Matt Colebrook on the future of banking

By Matt Colebrook
September 21, 2010

– Matt Colebrook is Chief Executive of online bank First Direct. The opinions expressed are his own. –

The 21st birthday of First Direct is as good a time as any to look back on changes within the financial industry and how it will continue to evolve.

The mercurial growth of the social web is something banks just can’t ignore. We’re now in the age where both the individual and consumer are empowered with a voice that can reach far and wide in a short space of time.

However, most fundamentally, social media is advantageous as a facet of banking customer service. Financial institutions are now presented with the opportunity to become accessible and direct like never before. Social networks and the new generation of smartphones enable customers to use and interact with banks whenever they want and from wherever they may be.

Looking to the future I think the chance to listen, learn and engage better with consumers via the social web is something banks must take notice of. People will expect unparalled levels of accessibility and banks must be able to provide a regular flow of interactive and easily shareable information for anyone who wants to access it. This is where I see financial institutions adding value to their offering; focusing on customer care and service; using social media to make this accessibility effortless.

The social web gives both customers and non-customers a voice; a place where they can be heard both by brands and each other. For us in the banking industry it provides the perfect arena; we can see ‘gripes’ and ‘niggles’ and whether these are collective or individual they allow us to source discontent, which provides food for thought in how we can make things better.

I think this will be the standard for the industry in the future; consumers working with us in order to help fashion our products and service. Whether the conversation is positive, negative or indifferent; as bankers, we must act upon it. It’s this feedback that will shape the way the industry works.

I think both the online and offline media will develop new niche needs, with many of them seeking rich content with a broader appeal; something varied to supplement the run-of-the-mill press release. Social media allows brands to provide this kind of additional content in abundance and I expect to see journalists demanding video, images, podcasts and feeds in order to create a more vibrant, easily shareable story.

At first, I have to admit I was a sceptic. In the minds of marketers, and indeed myself, social media carries fluffy connotations as it is often looked upon as something of a fad. Countering this, the question on the lips of every sceptic is ‘what’s the ROI of a social media strategy’.

In banking, we really have to define ‘return’; I’m a big advocate of our mantra; “banking’s better in black and white” as transparency, openness and honesty drive everything we do. Therefore, in regards to social media a bank’s ‘return’, shouldn’t necessarily be measured only in terms of monetary profits, but instead focused on increases in engagement, awareness and actions.

In the future I see social media within the financial sector creating conversation and hopefully some advocacy along the way. You never know; another revolutionary communication medium might emerge over the next 21 years for us to all get our cynical teeth in to!

Matt Colebrook will be answering questions from readers in a follow-up article on October 1. You can submit a question by leaving a comment below or sending it to our Twitter account (@reuters_co_uk).


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