January 23, 2014

Within every organization, there comes a time when it's necessary to re-evaluate the firm's Web presence and determine if it's time for an upgrade. The dynamically developing landscape in website design has fostered significant changes in financial services sites over time; where once sites clustered multiple links and packed content onto a single page, the advent of the tablet has created a shift toward panel design, and a simplified, clean look. With this explosion in tablets and other mobile devices, a solution was needed to ensure cohesive designs across an array of ever-increasing screens.

Responsive web design (RWD) is the answer. Think of it as a firm's Swiss Army knife — the one tool that can deliver a consistent Web design for any device. Where in the past designers used an Adaptive design approach that had firms serving up multiple site designs with fixed layouts specific to each device, RWD allows for a much more device-agnostic experience where a single design responds to the environment it's being viewed on. The benefit of this is that now a single design can dynamically adjust to the perfect size and layout given the constraints of the device. RWD uses what's called multiple fluid grid layouts; in layman's terms this means a variety of page elements that respond dynamically depending on the situation rather than just focusing solely on screen size.

Mike Ellison, Corporate Insight
Mike Ellison, Corporate Insight

RWD can offer financial services firms the opportunity to provide their customers with a streamlined experience regardless of how they choose to interact with the firm online. As financial customers continue to utilize multiple devices to transact and monitor their financial accounts online, RWD provides a number of interesting considerations for the consumer and organizations. Some of these considerations, which should be evaluated against the cost of implementation include:

• Increasing exposure by enabling content to be viewed on multiple devices

• Decreasing editing of content that would otherwise need to be customized or formatted for various applications, or lead to multiple redesigns for the developer

However, RWD should not be viewed as a panacea. When looking at the holistic view of a financial services firm's web presence, one must evaluate all aspects of their customer-centric experience. The implementation of RWD does not necessarily eliminate the need for mobile apps – especially in the case of the transaction-focused banking and brokerage sectors. Responsive Web design should be viewed independently of functional necessities, like billpay, trading or funding features that one might find within a banking or brokerage app.

Ian Lundahl, Corporate Insight
Ian Lundahl, Corporate Insight

[Previously from Ellison and Lundahl: Social media interactions surge in insurance]

A select number of financial services firms have adopted RWD for their updated websites. Banking firms such as Capital One, Santander and Visa Simple (online-only) have been early adopters, along with fund company, Delaware Investments. On the insurance side, Progressive and Nationwide have initiated a move towards RWD.

Given the inherent benefits of RWD's approach to serving multiple devices with a consistent experience, it will remain at the forefront of Web-based designs until the next big idea comes along. While it's not without costs, the use of a Responsive design will allow firms to think more about the message they are delivering rather than the format it's being delivered in.

About the authors: Michael Ellison is president of Corporate Insight. Ian Lundahl is senior analyst for the company. Corporate Insight tracks developments in user experience technology for the retail financial services industry through its syndicated Monitor research and consulting services. For more information, click here.