South African Internet users have started using the online medium as their primary tool for gathering information when it comes to buying financial products and services.
This is the key finding from a new survey commissioned by Google and conducted by TNS Research Surveys into the behaviour of more than 1 000 local Internet users, aged between 18 and 65, recruited from TNS Research Surveys' online panel.
While a high proportion of South African Internet users (77%) say they use Internet banking, less than half of them use their bank's website as a source of information when searching for new financial products and services.
"Using search engines was the most common method for researching financial products online," says Peter Storrar, business manager at TNS Research Surveys. Of the search engines used for such research, Google was the most popular choice.
Other high-level findings revealed by the survey show: 36% of Internet users who researched a financial product in the past 12 months did so online; 27% of internet users who applied for a financial product in the past 12 months did so online; and 44% of those who researched financial products online, actually purchased them online. Just over half the respondents intend to acquire financial products in the next 12 months, and 87% of them said they are likely to to use the Internet as their first choice to research the different financial products available.
Stafford Masie, country manager at Google, says that vendors of financial products and services should note the high percentage of people who use search engines as a research tool, since it will strongly influence the return on investment they achieve from their online marketing efforts.
"As the first port of call for individuals researching financial products and services online, a search engine like Google has the ability to place vendors right in front of their potential customers," he adds. "And with numerous cost-effective advertising options available with Google, it's definitely something to strongly consider," he says.
The research also reveals high interest in a number of mobile banking activities: the top three included receiving transaction and account alerts by SMS, and topping up mobile phone credit. As the functionality of phones improve, there is great potential for increased use of mobile internet for financial transactions – as long as user concerns about security are adequately addressed.