Keynote Systems’ Financial Mobile Index shows the performance of Citibank’s mobile website improving dramatically in October. While Citibank has a ways to go to catch up to top performers like Charles Schwab, US Bank, and American Express, Keynote’s latest findings acknowledge that Citibank has clearly made a conscious effort to embrace mobile web banking best practices.

According to the report, Citibank implemented two main changes on their site to improve their speed from 12.8 to 11.8 seconds. The company reduced HTTP requests on its home page from 27 to 21 requests, while also reducing the number of external Javascript files from 11 to 9.  

Ken Harker, mobile evangelist for Keynote Systems says that by reducing the number of round trips that have to be made between the browser and the web server, Citibank is reducing the opportunities for latency that would impact the user experience. 

“While a one second improvement may not seem significant to the naked eye, it makes a big difference when dealing with anything on a mobile device and takes conscious effort in optimization to make it happen,” Harker said.

While Citibank has improved, Harker says the company could still improve performance by eliminating unnecessary redirects; improving the efficiency of the sign-on process; and improving order of processes.

Keynote noticed that when going to the Citibank mobile site, the site first takes you to a home site to identify where you are coming from geographically. That’s redirect number one. Next, the site takes an additional step thereafter to take the mobile customer to its destination—redirect number two.

“While geolocation and device type detection are two separate tasks for the server, there is no reason to have two separate redirections for them,” Harker explains.  “Instead, if Citibank could do both determinations on the server and then point the browser to the correct version of the site for the mobile device and the country in which it is being used with a single redirection, it might shave off a half second or more from the overall experience.”

On the issue of login processes, Citibank could still manage to be secure while also being more efficient. In the financial industry, if a new visitor arrives at the site by typing in a URL in their browser, then one redirection from a non-secure web server to a secure web server is almost always a must.  Mobile customers are generally accessing sensitive financial data when they visit their bank’s site, so moving them to a secure web server is something almost every financial institution does.

“A simple way to make this process faster is to have the user login in directly to the secure server on the first page that appears when typing in the URL to your mobile browser,” Harker said.  “Since a redirection is going to happen anyway, doing as much other work on the server—geolocation, determining device type—and handling everything with a single redirection is the best practice.”

Finally, Keynote noticed that there were several images (21 to be exact) that took a long while to load. The site wasn’t usable until about two thirds of the page loaded.

Harker says the best way to increase the speed and usability of a mobile website is to load Javascript as late as possible, when possible, so that images can download and begin to be displayed on the page sooner.  This enables mobile users to gain a visual confirmation that the mobile page is loading, increasing their satisfaction with the site performance. 

“In addition, usable objects on the page may allow customers to access information quickly without waiting for the entire page to load,” Harker said, adding that this increases the usability of the page, even if your entire page isn’t loading within a few seconds.