Desjardins marks a decade online

Desjardins Group celebrated 10 years of e-commerce Thursday by updating its Web site and offering a behind-the-scenes look at its steps towards greater usability over the past decade.

Launched in 1996 as Access D’Internet, the Desjardins portal has since handled two billion transactions from its approximately 1.6 million members, the company said. While it followed the approach of many other Canadian financial services firms in primarily providing information online, that didn’t last long.

“It took only a few weeks before members started sending e-mails asking to do transactions over the system,” said Desjardins spokesman Andrew Chapleau. “We had to turn it around very quickly. The functionality was not planned for that period.”

Three months after its initial go-live in September 1996, for example, Desjardins was allowing members to pay their bills online, make transfers and see their account information. It was also relatively early with a few other features, including the ability to receive bills electronically and a mobile service available on cell phones.

Marie-Christine Messier, the firm’s Webmaster, said most of the development around the site has been done in-house, which allows important changes to be made in as little as 15 minutes in some cases.

“We’re closer with our content experts,” she said. “This is a huge Web site, so having everybody — the (managers), strategy people, Web designers all in the same place — makes the work much easier.”

Some of the services Desjardins has offered over the years have been fairly straightforward, including the availability of international electronic funds transfers three years ago. Others have been more experimental, including attempts to target customers by demographics. In 2002, for example, Desjardins launched a Teen portal for 12- to 17-year-olds, as well as an 18-24 “Generation” portal.

Messier said focus group research revealed a great need for usability and access to online applications. Desjardins has responded with e-forms for travel insurance, accident insurance and loans. These forms are immediately routed to the appropriate branch based on the location specified by the member who fills it out. “That’s what the user needs and wants,” she said.

Danièle Lajeunesse, director of development at Montreal-based Web ranking firm Indice Secor-Commerce, said Desjardins has regularly been at the top of its list for Quebec-based business-to-consumer Web sites. She said a group of four independent evaluators examined the portal and give it high marks for usability and design. “These are the experts,” she said.

Messier said Desjardins plans to spend its next decade online launching new services, including a technology that would immediately connect Web site visitors with its call centre if they have a particular problem.

Desjardins hit one stumbling block in its success two months ago, when an unspecified software problem brought online and ATM transactions to a halt for much of the day.

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