Are Aussie Banks “Getting” social?

Where we at?

Up until recently most Australian banks have appeared purposefully unaware of the impact Social Media was creating as a customer service channel.

Australia’s bank oligopoly ensures that innovation need only move at a snail’s pace, and disruptive change allowed to be monitored, understood, and then acted on in due course. In comparasion, organisations in other industries have needed to be considerably more agile if they hoped to survive change.

I worked for a bank up until recently, and it was only in the few months preceding my resignation did I see the worm starting to turn, and senior people realise the importance planning an approach to start engaging with our customers across these non-traditional channels.

It’s fair to say 12 months ago there was considerable resistance around establishing a Twitter account, or putting up content on Youtube, but through the perseverance of some innovative people on the inside, I saw the first baby steps of us as an organisation engaging in the Social Media landscape.

Almost all the Aussie banks now have some sort of presence on Twitter or Facebook. Some are trying to use this as traditional one-way marketing tools (to minimal success). Some are just listening and hoping no-one is tarnishing their brand. Others are finally allowing customers ask questions, and actually responding back!

I thought I’d take a bit of a closer look and see who was now online, and who could be counted on to provide excellent service in this new and scary online space.

The players

Most of the banks are dipping their toes in the water, at a minimum securing Twitter names aligned to their brand. Searching around I found the following banks tweeting it up:

  • @NAB
  • @AnzMoneyManager
  • @Westpac
  • @NetBank
  • @Ubank
  • @RaboDirect
  • @bankwest
  • @SuncorpBank
  • @BOQonline
  • @bendigobank
  • @citibankaus

A couple of noticeable absences here: While ANZ does tweet though @ANZMoneyManager & @ANZSmartPig, theses are product specific accounts, and are not enabled to answer general ANZ enquiries.

ANZ did have a more comprehensive tilt at Twitter last year – registering @ANZ_Responds – but it appears this didn’t garner much internal support as the account has now been pulled.

RaboDirect, BOQ, Citibank are generally active with announcements, but do not respond to direct client enquiries.

Suncorp, ING Direct, Bendigobank, have registered accounts, but have not yet tweeted.

The @Bankwest Twitter name has been snatched up by a squatter hoping to extract some coin in turn for handing it over. This signifies how important it is for your brand team to be vigilant around new online capabilities like this.

I was also unable to find twitter accounts for HSBC, ME Bank, St George or Adelaide bank.

For the active banks, here’s some stats around what level of engagement they are current achieving (as at November 2010)

Handle Active Since Followers Number of Tweets
@Westpac 8 May 2008 2,342 1,216
@NAB 7 July 2007 1,597 380
@AnzMoneyManager 15 Oct 2008 2,290 476
@NetBank 16 March 2010 1,382 352
@Ubank 19 Oct 2008 3,111 N/A
@RaboDirect 19 Aug 2010 722 24
@BOQ 18 May 2009 396 133
@bankwest Hijacked
@SuncorpBank Yet to tweet
@bendigobank Yet to tweet
@citibankaus Yet to tweet
@INGDIRECT_AU Yet to Tweet – now removed

So what does this tell us? Awareness is low across the board, activity is non-existant for the smaller (second-tier banks), and while the big 4 are starting to come onboard, it’s pretty ad hoc thus far.

For the three major banks (CBA, Westpac, NAB) that do engage with customers in this space, volumes of queries remain low; a couple of hundred for NAB and CBA, up to a 1000ish for Westpac. Does this indicate customers aren’t that interested in using this as a service channel? I doubt it. Let’s look at the figures for another Australian oligopoly:

Handle Active Since Followers Number of Tweets
@Optus 18 June 2009 6,923 16,799
@Vodafone_AU (& @VodafoneAU_Help) 17 Dec 2008 6,214 10,112
@Telstra 31 July 2009 5,899 13,706

Locally, telcos has cottoned on to the importance of providing their customers new way to communicate across alternative channels, and are now starting to see great success communicating with customers through Twitter. From a customers perspective this means no more IVR’s to deal with, no need to perform security checks, no worrying about call volumes or whether they’re using the right email inbox – just Tweet a message and wait for a response.

Personally, I’ve had great success dealing with the Optus Social Media team, who appear to be creating a bit of a halo effect for the entire organisation, generating brand advocacy and generally improving the reputation of the entire Optus customer service proposition.

The UBank Experiment

UBank leveraged Social Media as a primary marketing channel

“But we’re different!” the banks will cry. True, telcos – as internet service providers – have a natural inclination to understanding how to  deal with customers across the online channel, but in reality the same people who hold Bigpond accounts also hold Commbank accounts. If you provide those customers the opportunity to engage with you online, and back it up with fantastic service, the customers will soon flock.

This is evident in the launch of Australia’s (and possibly one of the worlds) most socially/online focused bank, UBank.

UBank is a direct (online only) bank experiment launced by NAB in late 2008. It was a big step for the traditionally old-world NAB brand, and certainly pushed the comfort zone for a lot of people within the business. However, despite initial reservation this has proved to be a major sucess for the NAB.

From the ground up this was a product and brand offering designed to break the mold, and a testiment to some very smart people involved in building that business. One of the key differences between this bank and others in the Australian market was the decision to focus a high degree of interaction on the social web right from the start, through presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, even attempting some really off-the-wall promotions such as engaging with customers on the OzBargain forum. This level of deep social promotion wasn’t just a first for Australian banks — it was pretty much unheard of from any service industry locally.

This same level of customer engagement remains today, and has paid impressive dividends. With a deep understanding of the social web built into UBank’s DNA, the business has generated “customer advocacy and satisfaction levels amongst the highest of any institution in Australia“.

The Future

Change is coming. Time spent on “social” websites now represents a significant proportion of our days. For an entire generation, the idea of heading into a branch to do our bank servicing is an alien concept. Yet, banks continue to fund

Time spent online

Average time spent online - What happens when Facebook opens a branch?

traditional channels exponentially higher than the budget of their direct teams. Management will rationalise this by suggesting that “no one else is doing it, so we’re in no rush”, but what they don’t understand is it’s not going to be ANZ or CBA that comes out and disrupts everything, it’s the PayPals and Facebooks that have already established the platform, have the customer base, and are ready to strike at any moment.

We need to start considering not what the banking landscape is going to look like in 15 or 20 years, but 15 or 20 months. If todays Australian financial services is to survive, the time taken for our banks understand and adapt to new innovation cannot contiue to move at a snails pace. Look inside your organisation, find the people who are able to understand these new capability(they’re probably the ones abusing your IT security policy at the moment), give them a bit of free reign. Fail quickly and learn from the mistakes. Choose to change, or choose to fail(whale).

5 Responses to “Are Aussie Banks “Getting” social?”
  1. Michelle says:

    You must not have looked very hard for St.George Bank – there is a Twitter account and You Tube channel

    • longstraws says:

      Hi Michelle – Thanks, I did find it then after a bit more looking. To be honest though, if nothing shows up with a [“St George Bank” twitter] google, I think it’s safe to say the bank could be doing more with the channel. Having a further look it appears to be a pretty limited approach, suggesting client contact the call centre if they have any queries.

      Thanks for the heads up though!

  2. Kelvin Lee says:

    Hi Stephen, I work for a bank and would be keen to hear your views on addressing customer queries via twitter. Unless they are generic product queries, no other queries can be addressed on twitter due to security concerns?

    Personally, when it comes to a query about my money, I don’t think I could bear the wait of having someone reply to my tweet and having to DM more details and wait somemore. In fact, I don’t even see e-mail being a probable medium. Thoughts?

    • longstraws says:

      Hi Kelvin, from my perspective it’s all about creating visability, being approachable, and (at a minimum) starting a conversation. Agree, there will continue to be some queries that cannot be resolved in the public sphere, but Twitter does not have to be the start and end point of the customer engagement.

      I think the opportunity here is to use Twitter (or whatever social media service) to filter a lot of the general enquires (what’s the current TD rate? What hours are the branch open? Can I fax in this document?), and then have a secondary (secured) system where customers how are asking acoount specific questions can be pushed towards to complete a form (with reference to whatever has already been disucssed via twitter/facebook to faciliate some level of presubmission), which can then be used as the basis for investigating the enquiry. This will allow the team to find the best answer and contact the customer back.

      Banks can also get a bit smart and link responses to twitter Q’s or queries raised via other channels directly back to the customers IB messaging, so account specific queries can be asked in the public rhelm, and then be responded to via a secure means.

      In regards to wait times, as an organisation you can’t decide to go half in if you want to embrace this medium. You need to be able to respond to all tweets within hours, at minimum with a message along the lines of “we’re looking into it and we’ll be back with a response shortly”, and servicing needs to be avaliable 24/7. It’s a big ask, but people using this channel will accept no less.

      Channels to answer “need to know now” questions will need to continue to exist, but Twitter should complement them. With that in mind, why haven’t all the banks embraced secure IM communication within IB? Such an obvious fit.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Are Aussie Banks “Getting” social? November 2010 4 comments 4 […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: