Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Can financial institutions loosen the tie, roll up their sleeves and show some personality?

One of the biggest fears that people like me face is dealing with the financial aspects of their life. From getting a basic understanding of their investments, buying the right insurance to filing tax returns - this is a task all of us love to avoid or at best, postpone as much as possible. Indecipherable jargon, pushy salesmen, multitude of paper work are some of the reasons which make us want to stay away from the world of the financial institutions, however well meaning their approach may be. 

Ironically, it is a challenge that most financial services organisations face too. It is a constant challenge for them to  get a grip on who the person behind the account number really is. This perhaps emanates from the the fact that thus far they never considered themselves to be a service industry and  never really needed to know their customers as people.  Relationships were transaction based. Their key efforts were to develop great products and to ensure the transaction process was as smooth and painless as possible.

But somewhere along the way, the game changed. Now they suddenly find themselves in the chasm between a service industry and a product manufacturer which requires them to view their customers from a human angle.

Here is where social media comes in. Some simple steps could help to bridge the gap and create a greater affinity towards one another. In this article I would like to illustrate a few of them.

# Being the 'person' people want to connect with
Held back by regulatory constraints, financial institutions find themselves challenged in spaces like Facebook.  but here is where they can loosen the necktie , roll up their sleeves and show some personality.

Understanding the fact that Facebook community wants to connect with brands at a personal level rather than for product information, a few financial organizations have taken the bold step to portraying a 'cool' personality which people can easily identify with. Once the human connect is established, people will  more willingly want to share data, endorse the brand and shower the brand with attention.

Citi does a great job of  creating conversation which interest people and sharing content which is exciting. Sometime ago they hosted a special Beyonce video which could be viewed only on their facebook page.

HSBC Students‘ Facebook Page, the bank’s first foray into the social network, launched alongside a major scholarship competition in summer 2010. The bank invited students to submit 90-second videos about how they intend to make their mark on the world. The effort was rewarding. The posted videos got 3000 comments and 40,000 likes. After rounds of community and official voting, the bank awarded eight students with £15,000 toward their university studies.

J. P. Morgan's facebook page offers career advice to industry hopefuls and new comers. These posts strengthens the banks image in the eyes of the potential employees and their peers.

Most financial institutions do a lot of social or charitable work through their philanthropic arms. These often  go unnoticed. Facebook is a great way to share their good work and seek participation - bolstering the company's human angle.

#Listening in 
With proliferation of online identities, people are more freely sharing what they do, who they are and what they desire. This could be a valuable source of insights for the financial world. When people go through a life change (get married or become a parent) or career change, they share it online. These are great triggers for financial services discussion and this is where financial institutions can reach out to them in a meaningful way.

It is a great place to 'listen in' to figure out how consumers make important decisions by reaching out to their 'connections' and 'friends'. The questions they ask, the challenges they face, the solutions they seek etc. The success lies in moving away from the product sell perspective to observing how people are using various products, what are they doing with it and most importantly, what are they saying about it.

#Bringing forth the 'expert' imagery
Most companies want to position themselves as the guru or expert. By sharing original and insightful content about what people care about and solutions to people's daily financial life, brings them a step closer. Blogs, webcasts, white papers on Slideshare, being a part of popular forums are some of the tools used to create the expert imagery. The key is to find the niche that will appeal to the target segment and content that is differentiated from the competitors.

#Being present where it matters 
People like to aggregate information from various sources when taking a financial decision. Being present in multiple places with relevant content for the platform helps to inch in closer. For example, blogs provide a fresh insight, forums allow expert advice and twitter helps to provide 'fresh up to the minute' content and customer care.

Most financial services companies have a lot of valuable content but they do not have a strategy to distribute this content beyond their own boundaries such as the corporate website. With RSS feeds and Twitter gaining popularity, people want content to reach them and not go looking for it. Organizations would do well to step out of their comfort zone of the company website and be present where people are most likely to discover them.

Simple tricks like adding a share button like the facebook or twitter button and RSS feeds to websites and blogs ensure the people who discover the content, easily share it with others - creating greater awareness.

While these are just a few illustrations, there is a world of possibility even for highly regulated industries such as finance. All it takes is a sound knowledge and a good understanding of the medium to maximize its potential.

With 48 million social network users in India, majority of who are aged below 35 years, social media provides tremendous upside in terms of building a bridge with their current and potential customers. Also since increasingly it is becoming important for  companies and specially the ones in financial services to put forth a face that people would like to connect with, they will soon have to inculcate social media as a culture of the organization rather than simply view it as just another marketing channel. 


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