Most banks fail to deliver the detailed, easily navigable information that would keep customers coming to their Web sites, according to a study from Netsmart Research Inc., New York.

The quest for information is important to 91% of visitors to bank Web sites, said the study, "E-Commerce: Internet Users Mean Business." Netsmart surveyed 1,001 men and women who are on-line at least an hour a week, excluding time spent on e-mail.

Forty-eight percent said the Internet is the first place they go when considering a major financial decision. These prospective customers are unique in their eagerness for information, the study said, and they will invest considerable time to find what they want.

"Financial commitments are a very complex decision," the study said. "People go on-line to make sense of the information overload."

Though bank Internet sites have improved over the past three years, they are seen as harder to navigate than other types, with 78% of the respondents reporting difficulty, versus 71% for other sites. "Bank sites don't provide the content people are looking for, and they refer people to aggravating '800' numbers that people have gone on-line to avoid," said Bernadette Tracy, president of Netsmart.

Users of bank Web sites said they were frustrated by dead ends (74%), confusing searches (68%), and long periods of scrolling to find information (79%). Seven out of 10 bank Web site visitors reported delayed or no responses to their e-mails.

Ms. Tracy said 83% leave bank Web sites out of frustration. "The first bank to provide comprehensive on-line information and true interactivity will take the on-line leadership position," she added.

According to Netsmart, the ideal bank Web site should have navigational aids that clearly differentiate information for consumer and corporate customers; a home page that immediately links users to answers to their questions; and regularly updated information.

"If it takes more than two clicks to get to the desired information, many prospects will leave," the study said. "These prime prospects are more intelligent and sophisticated than the average client. They are quickly bored and easily frustrated."

Of all on-line users, 40% go to bank Web sites.

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