.
During follow-up conversations with each firm that participated in our survey, it became clear that the most successful model involves an active partnership between IT and product marketing, with product marketing taking the lead to deliver an effective online channel.
For example, several firms noted how they flush out potential functionality and design ideas in advance with a member of the IT staff to ensure a smooth process for both groups. Not a bad suggestion, one that is sure to tilt the odds in favor of an online user experience that not only meets customers' needs, but is extensible and flexible enough to bend with the markets should the ongoing rally continue or crumble.
* Note: A handful of financial institutions offer both a self-directed and a discount services.
Dan Burke is a Gmez vice president of research specializing in online brokerage services. Please send any comments or feedback to [email protected]