A customer uses her smartphone to bank with Wells Fargo

Wow! Two decades of banking online

Years after Wells Fargo became the first bank to offer customers online access to their accounts, 26 million customers can’t imagine their financial lives without the convenience of online banking.

May 18, 2015

On May 18, 1995, Wells Fargo became the first bank to offer internet banking to customers, replacing programs involving desktop computers, hard drives, and bank-provided floppy disks.

Twenty years later, 26 million customers can’t imagine their financial lives without the anytime, anywhere access and convenience of online banking.

One example: The owners of candywarehouse.com in El Segundo, California, which was an early adapter of online banking at Wells Fargo. The owners say they owe their business success to the internet – and their peace of mind to online financial services.

“Without online banking and payment processing for our customers’ credit card transactions,” says co-owner Peilin Pratt, “we’d be out of business.”

“Because we’re an online company, we really care about technology, and as a working mother, efficiency is my middle name,” Peilin adds. “I can see my whole financial health using Wells Fargo online banking. As business owners, we wanted to have a whole relationship with one bank.”

Customer-centered innovation

Jim Smith, head of Wells Fargo Virtual Channels, says, “Wells Fargo is a leader in online financial services because we, and the Wells Fargo business partners we work with every day, don’t put the technology ahead of the people.”

“With everything we develop, rather than look at what the technology would enable us to bring to the market, we’ve instead asked, ‘What are the tasks customers are trying to accomplish, and what are the capabilities we can enable to help them get that task done?’ That’s the key to our success, and why we enter the next 20 years from a position of strength.”

Jim says he chuckles when he thinks of another first — Wells Fargo’s first website — which Wells Fargo launched in December 1994: “It featured a big picture of a stagecoach and some information about Wells Fargo, and it took between three and five minutes for the picture to download one line at a time.”

But Wells Fargo got one key feature right on the website, he adds: the feedback button.

“People clicked the button, filled out the form, and told us, ‘I’d like to be able to check my balances on here,’ ” he says.

Home page of Wells Fargo’s first website
Wells Fargo’s first website in 1994 is part of the company’s long record of innovation in banking. See a graphical view of Wells Fargo’s internet banking history over the past 20 years.

 

‘Dynamic environment’

Brett Pitts, head of Digital for WFVC points to a few statistics that indicate just how ingrained technology has become over the past 20 years, and just how nimble Wells Fargo must be to keep up with its changes.

Once Wells Fargo launched online banking in 1995, he says it took four years for the company to have 1 million active online banking customers. But it only took two years for the mobile banking service it launched in 2007 to surpass the 1 million mark.

Likewise, it took online banking eight years to reach the 5 million customer mark, and half that time for mobile banking. He says Wells Fargo now has more than 14.5 million active mobile banking customers using smartphones and tablets not just to check balances but to move money, make deposits, and get real-time fraud alerts and other text banking messages about their accounts.

“Twenty years ago, we had to spend a lot of time reassuring people about why banking through the internet was safe and secure,” Brett says. “Now customers are often leading us in the adoption of new technologies, changing behavior rapidly, and expecting banks and other service providers to keep up. I think we’re entering an even more dynamic environment than we’ve been in for the past 20 years. It feels like we’re just at the beginning of the next big transformation.”

If business taking place online now accounts for the lion’s share of transactions at Wells Fargo, Debra Rossi, who heads Wells Fargo’s Merchant Services business, says the payment landscape is changing fast, too.

Each year, Wells Fargo processes nearly 3 billion credit and debit card transactions, and more than a third are online. “Consumers are very interested in buying things with their phones, whether through a mobile app or using Apple PayTM,” Debra says. “The products and services consumers gravitate to the most will ultimately determine the next step in the future of our industry.”

And one, she adds, now seems light years removed from 1995 when the internet was called the World Wide Web and when Debra and her teammates processed the first secure internet transaction for a business customer. “When was the last time you heard that phrase?” Debra asks. “Today, the internet has evolved into a critical enabler of the world economy.”

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