When a consumer opens an account at a bank, a clock immediately starts ticking toward the loss of profits for that consumer from poor cross-selling. A good time to cross-sell is right at the point when a customer opens an online account, a Forrester report concludes. But most banks have yet to develop the ability to do this, the report's authors note.

"The next step for banks is onboarding, because the cross-sales opportunity is great early in the relationship," says Peter Wannemacher, a digital banking analyst at Forrester. "The first 30 days to three months is the opportunity to deepen relationships and sell more to a client."

Forrester released the 2012 digital sales rankings Thursday. Citigroup (NYSE: C) and Wells Fargo (WFC) tied for the top spot in the U.S.

Forrester evaluated the digital sales effectiveness of Capital One (COF), JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citibank, U.S. Bank (USB) and Wells Fargo and the six largest Canadian banks. It drew a scenario of a person who is trying to do three things: locate a branch or an ATM near his or her home; research nearby checking account providers; and apply for a checking account.

The banks' websites were scored on roughly 50 criteria, including user experience, functionality and content.

Forrester then assigned weightings and grades for all the criteria based on an assessment of the site's ability to help a user accomplish the specified goal. These weightings and grades are used to generate scores on a 100-point scale.

Citibank and Wells Fargo both scored 69, though they were well behind the Royal Bank of Canada (RY). RBC, which merchandises product bundles alongside banking accounts, was the top Canadian bank, with a score of 77 (no other Canadian bank scored better than 67).

Capital One, which purchased ING Direct in the past year, scored 64, on the strength of an application process that includes a save-and-retrieve feature that lets an applicant start an application online and complete it over the phone. Bank of America scored 67, U.S. Bank scored 64 and JPMorgan Chase scored 61.

Forrester says Bank of America does a good job of merchandising, for instance by using clear language in its merchandising of other products and services during online account opening.

Wells Fargo, Forrester noted, offers a section welcoming new customers to online services, including information on transfers, bill payments, electronic statements and account alerts.

Citigroup, Forrester says, uses clear links and buttons, such as "get help choosing the right account," or "open a Citibank basic checking account."

Forrester says the language used in online account opening is often a problem for banks, which use arcane terms such as "account selector" rather than customer-centric language.

Forrester reports that one out of every five new checking accounts is now opened on a website (PC 18% and mobile website 2%). It says banks generally need to make further improvements in merchandising and engaging customers at the point of online account opening to reduce attrition and expand long-term customer relationships.

Many digital sales teams still lack a person or group of people skilled in merchandising, the report concludes. This results in checking account sites that focus only on product features such as fees instead of the level of service and functionality provided by Web and mobile banking technology.

Forrester recommends incorporating email messaging and pitches at the initial online banking login into onboarding strategies. It also says banks should recognize that mobile phones play more of a supporting role for sales, particularly regarding fulfillment, which places pressure on the website to deliver sales content, rather than the mobile app.

"When people research through a digital touch point, it's a PC-based site today. Even when you get a special offer for a payment card in the mail, you use the Internet to decide if that's something you want to purchase," Wannemacher says.