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Why banks need to be more social

This blog was originally posted in SAP for Banking, September 2015.

More and more banks are getting to be social, but there’s still a long way to go.

It’s interesting that I’ve noticed a number of banks investing heavily in social media over the past five years, but not in countries you would expect.  Turkey, India, China, Brazil and Poland come to mind as social financial leaders, whilst America and most of Europe are still way behind.  What’s the difference between nations, and why are US and European banks falling behind?

I personally put it down to fear of regulations and an inability to adapt.  If you look at the countries where social engagement is happening fast, then these are the economies that twenty years ago were ‘emerging’. They’ve now emerged and are leading. In Turkey, Deniz Bank and Akbank are both embedded in Facebook.  mBank, Alior Bank and others in Poland have been first movers in social payments. Banco Original is creating a whole new way of banking in Brazil via Facebook, whilst China’s WeChat has created WeBank.

My favourite example of social banking is in India however.  India’s ICICI Bank moved to full-time customer service engagement via Facebook in 2012.  What I mean by this is they immersed the bank as a Facebook app, so that customers can do all their banking via Facebook.  It looks like Facebook, feels like Facebook, works like Facebook, but it’s not Facebook. It’s just a Facebook front-end to the banking system that is the same secure system you can access via Internet Explorer, if you prefer.  And that’s the trick: recognising that Facebook is effectively the homepage browser for many users.  Because ICICI Bank gets that, they not only have embedded the bank functionality into a Facebook app, but they’ve moved many of their branch service people into Facebook.  24*7 customer service is provided through their Facebook page, and their engagement with their customer is dedicated to being social.

The result is not only a transformation in customer engagement but also in the general customer view.  For example, before using Facebook for customer engagement, 24% of the online mentions of ICICI were negative and only 19% positive.  A year later, 49% of online comment were positive and just 6% negative.  That’s a massive change and shows that a key part of the use of Facebook banking is for customer servicing, not just engagement.

However, when I look at European and American banks, I find a very different story.  Most European and American banks have twitter accounts and Facebook pages, but they are purely there for marketing and PR purposes. No UK bank has a decent blog to follow and little of what they do is social.  Even in the US, the examples of dedicated social activity is limited. Probably the best of the bunch is Wells Fargo who, being aligned with Silicon Valley in physical location, at least get some of this.

I always remember Wells Fargo’s story of when they started blogging.   It was to commemorate the centenary of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and hence was called Guided by HistoryShortly after, Wells became active on YouTube and have since been a proponent of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, both for marketing purposes and customer engagement.  My UK bank colleague asked the Head of Marketing at Wells: why do you blog? The answer was: To have a voice.

The bottom-line is clear: if you’re not engaging socially then you’re mute and silence is not golden.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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  • Chris, thanks, good column. I’d add, to your comments about American banks, that many of them almost feel indifferent to social media and unaware or unable to process the idea that consumer and small business customers, for example, search and engage on line. Most US bank web sites contain little of interest (unless you’re looking for a specific but vague product brochure or a mortgage application). Their social media, if they’re using it, is primitive, not far beyond “we’re going to the grocery store today” and they’re apparently unaware of the current standards in industries other than banking or in countries other than the USA. Very interesting to compare that level of awareness and development to ICICI.