Wells Fargo, still digesting the mighty
Wachovia franchise, has come top in a leading survey of online
services in the US – beating not just all other US banks but a host
of web-savvy retailers, entertainment sites and other
consumer-focused corporations. One of its more successful
applications has been m-banking.

Wells Fargo, now the largest US banking group ranked by
branches (over 10,400 ‘stores’ according to RBI’s
Superbanks survey – see RBI 615), is now also the best in
terms of its online banking set-up. A much-watched, benchmark
ranking of online innovation of all major US corporations, not just
banks, by the Brookings Institution has put Wells at number one,
above more mainstream consumer entities such as Wal-Mart, Google,
Disney, Microsoft and Apple.

While American Express is ranked fifth and
Merrill Lynch 36th, the next major US banking group with a large
retail banking network is JPMorgan Chase, at 67th. And there are
some big banking names missing, namely Bank of America, Citibank,
US Bank and ING Direct USA.

The Brookings Institution – a non-profit
public policy organisation based in Washington DC with a remit to
conduct “high-quality, independent” research – evaluated 18
categories apropos ‘digital innovation’, including personalisation,
interactivity, PDA (personal digital assistant) access, language
translation, number of online services, security and user

According to the institute, Wells Fargo’s top ranking is based, in part, on the
many online tools and services it offers, in particular:

• My
Spending Report with Budget Watch:
a free online
money management tool.

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• My
Savings Plan:
a free online tool that allows
savings account customers a way to save toward a goal,
automatically monitoring progress.

Smarter Credit Center:
an online resource that
provides information and services about credit – including reducing
debt, getting more credit, or managing and protecting credit for a
longer term.

a personal online safe in which customers
can store copies of documents for reference and/or in case the
originals or other copies are lost or destroyed. vSafe, according
to Wells Fargo, is the first storage solution of its kind for
retail banking customers from a major financial institution.

Mobile Banking:
secure, mobile account access
offering key banking tasks such as checking account balances,
transferring funds between accounts, and paying bills. In addition,
BlackBerry smartphone, iPhone and iPod touch users can download a
WF.com icon for ‘one-click’ access to Wells
’s mobile web site.

Asked how the bank tests the userability and
customer demand for innovative online tools, a spokesperson for the
bank told RBI: “Through our user-centred design process
and various ongoing research programmes – including Voice of the
Customer, ethnography and focus groups – Wells Fargo creates a deep
understanding of our customers’ financial needs.

“A couple of examples that resulted from our
customer research include vSafe and mobile banking.”

Despite its substantial branch network (it
inherited over 5,000 outlets via the acquisition of Wachovia at the
end of last year), online and mobile distribution plays the biggest
role in regular customer interaction at Wells Fargo.

The spokesperson stated that, as of the fourth
quarter of 2008, 69 percent of all consumer checking accounts at
Wells Fargo were managed online. The spokesperson added that tools
such as My Spending Report, vSafe and Wells Fargo Mobile “have
exceeded our expectations in terms of customer adoption”, though
specific numbers were not given.

Wells Fargo Mobile is clearly a core focus for
the bank, moreover, with an emphasis on “clean and simple design.
The design fits well inside the small screen of a mobile device and
offers banking services with just a couple of clicks”.

Wells Fargo customers use the mobile website
service an average of six times per month and text banking
customers send a balance request an average of 19 times a

The spokesperson said that the key lessons
learnt, and benefits of, the Wells Fargo m-banking service have

• A short domain name: the
mobile web address is wf.com – “It is easier to type four letters
instead of 10 on a phone keypad”.

through wf.com, customers can perform what the
spokesperson describes as “quick and easy” banking tasks on their
mobile devices.

text messaging services:
a customer can just text ‘BAL’ or
‘ACT’ to 93557 [the short code for ‘WELLS’] to check the available
account balance or to see if a cheque has cleared.


US – top corporations by online



Points (out of 100)


Wells Fargo



Home Depot









American Express



Federal Express



CVS Caremark











Source: Brookings Institute