Credit card companies' Web sites disappoint

Credit card companies have room for improvement when it comes to Web site reliability, according to Keynote Systems. Poor performance over dial-up connections also is a common problem, the Web performance monitoring firm reported recently.

Keynote studied nine of the largest US sites in the credit card industry -- American Express, Bank of America, Bank One (which is now a part of JPMorgan Chase), Capital One, Chase, Citibank, Discover, MBNA and Providian -- and measured their ability to handle common online transactions such as when a customer checks account balances, views transaction histories and manages account information.

Bank of America, Capital One and MBNA topped the rankings with scores of 77, 66 and 63 points out of 100 possible points respectively, but none dominated all of Keynote's performance categories. As a whole, Web site responsiveness and reliability are the two key technical challenges the credit card industry faces, says Ben Rushlo, manager of professional services at Keynote.

Taken together, the sites averaged 97.5 percent site reliability during the peak hours of 8 a.m. to midnight, Eastern Standard Time. The best credit card sites, Bank of America and MBNA, were down less than 3 hours during the entire four-week study, while the worst performers -- which Keynote declined to identify -- reported more than 19 hours of downtime.

A 2.5 percent error rate is significant when you compare it to other industries where average site uptime is consistently above 99 percent, Rushlo says. Keynote just finished a similar study of brokerage firms' Web sites, and the top five performing sites achieved 100 percent availability without a single instance of peak downtime during a month-long study, Rushlo says.

Another weak metric across the board was site performance over dial-up connections -- despite the fact that about 43 percent of U.S. households use dial up, Rushlo says.

Industry data suggests that a Web page that loads in less than 15 seconds over a dial-up connection is acceptable. In this study, only one site had an average page load of less than 30 seconds, and in some cases the average page load was close to 60 seconds. To load one site's account summary page -- which draws data from back-end business systems -- took more than 2 minutes with a dial-up connection, Rushlo says.

For the study Keynote took 6,000 measurements of each credit card company's site and compared the sites using 34 service level metrics, which boil down into 10 rankings: average of each T-1, DSL and dial-up response; response consistency; geographic uniformity; load handling; page design; network connectivity; reliability; and outage hours.

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