A Delphi study of Internet banking

Laura Bradley (University of Ulster, Coleraine, UK)
Kate Stewart (University of Ulster, Newtownabbey, UK)
Laura Bradley, Kate Stewart, (2003) "A Delphi study of Internet banking", Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 21 Issue: 5, pp.272-281, doi: 10.1108/02634500310490229
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Deregulation has brought down the boundaries of the banking industry, allowing new entrants and enabling a greater degree of competition. Into this scenario arrived the Internet – another radical technological innovation with the potential to change the structure and nature of banking. Many banks have adopted the Internet as a delivery channel (indeed, some banks have set up as Internet‐only delivery). This paper reports a Delphi study of the Internet momentum in banking. Informed by diffusion of innovation theory, the study sought to discern the key issues and to explore the future of Internet banking. The results show that Internet banking is a very important issue in retail banking. However, the Internet will contribute as part of a multi‐channel (bricks and clicks) strategy, rather than as a stand‐alone (clicks only) strategy. The developing functionality of Internet banking may enable some banks to achieve competitive advantage through delivering higher perceived customer value.

Marketing, Distribution channels, Banking, Internet, Delphi method
Research paper
© MCB UP Limited 2003
Published by MCB UP Ltd


The banking sector can hardly be regarded as a model of innovation. Indeed, its tradition, probity and established ways of doing business have been a source of pride to the sector. Banking, which has been characterised by its “tried and tested” processes of service delivery, is greatly affected by environmental change. Competition is escalating, both from traditional players and new entrants, owing to deregulation. Changing consumer behaviour and needs, globalisation, deregulation, disintermediation and the emergence of new financial service models are all dynamics in the financial services industry. Information technology is also having its impact (Chorafas, 1987; Scarborough and Lannon, 1988; Chen, 1999; Park, 1999).

The past four decades have witnessed acceleration in technological innovation within the banking industry. The increase in innovation adoption is a largely defensive measure against increasingly sophisticated and highly demanding consumers, escalating competition, and the necessity to control and reduce rising costs (Barra, 1990).

Internet banking presents the industry with an electronic and remote distribution channel. It represents an electronic marketplace whereby consumers may conduct their financial transactions on a virtual level (Reiser, 1997; Daniel, 1999). The advance of this innovation has occurred worldwide with the introduction of such Internet‐only banks as Smile and Egg in the UK and Security First Network Bank (SFNB) and Wingspanbank.com in the USA, to name but a few.

Internet banking is predicted to transform and revolutionise this traditional industry (Mols, 1999; Daniel, 1999; Carrington et al., 1997). Banking activities are easily digitised and automated and, thus, from an operational perspective, lend themselves to the Internet (Elliot and Loebbecke, 2000; Daniel, 1998; Cervantes, 1997; Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 2000). The potential competitive advantage of the Internet for banks lies in the areas of cost reduction and satisfaction of consumer needs. In relation to costs, electronic transactions are a fraction of those conducted through the branch or even telephone. Yakhelef (2001) reports that a traditional payment costs $1.08, whereas on the Internet the cost is 13¢ or less. The Internet also offers banks the opportunity to better meet customer needs through enhanced interaction, data mining and customisation. Put together, the reduction of costs and increased customer satisfaction makes the logic of the Internet compelling.

However, recent events and views suggest that Internet banking may not, in fact, achieve the levels of transformation predicted (Canniffe, 2000; The Sunday Times, 2000; Poulter, 2000; Cuevas, 1998; Ensor, 2000). Reports such as CSFI (2000) – a survey of bankers – show that e‐banking is believed by some to be costly to deliver, unprofitable, open to fraud and potentially damaging to customer relationships. This has led some players to scale back their Internet offerings, such as the closure of First‐e, and Security First Network Bank in the USA, acquiring a physical branch network. However, it also acknowledged that one of the biggest e‐risks is that of being left behind as a laggard.

Therefore, it is by no means clear what will happen in banking in relation to the Internet. One source of clues as to how the Internet may unfold in banking is the literature on the diffusion of innovation. Research within the area of diffusion of innovation is viewed as an aid to identifying patterns and rates of innovation.

Numerous models have been developed facilitating the mapping of diffusion of innovation within various industries (Rogers, 1983; Barra, 1986; Mahajan et al. 1990; Chaudhuri, 1994; Abrahamson and Rosenkopf, 1997; Gallouj, 1998). These studies have identified the main factors that impact on the rate of diffusion of an innovation. These include achievement of competitive advantage, reducing costs, and protecting an organisation’s strategic position (Johannessen et al., 1999; Bass, 1980; Tidd et al., 1997). In addition, organisational structure and size, number of previous adopters and entry of new competition to the industry may also affect the uptake of a particular innovation (Burns and Stalker, 1961; Mansfield, 1963; Davies, 1979; Romeo, 1975; Tushman and Anderson, 1986). One of the most frequently cited academic studies within the field of diffusion of innovation was conducted by Rogers (1983) and identified that relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialibility and observability of an innovation influence the overall decision to adopt.

A few studies of diffusion of innovation have been undertaken within the retail banking industry. Jayawardhena and Foley (2000), in a survey of UK Internet banking facilities, revealed that Internet banking is diffusing at a very slow pace. The drivers of this change remain ambiguous:

It is difficult to establish up to what point innovation has been a management objective and how far it has been influenced by factors beyond management’s control (Chorafas, 1987, p. 262).

Both supply and demand side factors impact on the decision to adopt. From the demand perspective, there is some consumer demand for this facility. On the supply side, protection of reputation, competition, cost savings, mass customisation, enhancement of marketing and communication activities, and retention and attraction of consumers have been cited as influential factors on the diffusion of Internet banking (Daniel and Storey, 1997; Sheshunoff, 2000; Tomkin and Baden‐Fuller, 1998; Mols, 2000; Read, 1998).

Contrary to these motivating factors, security concerns have been highlighted as the most important issue delaying the diffusion of Internet banking (McCahon, 1999; Long, 2000). Lack of user‐friendly technology and consumer demand, high initial set‐up costs, redundancy of existing high‐cost legacy systems and lack of suitable skills have also acted as delay factors, if not deterrents, to many banks regarding the decision to adopt Internet banking (Daniel and Storey, 1997; Mols et al., 1999; Esser, 1999; Daniel, 1999).

For providers of technology, banks, their customers and most other actors in this industry, it is important that there is an idea of the future landscape in terms of operations, the banking product and its delivery and competition. In reality, however, although it is clear that Internet banking is developing, the future remains unknown and difficult to predict. The success stories herald Internet banking as the future of the financial services industry. Others are more pessimistic and suggest that Internet banking is no more than “traditional banking services in electronic form” (Vartanian et al., 1998). Some authors believe that the detrimental switching and destruction of long‐term relationships with consumers, that is associated with Internet banking, will negate any of its benefits (Daniel and Storey, 1997; Mols, 1999). In addition, the Internet can cause widespread disintermediation and undermine the role played by banks in facilitating lending and borrowing facilities (Levinsohn, 1998; The Banker, 1999; Long, 2000). The introduction of new technologies may speed the rate of adoption of this innovation further by both consumers and retail banks through mobile telephony and video conferencing (Daniel, 1997; Dannenberg and Kellner, 1998; Furash, 1999; Young, 1999).

The case for this particular research is multi‐fold. Diffusion of innovation research has tended to focus on customers rather than suppliers and on manufacturing rather than services. Specific studies on banks’ adoption of innovation are lacking. At best, then, diffusion of innovation theory gives clues as to the factors that influence the future rate of adoption of Internet banking. It is not known how useful these are in explaining the past adoption levels and predicting the future.

So what is the future of Internet banking? A futures perspective will be taken since there is a vast amount of contradictory views emerging regarding the future of Internet banking and the majority of studies to date have taken a more historical view. Further to this, the scant historical data of Internet banking does not provide a secure base from which to make predictions. Futures methodologies have been developed for such problems. Delphi is one such methodology. It is deemed suitable, as it lends itself to the systematic analysis of complex research problems, of which diffusion of Internet banking can be deemed one.

The current research empirically investigated the future of Internet banking, through semi‐structured, convergent, in‐depth interviews and successive stages of a Delphi study. At this stage of the paper, the role of the interviews will be outlined and then the nature of Delphi studies will be explained.

Exploratory interviews

The research involved exploratory interviews, conducted in a convergent capacity, in Ireland and the USA. These interviews aimed to identify the key themes and issues relating to the diffusion of the Internet and its adoption by banks. These themes informed the Delphi study, representing the next stage of the research. All interviews were conducted between December 2000 and March 2001. Those interviewed ranged from chief executive officers to senior vice‐presidents of electronic banking to electronic banking managers within retail banks. Personal interviews were used to afford greater exploration and time to probe and delve into the major emerging issues (Fowler, 1988; Easterby‐Smith et al., 1995; Saunders et al., 2000). The main disadvantage of this method is its time‐consuming nature, exacerbated in this case by geographic distance (Fowler, 1988; Hussey and Hussey, 1997).

Ruyter and Scholl (1998), have indicated that, owing to the wealth of information that may be obtained from interviews, it is sufficient to hold only a small number. In this research, nine interviews were conducted. Each interview was recorded, with the consent of the interviewees. To ensure that all relevant information was captured, the authors transcribed the interview tapes. The key issues were identified through thematic content analysis. Combined with the literature reviewed, this highlighted the key areas for investigation within the Delphi study. The preliminary interviews produced some interesting findings. The key issues that emerged related to the Internet and distribution strategy, the role of branches, functionality of Internet banking and competition between new entrants and established banks. Overall, the general theme or consensus emerged that the industry would be very different. Space prohibits a complete reporting of the exploratory findings. Their key role in terms of this paper was to inform the Delphi questionnaire design. Their additional benefit was to underline the value of expert opinion in examining the complex issues of the future of Internet banking.

Delphi in theory and practice

Delphi is a technique used in researching the future and forecasting. Delphi has been used in many areas, ranging from medical research to business issues and agricultural research (Linstone and Turoff, 1979; Lang, 1994). Linstone and Turoff (1979, p. 574) described Delphi as:

… a method of structuring a group communication process so that the process is effective in allowing a group of individuals, as a whole, to deal with a complex problem.

Delphi is particularly applicable for complex problems, which require more judgemental analysis (Kaynak et al., 1994, Mitchell and McGoldrick, 1994). Jillson (1979) also recommends Delphi for studies of industries that are undergoing rapid change.

This methodology involves soliciting the opinions of experts over a series of rounds. The first round of a traditional Delphi study should discuss the general focus of the study. The second round gives feedback from the first round and asks for any revision of opinion in light of the findings and justification by those who provide deviating views (Delbecq et al., 1986). Feedback increases the level of information and furthers convergence (Rowe et al., 1991). The final round normally involves distribution of the justifications and the opportunity for panel members to agree or disagree with the justifications provided (Prendergast and Marr, 1994). The ultimate outcome is a forecast, policy or decision (Lang 1994). There are three quintessential aspects to a Delphi study,

whereby all individual responses are represented in the final outcome (Rowe and Wright, 1999), namely:


1 anonymity;


2 controlled feedback; and


3 statistical group response.

A review of the literature on Delphi finds three problematic areas with regard to its use:


1 the number of rounds required;


2 the size of panel required; and


3 the composition of the panel.

Each of these issues will now be explained.

Divergence of opinion exists with regard to the required number of rounds to execute an effective Delphi. While two rounds could be considered the minimum, others suggest that three to six is necessary to facilitate reasonable findings (Tersine and Riggs, 1976; Linstone and Turoff, 1979; Custer et al., 1998). Others have suggested that as many as ten rounds may be necessary to achieve the research outcome (Brockhoff, 1979; Johnson and King, 1988; Lang, 1994). Ultimately, a trade‐off exists: as the number of iterations or rounds increases, the tendency for high error rates decreases, while attrition levels increase (Deitz, 1987; Mitchell, 1992).

Various recommendations have emerged from the literature with regard to the desired size of the Delphi panel. Fowles (1978) illustrated that panel sizes should be no less than seven participants. Others suggest the panel should contain no less than ten panellists and no more than 40 (Day and Aaker, 1990; Mitchell and McGoldrick, 1994). With an increase in the panel number to between eight and 12, group error is reduced significantly, with further addition of members beyond this providing little if any reduction (Prendergast and Marr, 1994). However, Delbecq et al. (1986) state that there is no set number of panellists required providing there is a sufficient number to facilitate the pooling of judgements.

The Delphi panel composition and selection is of the utmost importance to the successful execution of a Delphi study (Linstone and Turoff, 1979; Mitchell and McGoldrick, 1994). There is wide disagreement with regard to what constitutes an expert in an area of investigation (Fischer, 1978). Selection of panellists for a Delphi cannot be random, in that panellists need to be considered based on their knowledge and “informed opinion” (Deitz, 1987). However, Deitz (1987) indicated that the self‐rating by respondents of their predictive ability facilitates a reduction in sampling/respondent bias. The use of panellists from various backgrounds is ideal, as it is not feasible to consider that panellists from one background could possibly provide an holistic view (Delbecq et al., 1986; Rowe et al., 1991; Keeney et al., 2001).

This Delphi study

In the case of this research into the future of Internet banking, the Delphi study was developed and conducted over a period of months from June 2001 to December 2001. Respondents from various backgrounds were invited to participate, since no single person can be an expert on all aspects of new media, but people from different industries and geographical locations can complement each other. Potentially suitable panellists were identified from trade press, academic journals and consultancy reports. The authors compiled a US and European retail banks database from which a random sample of banks were drawn. All communication with panellists was via electronic mail, which proved to be convenient and quite immediate. These included panellists involved in retail banking, non‐financial service entrants, technology and software suppliers and consultants and academics engaged in researching the banking industry. The geographical base for the study was the USA and Europe. The international composition of the panel was necessary, as banking is now a global industry with global trends. The use of electronic mail enabled such an international study to happen – the traditional postal service would have proved too time‐consuming and would have meant this study’s failure.

Initially, 71 individuals agreed to participate, with a breakdown of panellists illustrated in Table I.

Round one of the study commenced in September 2001, with a questionnaire being electronically posted to panellists. The questionnaire contained a total of 16 questions, with a mixture of Likert scale, multiple choice, sentence completion and open‐ended questions. The four sections of the questionnaire covered the future of Internet banking, factors influencing its rate of introduction, the implications of Internet banking and panellist classification questions. The initial intention was to allow two to three weeks for responses. In reality, this first Delphi round took eight weeks, an extension of some five to six weeks being necessary because of the terrorist attacks in the USA.

Altogether, 50 panellists responded via electronic mail and online, representing a response rate of 70 per cent. The second round was limited to responding via electronic mail owing to difficulties experienced in the first round with the on‐line responses. In this round, 33 of the 50 panellists responded (66 per cent) with a breakdown of respondents illustrated in Table II. Round two gave statistical feedback to panellists about the group response and the individual’s response and asked for changes or answer justifications.

The study was deemed complete after two rounds. A number of factors led to this decision. First, the events of 11 September 2001 were dominating the time and energies of panellists such that a third round would have had a very high attrition level. Second, a degree of convergence had emerged; where there was divergence, there appeared little movement towards convergence. In any event, an element of divergence at the end of a Delphi study is as crucial as convergence of opinion.

The results from the Delphi study were analysed using the Statistical Processing for Social Sciences (SPSS) package. This package facilitates establishing a database of coded responses, permitting the user to analyse the data in various ways and therefore generate a statistical output for interpretation.

Study specific issues

As reported above, high response rates were achieved (70 per cent in round 1 and 66 per cent in round 2). The preferred mode of response in round 1 was electronic mail (68 per cent) in comparison to online (30 percent). One respondent replied via mail, although no reason was provided for this; however, personal preference may have played a role. The majority of respondents in round 1 and round 2 were from the retail banking industry (44 per cent and 36.4 per cent, respectively) in Europe (70 per cent and 69.7 per cent, respectively). The majority of panellists, 44 per cent and 45.5 per cent, respectively, in round 1 and round 2 replied after receipt of one reminder. Panellists were asked to rate their confidence in the accuracy of their responses. In round 1, 64 per cent of panellists were confident in their responses. This rose to 79 per cent of panellists in round 2.

Importance of Internet banking

The panellists were asked: “How important do you feel online banking is within the overall future of retail banking?”. Overall, 91 per cent identified that Internet banking was very important or of very great importance to retail banking. A convergence of opinion was largely achieved with two‐thirds of panellists not changing their answer from round 1 to round 2. Further to this, there is little variation from the mean response with a standard deviation of 0.6354 and strong tendency for the majority of responses to converge around the positive view of the future importance of Internet banking.

Channel usage in the future

Panellists were asked to estimate the usage by retail bank customers worldwide of various banking channels. The median responses for 2001, 2003, 2006 and 2011 are identified in Table III, panellists having been given estimates for 2001.

Table III clearly illustrates that the panellists see the total of transactions in the branch to decrease from 2001 onwards with transactions through the telephone and ATM remaining largely constant. The role of the PC is expected to decrease from 4 per cent in 2003 to 1 per cent in 2006, possibly as a result of new access media. Usage through the Internet, WAP and IdTV are expected to increase from 4 per cent in 2003 to 9 per cent in 2011.

Level of functionality

Panellists were asked to estimate the current level (2001) and the predicted level (2011) of services to be made available through Internet banking (see Table IV). A pre‐determined list of services was provided and panellists answered by ticking the appropriate boxes. This question led directly from the exploratory interviews, which predicted that, owing to an increased number of access media, the functionality of Internet banking would increase.

Functionality, at present, as identified by 94 per cent of the panellists, includes transaction banking. In the future, Internet banking will become increasingly customised, with 68 per cent of panellists predicting complete customisation.

Predicted future level of industry adoption

The expert panel was asked to complete the following statement: “By 2011, I estimate that X per cent of retail banks will have adopted online banking”. In round 1 the mean response was 84 per cent, which remained relatively static after round 2. One panellist identified that Internet banking adoption by 2011 would only involve 25 per cent of the retail banking industry worldwide. The standard deviation from round 1, 16 per cent, decreased to 14 per cent in round 2 with the predicted future adoption level ranging from 98 per cent, at the highest point, to 70 per cent, at the lowest point.

Advantages to incumbents and new entrants

The literature frequently suggests that new entrants will enjoy more advantages from Internet banking than traditional players. Panellists were asked to indicate how accurate the following statement is: “Online banking offers the same advantages to established retail banks and new entrants to the banking market”. The majority of panellists in round 1 and round 2, 56 per cent and 62 per cent, respectively, believed that this statement was inaccurate or very inaccurate, illustrating a strong panel tendency toward the negative end of the scale. The standard deviation was 0.9889. This indicates that there is an imbalance in the benefits derived from Internet banking and that many believe that online banking does not offer the same advantages to the traditional banks and new entrants.

Industry leaders

Panellists were asked to identify the distribution channel structure of industry leaders within retail banking both now and in the future. The results given by panellists show no alteration from round 1 to round 2. The consensus indicates that the multi‐channel strategy is the leader now (70 per cent) and in the future. Up to 80 per cent of respondents indicated that they could never envisage a stand‐alone facility becoming industry leader.

The study’s findings lead to a number of conclusions. With regard to the future of Internet banking, the expert panel is largely of the same opinion on most issues. While Delphi values convergence and divergence equally, the strong convergence achieved here is a useful outcome. In practical terms, it means that many of the key parties view the future of Internet banking similarly. As these parties represent decision makers and players, their views are likely to prevail in the unfolding strategies of all concerned.

Internet banking is universally seen as important within the future of retail banking. In operational terms, the significance of Internet banking can be judged from the finding that 84 per cent of banks are expected to have adopted Internet banking by 2011. Put another way, very few banks will not have an Internet operation of some sort. This is a very high level of adoption.

It is useful to compare the anticipated widespread adoption of the Internet by banks with the predicted level of transactions through the Internet in 2011. Internet adoption levels of 84 per cent contrast with 23 per cent of transactions conducted on the Internet in ten years time (compared with an estimated 11 per cent in 2001). While the proportion of transactions conducted on the Internet will increase (from 11 per cent in 2001) to 23 per cent, it is clear that the Internet is not going to be the sole medium. The rise in Internet banking transactions is matched by a fall in branch transactions. It is clear, however, that the changing levels of transactions do not mean the end of branch banking. The Internet is an additional channel, rather than a replacement. Ultimately, the Internet, branch, ATM and telephone comprise a multi‐channel strategy. The prevalence of the multi‐channel strategy may explain why panellists believe that the stand‐alone Internet banks will never be the industry leaders in retail banking.

In the initial stages of the development of Internet banking it was thought that the new entrants, in the form of stand‐alone Internet banks, would enjoy many advantages. In particular, they were not burdened by the high costs of staff and maintaining a high‐street branch network. This cost advantage was thought to favour the position of the new entrants and to give them a competitive advantage over the established banks. Although new entrants can achieve benefit in the form of reduced costs on entry, the incumbents are better placed to provide Internet banking in a complementary capacity as part of a multi‐channel strategy.

Rather than a source of competitive advantage, the Internet is believed to be a competitive necessity in banking. Johannesson et al. (1999) suggest that diffusion of innovation is driven by the achievement of competitive advantage, reduction in costs and/or the desire to protect an organisation’s strategic position. The findings from this study point to the need to protect the banks’ positions as the main driver, as opposed to the achievement of competitive advantage.

As Internet banking does become more widespread, it will also develop in terms of the services that it can deliver; that is, its functionality. The trend of increasing services is universally expected. In particular, the Internet should enable customisation of offerings, distribution, promotion and prices by 2011. This customisation of service may be of more perceived value to customers. And banks that deliver more perceived value to customers will enhance their competitive position in the marketplace. Indeed, only to the extent that Internet banking delivers higher perceived value to customers, will it deliver returns to the banks that adopt it. The notion of customer value and their behaviour in relation to the Internet and banking was not the focus of this study. This opens up many avenues for further research.

The literature suggests that there are three problematic areas in conducting Delphi studies. These relate to the number of rounds conducted, the size of the panel and the competence of the panel. These clearly relate to the validity and reliability of the findings. The minimum number of rounds for a Delphi study is two, which was the case here. Two reasons contributed to this decision. The first reason relates to the findings. Round 1 saw broad agreement on many of the key issues, such as the importance of the Internet, its predicted growth, and adoption levels. Round 2 tended to show little change in opinion or estimates, thus indicating that the levels of convergence and divergence were unlikely to change much in a subsequent round. Second, it was clear that a third round would suffer a high attrition rate, thus diminishing the study’s reliability. The study occurred in September 2001 and world events overtook panellists, especially those from the USA. This practical consideration was instrumental in calling a halt after two rounds.

With regard to the size and composition of the panel, Tables I and II show that opinion was received from a spread of sources over both rounds. The total number of panellists completing round 1 and round 2 are well above the minimum recommended in the literature. As for panel composition, the usual problem relates to their expertise. Given their position in their organisations, the panellists were judged to be expert. However, an extra measure of expertise was made by asking respondents to self‐rate their confidence in their replies, a device recommended by Deitz (1987). The self‐rating by panellists of their confidence in responses served to increase the validity of the eventual outcome of the study. The increase in confidence from round 1 to round 2 (64 per cent to 79 per cent) may be explained by respondents becoming more familiar with the study. In addition to the fact that they were able to benchmark their responses against the overall panel which may have made them feel more confident about their contribution.

The study’s effectiveness was also increased by the use of electronic mail and online communication. It is highly unlikely that the study could have been carried out by any other means, including traditional post, telephone or personal administration. The difficulties experienced were two‐fold. First, the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA caused a delay, and may have lost the study some respondents. Second, because a university server was being used, problems emerged with regard to control over online responses and the format of completed responses. That said, the response rates are relatively high in comparison to similar Delphi studies; for example, Thornton and White (2000); Liao et al. (2001); Mahler and Rogers (1999). The high response rates for both rounds may be study specific, in that it was of personal interest to the panellists in this study. The convenient mode of response and promise of a copy of the findings may have encouraged participation, though readers should not under‐estimate the amount of requests and reminders that were sent to panellists. It can be concluded that electronic mail appears to be an effective communication mode, both from the participants, and authors’ perspective. It facilitated an initial high response rate and helped to reduce attrition in the subsequent round.

Overall, this study has shown the value of Delphi methodology in shedding some light on a complex problem. The findings that have been presented are the “headliners” from the first analysis of the quantitative results. They help to inform the debate and development of knowledge about the Internet. That the results were derived via electronic media enhances the relevance of their contribution.


Table I Global experts panel


Table II Breakdown of respondents


Table III Channel usage (based on transactions conducted)


Table IV Service level now and in the future

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