Customer preferences and behaviors are changing at an increasing rate, and it will impact banks’ service delivery significantly over the next two years. New research from Nielson (third quarter of 2010) finds that 53.4 million U.S. consumers own smartphones—up from 26 million in 2009 and 15 million in 2008. The projection is that half of American adults will own one by the same period in 2011.

According to a September 2010 Google Finance Customer Experience Benchmarking study, when it comes to financial products, 88% of customers today start their journey online. It is noteworthy that 68% of those surveyed prefer to apply online, compared to 29% who prefer the traditional branch experience. However, 89% of people said that they are open to applying online in the future if banks can get their approval processes up to scratch.

It is clear that delivery channel preferences are shifting along with customer capabilities, and we need to be designing the right customer experience in the delivery of those services along with technical capabilities. This design requirement presents an opportunity to reduce the cost of delivery while improving the customer experience.

Banks are responding in a variety of ways, using their own systems and partnering with some aggregators. Citibank has partnered with Bundle and Microsoft to provide a personal finance site that will attract and hold their customer base. The 2011 bank startup, BankSimple, is partnering with Mint. Variations of Yodlee’s program all operate essentially the same, whether it is with Fidelity’s FullView, Bank of America’s My Portfolio, Wachovia’s OneStop, or HSBC’s EasyView. The aggregators are starting to provide customers with content that they are looking for in an easy-to-use format. Other aggregators include Blippy, Swipely, and Money Dashboard.

The evidence is clear with regard to customer behaviors and mobile opportunities. The question is, how will community banks respond? Will they design service offerings and applications on the mobile web, or will they safely develop device-specific sites?

There are many strategic questions to be answered. The pace of behavioral change should not be ignored. It is time to design this alternative delivery channel and engage the customer in the process. Currently, only 40% of the top 100 banks offer services over the mobile web. It is a good bet that a year from now this percentage will be significantly higher. But what will be the startup cost and, more importantly, what will be the ongoing delivery costs? You can design it or adopt what the systems designers designate.