HSBC and Halifax lead high-street online fightback, but specialists still dominate
A view from Lisa Wisniowski

HSBC and Halifax lead high-street online fightback, but specialists still dominate

New research suggests traditional, high-street banks are responding to fierce competition online with stronger marketing strategies, a bolder approach to social media and an improved customer proposition, writes Stickyeyes brand communications director Lisa Wisniowski.

The study, our third annual analysis of the UK consumer finance market, shows Moneysupermarket.com and Moneysavingexpert.com continuing to dominate the sector online, but traditional high-street brands including HSBC, Halifax, Santander, Nationwide and Barclays fighting back to regain visibility in commercially important product areas.

This year, the dominance of money advice and price-comparison websites in the current-account market has fallen from 74% visibility to just 44%. Just three of the 10 most-visible brands are now price comparison websites, as banking brands including NatWest, The Co-operative Bank, Barclays, Nationwide, First Direct, TSB and Halifax respond with customer-focused offers and incentives.

An increased focus on encouraging competition is also opening the door for alternative and ‘disrupter’ brands to enter the market. For the first time in the three years of this report, both Al Rayan Bank, an Islamic banking provider, and Castle Trust, a financial bonds provider, feature among the most-visible brands in savings searches. Meanwhile, the loans market has become incredibly diverse, with supermarket brands Tesco Bank and Sainsbury’s Bank, peer-to-peer lender Zopa and short-term lenders Little Loans, Amigo Loans and Freedom Finance all among the most-visible brands.

Interestingly, in a reflection of the upturn in the housing market, mortgage searches account for a huge 46% of the online search market across all financial-services products. This is more than twice the volume achieved by the next-biggest product area, loans (21%), and is underpinned by the high-volume phrase ‘mortgage calculator’, which accounts for 36% of all volume across the top 20 financial-services keywords.

Social strategies

But it’s clear that the retail banking industry still has some way to go on social media, despite the Financial Conduct Authority publishing guidance on the regulations surrounding social activity. Here we’re seeing the development of two tiers, with those brands that have taken a more strategic approach making significant ground in engaging audiences through social media and content marketing, while other brands continue to hold back.

NatWest is the most socially active brand in the financial-services sector, scoring 90.57 points out of 100 in the report’s social-media scorecard, closely followed by Barclays, with a score of 86.86, primarily down to its success on Twitter and Facebook.

However, there are considerable variances in the levels of success of financial brands’ social-media strategies. This is evidenced by the third most socially active brand, Lloyds Bank, which scored just 69.14 points – 17.72 points behind Barclays.

It’s clear that, unless these brands change their strategy and embrace social as a channel, they will soon find themselves playing a difficult game of catch-up on a platform that evolves at an incredibly fast pace.

Indeed, what the search market in 2015 and this report tell us is that customer-focused content, personable marketing and an engaging proposition are absolutely critical in attracting customers online. This is how the industry will continue to rebuild customer confidence and meet their fast-evolving demands.