CIBC is still the best at online functionality, but all of Canada’s major banks are doing innovative work, according to Forrester Research.

For the fourth year in a row, CIBC earned the highest overall score in the 2017 Canadian Online Banking Functionality Benchmark by creating value for online banking customers with consistently strong self-service tools and budgeting and advice services that were tightly integrated on a secure website, according to the research firm.

Forrester senior analyst Peter Wannemacher

Peter Wannemacher, senior analyst serving eBusiness and channel strategy professionals at Forrester and co-author of the report, said the confluence of two factors has driven CIBC’s success: The bank has had a laser focus on mobile experiences and digital leadership that is highly accountable but not overly controlling. “From the CEO to their heads of digital banking, CIBC has managed to nurture a culture where people feel like they’re doing really cool stuff, and they are,” he said.

Despite retaining the top spot, Wannemacher said it’s not a significant lead, as all the big banks in Canada are doing innovative work and creating value for mobile banking customers with new services and improved user task flows. He said there’s always a chance of an upset in the future as one bank innovates its way into a leading position, but the wider pattern is more important. “Banks will need to differentiate their brands to achieve sustained growth and business success going forward, and that will involve more than outdoing other good banks with more mobile features.”

Forrester used its Digital Banking Functionality Benchmark methodology to assess the secure websites of the six major retail banks in Canada – BMO, CIBC, RBC, Scotiabank, TD Canada Trust and ATB Financial – across 50 criteria. All provide online banking features that help customers conveniently make payments, ask customer service questions, and shop for additional products and services, the report noted, but offer wildly different levels of functionality. While Canadian banks are doing well, Forrester said their digital teams need to enhance their offerings to better serve and retain customers going forward.

CIBC scored 86 out of a possible 100 points, and continues to offer money management tools integrated with the rest of its account management services. The report said it also provides valuable account management capabilities, excellent digital cross-selling, and easy access to online customer service. However, all the big Canadian banks continue to excel in key areas, offering offer a wide range of contact options and cross-channel guidance to better answer customers’ questions and shop for additional financial products. Canadian banks consistently provide useful information in context and make contact information readily available if the customer needs additional help, the report said, and all six banks provide secure messaging that sets clear expectations and delivers clear, relevant responses in a timely manner.

Wannemacher said a bank needs to do two things take the top spot. “The first is to rip out barriers in digital banking task flows – awkward or unnecessary steps the customer must take to complete a task,” he said. “The second is to do what Forrester calls ‘innovating the adjacent possible,’ which means finding new ways to create value for customers.” The best way to do this by using the customer’s “context” — everything the bank knows about the customer at the point of engagement.

In the bigger picture, these Canadian banks continue to be a bit ahead of the large U.S. banks when it comes to online functionality, said Wannemacher, but internationally there are some exceptional companies that give Canadian banks a run for their money, such as BBVA and CaixaBank in Western Europe, Lloyds Bank in the UK, and mBank in Poland.

One area where Canadian banks need to push further is open banking. “Digital technologies such as APIs will sit at the heart of open banking as software and accessibility drives further disruption and business models evolve,” he said. “Canadian bank executives have identified these areas as important strategic imperatives, but they have more work to do to get to future-state open banking.”