Sunday, March 10, 2013

Of the People for the People: When Banking Goes Social

Social media has come a long way, baby, over the past decade. Analyzing the already (in) famous case of Facebook alone will reveal a spectacular tale of a brainchild born out of the enthusiasm of three Harvard dropouts. What started out as a basement dream evolved into a social network especially devised for students and alumni of Ivy League colleges, which then expanded across colleges in the United States and eventually took over the whole world. Nowadays, there is little people don’t do on Facebook. They chat, keep friends, family, and acquaintances updated of their personal status quo and whereabouts – and, more recently, they’ve also started taking their banking to new social level. 

Of course, this latest revolution is inextricably tied in with the mobile revolution, in which both technology and IT savvy have a lot to say for themselves. Over the past year, the US market reach and share of smartphones has increased to great extents and the latest polls in the field indicate that it will only continue along the same lines in 2013. Not only are more and more people online, but the range of actions they perform on their mobile, online-ready devices is also becoming more and more diverse. Supremacy belongs to game playing, which has surpassed, in terms of time spent at play, the time people spend playing video games on their desktop devices. Online and social banking, however, is also undergoing a quiet revolution of its own. 

Two of Australia’s Leading Banks Go Social

Bankwest is one Australian bank that realized the catchphrase according to which ‘you don’t exist if you’re not on Facebook’ is truer than they may have initially thought. At they’re keeping clients informed, both current and prospective ones, of all the bank’s activities outside the main institution’s premises. Their strategy is personal and their approach light, as their profile is peppered with pictures from recent social events, organized in support of the bank’s many social initiatives. Bankwest is one Australian bank which has been focusing on online presence more so than others in recent times – their online savings, credit card, and personal loan deals often come with better terms than their offline counterparts.

Bankwest is not the only online Aussie bank either. Another major competitor on the market has recently launched a marketing campaign aimed at informing clients of the many services they offer online. These range from enabling payments via mobile, to dedicated smartphone apps for people seeking to purchase a new home. According to the bank’s representatives, their latest campaign is about improving the bank – customer relationship, and not about “technology for technology’s sake”. The decision to go online and implicitly social was marked by the bank’s desire to stay on top of its game, to improve the way banking was viewed and to provide a higher-value experience for the end-user. 

What’s in it for the Banks?

As the latter example goes to show, taking a banking enterprise online and helping it stay connected with its clients through multiple channels is not about being ‘trendy’. It’s the next logical step in an approach that is firmly rooted in the traditions of the banking industry. Back before the global financial crisis, and even further back in time, during the fifties, sixties, and seventies, banks were perceived as more ‘humane’ and implicitly human than they are now. The GFC changed all that, as many institutions across the world tumbled toward their inevitable end, fueled, it seems, by a lot of inhumane amassing of capital. Current attempts at socializing via the newest means available are, by the looks of it, an attempt of making amends for the past decade. Time alone will tell if the general consumer public chooses to validate this attempt or dismiss it.

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