Sunday, July 3, 2011

Financial Institutions and Online Media - finding the right hook

The below article was published in Qatar Today magazine - July 2011 issue. The article summarizes various initiatives taken by banks to adopt Online Media to communicate with their customers. Click on the below image to contiue reading.

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Today most of the financial services companies are on a recovery mode and looking for optimistic signs in their books. While the financial pundits predict the possibility of economic recovery, I believe listening to your customers is what’s missing in most of the companies. Many financial and non financial companies are busy implementing what they want to but not what the customer needs.
In the era of Internet, Financial Institutions need to cautiously but firmly make place in the Online Media world to interact with the customer. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn are some of the many sites which can act as agents for these companies to spread their message.
Many banks have presence on Facebook, but lack of transactional capability may not attract customers to become a fan or member of that particular page. Having an information page about the products and services would be a good way to start with, but may not be immensely popular with the customers. Tapping Facebook will require banks to come up with a tricky formula of entertainment, sales and information in addition to providing a secure environment. Yet Facebook’s urge to go public with its user data may be discouraging for many financial intuitions to associate themselves with this website. To meet the legal and compliance requirements would be another horrendous task.
During my research, I came across an application on Facebook that allows users to perform financial transactions - Fiserv's My Money, which is now only available to credit unions, and may be offered to banks in the near future. Facebook users download the application, which helps them find and join a credit union, view account histories and balances, and make transfers.
Bank of America, Wells Fargo, ING DIRECT and First American Bank are among the many financial institutions using Twitter for marketing. Twitter is a tool which can be used to directly interact with your customers and inform them about the services. The online reply facility on Twitter can help a company obtain feedback or resolve customer issues.
The National Bank of Australia has managed to effectively use Twitter as a tool to deal with customer complaints and enquires. The bank gets 30 million calls a year on its Call Centre channel and Twitter may be an alternative to it.
Twitter can help banks build long term relationships and give more personal feel to it.

1. Reaching customers.
Public websites hold the transaction capability and remain the primary form of communication for the banks with customers. Increased communication and transparency, would help banks gain customer confidence and trust.  Having online presence would allow your customers to evaluate and discuss the bank’s brand and offerings. Direct feedback from customers would help banks improve those offerings and brand image. HSBC Direct, a U.K based bank uses its interactive website to get and publish customer feedback and discuss community issues. It uses blogs, Facebook and Twitter to interact with "Generation C," or the “Connected, Communicating, Content-centric, Generation."

2. Reducing costs.
Online communication would help the bank reduce costs significantly. Selling products, cross selling products to existing customers would help justify the online presence. Twitter as a communication medium is being seen as an alternative to Call Centers. It may not replace call centers but definitely help in optimizing call center resources. Usage of new technologies can help cut branch operations cost; for example, Deutsche Bank in Germany uses video chat for interacting with customers, thus reducing customer dependence on expensive channels like branches.
As I said before, financial institutions need to be Cautious with their presence in Social Media. One of the possible threats could be a fraudster posing as a bank employee and asking customer for credentials by setting up a similar profile. Online squatter could register themselves on behalf of financial institutions on social media sites and then negotiate with the companies to buy them back. Alternatively, phishing attacks are anyways looming on the Internet and you may be redirected to a site where there is possibility of compromising your personal details.
Banks are experimenting with this space but are yet to come out with a successful working model. Expecting a ROI on spend is not the way forward, as Social Media is still in its adolescence trying to develop such a model. This is just another form of communication tool available to reach to your customers which will ultimately in long term bring the dollars.

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