Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine once reported that the two largest online banks were actually well-known “brick and mortar” banks – Bank of America, with 13.6 million online banking customers, and Wells Fargo, with 6.8 million online customers. And several other established banks also made it into the top 10 of their rankings, including Chase, Citibank, Huntington, First National, HSBC, U.S. Bank, and Wachovia.
But Chase has become much larger in the last few years. They acquired all the customers and assets of Washington Mutual in 2008, and I’ve since heard that Chase is now the largest single bank in America (based on deposits). This probably means that it’s got more customers performing online banking than just about any other bank in America. When I used their online banking feature, I thought its interface felt a little cluttered, but at least it’s providing handy online access to most of the necessary banking features.
I was curious how Kiplinger’s created their list. What criteria did they use to decide which banks were the 10 best? It turns out that they hired an independent online research firm. One “non-traditional” bank also made it into their top four – E*Trade – since the only features E*Trade seemed to be lacking was the ability to actually receive bills through the web site, and the ability to stop payment on a check. But the bank in the number one spot was Wells Fargo, which (at the time the article was written in 2005) was only missing one feature: the ability to transfer funds to other banks.
You may have your own criteria for deciding what makes the best bank. For example, Kiplinger’s placed Citibank at number two on their list, even though the only feature it was missing was the ability receive bills through their web site. If you don’t want to receive bills through your online banking site, then that’s not going to be a problem – and Citibank offered every other feature that was tested by the research firm.
In the years since then, online banks have added many new features, so if you’re looking for basic features, there’s probably lots of banks to choose from. But ultimately, it’s hard to beat the convenience of accessing your exisiting checking account through your own bank’s web site. And there’s always going to be one feature which you’ll never get from an online-only bank.
A vast network of convenient ATM machines!