The challenges of using social media in the financial services industry

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Challenges for financial services in social mediaThere are unique challenges when working with financial brands when developing their social media strategy and implementing it. Concerns over falling foul of industry regulations, lack of experience in social and existing company culture all combine to present a number of hurdles at the outset. However, once these are overcome, there is also a huge opportunity to stand out from the crowd, by taking advantage of the industry’s generally slow take up of social media.

In order to successfully guide a financial services company through this journey, a number of activities need to be put in place first. Here are four things every financial business needs to do in order to become a successful digital leader in the industry:

  1. Lay solid foundations in social media internally
    It is important to educate staff on all aspects of social media – the business value it can deliver, why it is so important for the industry, how to engage in it, the risks associated with it, setting up a governance structure to manage the activity and how to act in a crisis situation. In a nutshell, it’s about enabling staff to confidently become involved while at the same time doing it in a way that protects the brand.

  2. Define an effective social media channel strategy
    How the business engages with its audience is one of the key factors in the success of its social media activity. Among other things, all social channels should contribute to business strategy and objectives, there should be a clear, coherent content plan for each channel and every channel should have a clear primary marketing objective.

  3. Implement a change management programme
    Attitudes towards social media amongst staff are understandably often focussed on the risks and dangers of becoming involved. While these are valid concerns, it is important to educate staff these risks can be managed and controlled, while the benefits are significant and can deliver the business real value if done in the right way. A programme dedicated to changing attitudes and educating on what’s possible is another crucial piece of the jigsaw.

  4. Be clear on how FSA regulations affect social media activity
    While FSA rules are media neutral, thought and consideration still needs to be applied to how this affects the business’ social media policy. Clear guidelines on what staff can and can’t do needs to be accurately defined and then communicated effectively across the organisation, in order to mitigate this risk to the business.

If you’re a financial services company and are considering increasing your social media activity, make sure you consider all the factors above. At first it may feel a bit scary, but I assure you it’s well worth the initial effort!

Photo credit: morebyless on Flickr

3 ways retail banks could get more benefit from social media

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Three financial services social media ideasFollowing last week’s post exploring social media fears and opportunities for financial services brands, this blog post suggests three  ways that retail banks could make real, innovative use of social media to differentiate their products.

1. Social banking

Create a current or savings account with interest rates individually tailored based on a customers’ ability to recruit more members to the bank. New accounts could open with an average interest rate which increased by a small fraction each time a customer brought on a new member to join.

In the old days of member-get-member direct marketing, it was common for companies to offer discounts, gifts or value added services to customers who did the leg work in finding more customers. This model has now evolved into group buying from sites like Groupon, but there is evidence to suggest that “member get member” banking could work from Key Trade (under the control of Group Credit Agricole).

While Key Trade used a cash signup incentive, an interest based one would be a more meaningful commitment to a customer relationship and stronger motivator for recruiting new customers, particularly if interest rates could be competitive with current market offerings.

2. Social Micro Saving

Create a savings account which encourages you to micro-save via your social platforms. This could also be used to encourage micro-donation to charities. This could work quite effectively as a Facebook app which occasionally puts something into a subscriber’s news feed, reminding them to tuck £10 away in a savings account and make a small donation to charity.

Charitable donations website Just Giving noted the rise of social giving late last year and with the rise of applications like Snoball and SocialVibe, innovation is already beginning to harness the power of social donation behaviour to drive donations for charitable causes. If charitable donations can be contagious amongst social networks, it seems likely that social saving could be similarly rewarding and therefore contagious. Examples might include teams that are saving personal funds & raising charitable funds for expeditions, or groups saving towards a common goal such as holiday makers saving for a big trip.

3. Social Budget planning

Social gaming has proved itself remarkably addictive, but plenty of applications can the human desire to compete to good use. Mobile or social apps that let people compete over their personal budgeting targets could drive more careful budget planning & financial prudence.

As soon as NFC payment becomes a reality, mobile devices will be enabled to track spending both in terms of amounts and locations. If a couple, or group of friends decided to collectively budget towards a savings target, they could opt in to share how well they were performing against self-imposed goals. Personal financial data would remain private, but benchmarking against targets for lunch-time spending, for example, could earn gamers reward points & bonuses, just in the same way that FourSquare currently awards players with badges & Mayorships for check in achievements.

My purpose in exploring these ideas is to demonstrate the varied applications for integrating social media & social network behaviours with personal finance. With the growing popularity of The Co-Operative bank which offers customers a shared gains model and niche banks like Triodos offering consumer banking customers ethical and sustainable savings options, it’s not hard to imagine innovative, social financial products emerging as the financial services industry re-invents its public image.

5 social media misconceptions (and opportunities) in financial services

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Social media financial services

The financial services industry feels like it’s not ready for social media. You may think that this is due to regulatory restrictions, but there is more to it than that - and there are opportunities for the brands that overcome these misconceptions:

1. Financial services companies are worried about the risk of brand damage if they start talking with people online, because the industry’s public image is seriously wounded.

It’s easier to pretend a relationship hasn’t been hurt than to talk about the awkward feelings, but the current fraught market offers a big opportunity to re-invent the relationship financial services firms have with customers. The public increasingly favours honesty & transparency. Who dares wins.

2. Consumer banking isn’t where financial services firms make their money, so the compliance & customer service burden of “switching on” social media doesn’t feel worth the investment.

This is a false economy, because the thing that makes social media so powerful is the way it enables small groups of motivated people to influence many people, very quickly. Financial services organisations put themselves at risk by failing to establish ways to connect meaningfully with customers online as well as in branches and over the phone.

3. Senior decision makers in the financial services sector still believe that social media effort will create the burden of monitoring new KPIs based on engagement metrics and Facebook likes.

The reality is different: these metrics are meaningless for senior people in organisations of all kinds. However, low-level social media metrics can be aligned with existing business metrics, like those normally used to measure customer acquisition and retention. If social media effort is to be useful, it should contribute to existing business aims and measures, not create new ones.

4. Of all industries, the financial services sector has been the slowest to catch on that social media isn’t just a marketing channel (see: social business).

Strategic uses of social media can include improving recruitment & internal career development; enabling teams working in different parts of the world to collaborate effectively or customer-led product innovation. The key to understanding the strategic importance of social media to an organisation is to understand what separates a business strategy from a plan for implementation. A business strategy describes a way to win in the marketplace given the competition and any external forces such as regulation. In an organisation of thousands, the strategic opportunity with social media may not involve marketing at all.

It may involve discovering how many hours are wasted per working week per capita on ineffective document collaboration or customer relationship management. Let’s assume replacing MS Word or Excel document control with a collaboration tool could save an average employee 1 hour per week for 48 weeks a year. An organisation of 5,000 employees paying £15/hour would save £3.6M pa .This would be a strategic use of social media which could give an organisation a genuine competitive advantage.

5. The financial services sector is concerned about the ROI of social media investment.

I heard a great story from @benjaminellis at a conference last year:

When the telephone came into popular use by the 1930s, salesmen knocked on the doors of big businesses and said: “You’re going to need phones to talk with your customers. To enable this new kind of connection, you’ll also need a room in your office filled with expensive equipment and new secretaries to route calls. You’ll also need to create a new role for an electricity manager, because the telephone system uses a lot power.”

That must have been a tough sales job. Decision makers would have asked “We’ve managed with face to face meetings and letters for decades – what’s the ROI of this investment? Are our customers even going to want to call us?”

10 years later, nobody was asking the ROI of the telephone. I doubt any organisation in the world now works out the ROI of having telephones on the desks of its employees. It’s just the way we do business. In 2021, every organisation will use social media to talk with their existing customers and to talk with prospects, whether they work in retail, financial services or FMCG.

Which means that right now in the financial services industry, there is a significant strategic opportunity to win in the marketplace by being the first to make the move.

Photo by Richard Fisher

Why Capital One and American Express are the top financial services brands on Facebook

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Capital One and American Express are the top financial services brands on Facebook, according to a chart compiled by social media analytics tool socialbakers.

While Capital One’s Facebook page features within the top 150 brands on this list, and the American Express Facebook page is just outside it, the next most successful financial services brand on Facebook is US based direct banking and payment services company Discover, which charts at the 300 mark, saying a lot about the use of Facebook among global financial services brands.

In fact, this forms a large part of the reason why Capital One and American Express are the top financial services brands on Facebook  - it’s the fact that they are on and engaging with their audience in the first place.

Plus, as both brands are credit card providers they have the opportunity to engage their audience with content that is not directly related to the financial world, ie, topics  related to the deals they have secured with other travel and leisure brands for example, or discussing areas where their customers and prospects may choose to put the spend on credit cards, like holidays or cars.

Using socialbakers to dig a bit deeper into the content and engagement strategy for both Capital One and and American Express reveals some interesting results.

An overview (to the left) of both Facebook pages shows that Capital One has 125, 813 more fans than American Express, which, in the grand scheme of things of the total number of fans they both have, is not that much of  a difference.

However, looking at the  ”people talking about” and engagement rate levels is where things get interesting.

American Express has over 10 times the number of people talking about them than Capital One, and an engagement rate that is triple that of Capital One. In fact, as the chart below shows, Capital One’s “people talking about” rate seems to be consistently low, with little sign of improving:

What’s interesting to note is that American Express had a similar level of “people talking about” to Capital One until a staggered increase from 15th December 2011 onwards and then a massive peak, and then subsequent slower increase,  from 23rd January this year.

The reason for this dramatic climb was likely to be the Facebook status update that advance tickets to the 2012 NBA All-Star Jam Session were available to all American Express Cardmembers.

In actual fact, it’s status updates along these lines that are the key driver for American Express’ high engagement levels. They don’t post regularly, and in fact have only posted content 5 times since the start of 2012, but their status updates are carefully crafted to ensure maximum engagement by highlighting the benefits of being an American Express cardholder.

In the mean time, ever since early September, Capital One has let their content strategy dip completely and they have  barely posted anything since. Previously posting regular content, almost on a daily basis, has probably helped to keep their ranking quite high in the socialbakers chart, but I wonder how much longer this will be the case. Their most recent post, back in early December read:

And having not posted since suggests some kind of unresolved technical or social media management error. This is not a good post to leave hanging at the top of the feed and someone from Capital One would do well to look into resolving the issue and adding new content, rather than leaving the page hanging.

With only one financial services brand in socialbakers top 150 Facebook pages chart it will be interesting to note how many other financial services brands start engaging through Facebook, and whether they have the same success as the likes of American Express.

Social media: Risk and regulation in the financial service industry

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Juggling

Aside from niche communities,  customer driven markets and transparency, risk and regulation was one of the key discussion points at our social media in financial services round table event.

The current situation

Initially financial services brands and institutions were reluctant to use the various social media tools and technologies available on the market, largely because of the stringent rules and regulations that govern the industry.

Financial services brands have strict codes of conduct when it comes to data sharing. It’s often the case that external sites like Facebook and Twitter simply cannot be used or accessed within the firewall of a business for fear of information inadvertently being leaked out.

With the Financial Services Authority (FSA)  asking firms to apply strict advertising rules to more informal communications like Twitter, forums and blog posts in order to stay compliant, it’s no wonder financial services brands are less keen to adopt new technologies - it’s just another area they can fall down on.

However, with large banks and institutions like  American Express, ING Direct,  Bank of America and HSBC all using social media in one way or another, it seems that financial services brands are starting to  realise they can use social media as long as the activity is well planned and uses a pre-defined, fully developed social media strategy to ensure that risk is managed effectively and that regulations are adhered to.

What does the future hold?

With more and more financial services organisations adopting social media it will become an inherent part of the industry’s online infrastructure. As long as businesses have a pre-defined, robust social media strategy, with clear processes in place, then both FSA regulations and other guidelines will remain intact.

Proactive identification of compliance and the possible business risks from online conversations will also help financial services brands use social media in a way that aligns with industry standards.

Similarly, each business should develop a social media policy for employees. The policy should form a  standard part of all employment charters and contracts and should determine social media activity  both internally and when representing the company externally. Again, this will ensure that rules and regulations are not broken. This policy should be updated on a regular basis to keep in-line with changes to the social media landscape.

Our next post will look at resourcing social media in financial services businesses.