Banker, Broker, Adviser, Seller: The Best of the Financial Web

Online Banking
Online Banking

While we don't know exactly how many Americans use online banking, it's estimated that between 25% and close to 50% of the adult population take to the Web regularly to do our most important financial business.

We click and pay bills at home computers, log on to advisory services for input on investing or withdrawing retirement funds, use tablets to check brokerage balances on the go -- the variety of services delivered via the Web is already vast, and it's growing by the day.

A Real-Time View of Financial Innovation

The company Corporate Insight tracks what firms are cooking up for consumers and calls out the most meaningful enhancements via its annual Monitor awards. In 2011, the company tracked the best innovations in real-money accounts of more than 100 financial institutions. Among the overall findings:

  • Mutual fund firms released 25 new adviser-targeted tools and eight new tools for retail investors. Uses varied from calculating college savings needs to assisting with portfolio building and tracking fund performance.

  • Credit card issuers spent considerable time and capital on webpage redesigns. The most active highlighted enhancements in marketing pitches delivered via social media, with Facebook and Foursquare cited among the most-used channels.

  • Brokerage firms used 2011 to enhance their online trading capabilities, expand research offerings, and introduce mobile apps. Seven firms added new screeners and tools for equity investors.

For the Monitor awards, Corporate Insight's team of analysts named the following firms standouts in six categories:

1. Advisers:Lord Abbett. While Putnam stood out for revamping its entire site, Lord Abbett and BlackRock also made substantial page and navigation changes, Corporate Insight said. At Lord Abbett, you'll find useful links to top-rated audio and video at the main advisor page, as well as a collection of timely "perspectives" columns.

2. Annuities:The Hartford and Transamerica. Both firms focus on a clean look with quick links to available products. Transamerica, in particular, couples product listings with educational guides to help advisers and investors determine the best fit for their stage of life and financial goals. (Timing may be the biggest factor when it comes to annuities, however.)

3. Banks: Bank of America (BAC) and Chase. Corporate Insight singled out JPMorgan Chase (JPM) for revamping its private client site, which includes a new homepage for cardholders.

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4. Credit Cards: Discover. Plastic pushers were among the most active innovators. Discover Financial (DFS) won acclaim for a new public layout and improved design and navigation, though Corporate Insight also singled out American Express's (AXP) and Citigroup's (C) card divisions for their respective efforts in the category. All three also earned kudos for their social media efforts, such as Amex's check-in discounting partnership with Foursquare.

5. Online Brokerage: Fidelity, optionsXpress, and Charles Schwab. While these three took home the top honors for Web enhancements, several more added new research capabilities. Fidelity, meanwhile, gave customers the ability to comprehensively track account performance online.

6. Mutual funds: Fidelity. For years one of the largest and most successful sellers of funds, Fidelity recently introduced a "fund picks" screen that organizes and presents the firm's best no-load offerings according to their sector and investing style.

Should you Switch?

With more of us banking and investing online, the Web has become one of the first places we go to screen products and educate ourselves about important financial topics. The Monitor awards offer a useful filter from the noise -- but they are still just that: a filter.

There's no substitute for doing your own research on the topics that matter. You'll find most of what you need right here -- just enter a few words that describe what you're looking for in the search box to the right of the DailyFinance logo.

What websites do you use to manage your finances? Which are the best? Please let us know using the comments box below.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and past columns. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America.Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Charles Schwab and BlackRock, as well as writing a covered strangle position in American Express.

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