6 Criteria for Choosing a CMS for Financial Services

Published on May 15, 2017 by Bill Beardslee

There are hundreds of CMSs in the market. But likely only a handful that can stand up to the requirements of Financial Services organizations - security, the ability to handle a complex array of products across different geographies/audiences/pricing tiers, integrate with core banking systems and provide a rich audit trail. And for good measure, you can throw in requirements gathered from your internal clients including ease of use for non-technical users, translation capabilities, analytics, personalization and faceted search. Suddenly the list is quite long.

Here are our thoughts on how banks, insurers, investment banks and mortgagors can go about making the CMS selection process efficient. 6 steps that if followed, will help avoid an overpurchase, or worse yet an underpurchase of CMS capabilities. 


1.  Understand your needs across the organization

Getting input from your internal clients is one of the most important steps you can take prior to initiating a CMS search. Yes it creates a wishlist of features or capabilities - this list can be 50+ items. But importantly the process of gaining input also builds a bridge of trust. By getting input from compliance, retail, claims, commercial and customer service (your list is likely different), everyone has been heard and understands the organization is listening. 

Your external customers represent another group from which input must be gathered. What annoys them about your current site? What new services or products would make their lives better? The average Joe off the street (your client) is not very good at reacting to open ended questions, so use primary research to test some different UIs or new self-service ideas. Give them visuals that help them react to tangible ideas.  

From the research with both your internal and external customers, create three to four scenarios that capture the most important needs of your new CMS. And here is the trick. Often, the requirements list is created from blockers or issues with the current CMS. While it is important to make sure that the new CMS frees the organization from current constraints, it is also important to recognize how new capabilities found in contemporary CMSs can accelerate your business. Take some time to review the market and see what other financial services organizations are doing with new technology. 


2. Get expert input

Within the Enterprise CMS space, there are dozens of viable vendors. Some you have heard of, and many you have not. This makes the process of creating a long list tedious, and at worst inaccurate. 

Start the long list process by downloading reports from respected research firms such as Forrester (The Wave) or Gartner (The Magic Quadrant). While Forrester and Gartner vigorously review each vendor that appears on their reports, the reports likely miss a few vendors that could be a good fit for financial services organizations.  

A second external source of expertise is a consultant. There are a good number of organizations that provide pre-purchase services in the CMS space, including the Digital Clarity Group and The Real Story Group. These organizations will sit with all of your stakeholders and help put a sharper point on your requirements list. As they conduct dozens of such pre-purchase engagements a year, the consultants will also help fine tune the long list created from the Forrester and Gartner reports. 

Finally, the consultants will provide input on a vendor’s real world experience with financial service clients. Have a vendor’s experience been strictly with FS brochureware? Or has the CMS been extended to support password protected transactions and account activity?


3.  Test vendor claims with real-world evaluation

Vendors are like all others who are selling a product or service - they work hard to put their product in the very best light. Vendors use words like “can”, “configure” and “extend”. When written or spoken, it makes it seem as though modifying a CMS to fit your organization's needs is simple. And sometimes it is, but in other situations it is not. 

Ask each vendor on your long list (or perhaps it is a short list at this point) to demonstrate how their product can satisfy the scenarios required for your CMS.  Make sure the scenarios support steps that are important to you, such as three step workflow (editor -> line of business -> Legal) or the preview of a page that integrates personalized content with an external application such as an interest rate calculator. And during the demo, ask them “Is that feature part of the product, or was it created specifically for this demo?” This will give you a good sense of delta between the out-of-the-box product and your needs. 

Perhaps the best way to verify the fit between your requirements and a vendor’s offering is through a Proof of Concept (POC). Your POC may be one or two of your scenarios. A POC will help answer two questions

1) Can the requirements be met with <fill in Vendor name here> CMS?

And 2) How difficult was it to complete the POC with <fill in Vendor name here> CMS?


4. Understand the vendor, partner and support ecosystem

You are about to purchase some very complex software. That is the nature of the beast in the Enterprise CMS space. Understandably you may want to engage an integration partner to help with the implementation. 

The last part of your due diligence should be around the vendor ecosystem. Of first order, check out the vendor’s partners. What type of work have they done with Financial Services firms? Do they have experience in testing potential vulnerabilities with tools like Metasploit or Veracode? 

Secondly, how mature is the vendor’s Support? Do they offer different levels of Support? Can you actually build templates or components based upon their documentation? Do they offer training for the many different disciplines required during implementation and maintenance for audiences such as back end developers, sys admins and front end developers?


5.  Buy for today..and for tomorrow

When your internal customers repeatedly point out the shortcomings of your soon-to-be-retired CMS, it is difficult to look to the future. But that is what you need to do in order to conclude a successful CMS selection. Try to project your internal and external customers’ needs 18 months from now. How will those needs shape and influence your search? 

Here is a common scenario. Your current needs prescribe a traditional, de-coupled CMS. Sometime in the near future a new front-end technology emerges that promises to vastly improve the visitor experience. In order to get the most out of the new front end technology your CMS will now have to work in a headless model. Will you need a new CMS or can your existing CMS operate in this new capacity? No one can predict the future, but running through a handful of what-if scenarios should provide you with a sense of the flexibility of your chosen CMS to accommodate possible future needs.


6.  How to mitigate implementation risk

While buying the wrong software can hamper your ability to reach your goals, a poorly conceived and executed implementation can result in a much worse outcome. Implementations represent significant operational risk, and it is not an over exaggeration to say that careers have been propelled and stymied based on the success of an implementation.

One way to decrease the risk of an implementation is to hire a partner. Most partners deliver 3 to 6 implementations per year. This gives them the required technical and project management experience to provide guidance and advice. 

Sit down with the partner well before any development begins (this sounds logical, but there have been many cases where organizations have started dev weeks before a project plan has been approved). Discuss the objectives of the project, roles, milestones, and contingency plans. Understand the responsibilities between your project manager and the partner’s project manager, who is the lead developer and how disagreements will be resolved.

By following Steps 1 through 6, you will be well on your way to a successful selection and implementation process. None of the steps by themselves will spell success for your project. But when combined they will provide solid guideposts for your team. The key to all of this is to stay focused on the top 3 to 4 requirements. No one CMS can meet all or even 80% of your needs. They will all require some level of customization. As long as you understand the gap between what you need and what the CMS delivers, you will be in good shape. 


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About the author Bill Beardslee

Bill Beardslee is General Manager, Magnolia Americas. Bill is responsible for Magnolia's business in the Americas, building and guiding the Americas team to deliver sales and support for Magnolia's clients in North, Central and South America. Over the past 12 years, Bill has held senior management positions in various eLearning and CMS providers in the US. Prior to that, he was in advertising, working with clients including McDonald's, Kraft and Philip Morris. Bill received his BA in both Biology and Economics from Albion College, and his MBA from Emory University. Bill has three children and on the weekends the four can be found on the water - fishing, swimming or scuba diving.

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