ASB Bank's Facebranch, said to be "the first 'Virtual Branch' application of its kind to be launched by a bank on Facebook", isn't especially interesting to me for its Facebook functionality but rather for its fronting up to the usual corporate fears of social media.
The three most common themes among business executives hesitant about social media are still:
- How do we "protect" the brand?
- What control do we have over people saying bad things about us?
- How do we control what our staff can say?
Bad Banks recently nominated ASB Bank for the 2009 Roger Award, given annually to the "Worst Transnational Corporation Operating in Aotearoa/New Zealand". Bad Banks also has ASB prominent on their Bad Banks Facebook Page. So in the face of the flaming in social media and on the street against the ASB Bank you'd think that their executives would be reluctant to open up for more.
But not so, and good on them.
Even more surprising since they are wholly owned by the Commonwealth Bank, one of the big four Australian bank oligopolists (Commbank, ANZ, NAB and Westpac) where service innovation is an oxymoron - in the main comprising waves of PR campaigns masquerading as consumer service and information. (Through I have to admit the ANZ's Barbara the Banker campaign and ASB's Goldstein are cute PR.)
There's a good review of ASB's Facebranch on Christophe Langlois' Visible Banking blog, where he calls labels it Facebook Branch 1.0 because of its shortcomings, while giving it couple of stars for effort.
I'd think ASB is well aware of the basic state of the current initiative, but it still serves them well, and it opens a channel and a challenge for them to now get to more fully understand. There's quite a lot of design thought gone into this effort and it all hangs together quite well, including the avatars.
Let's face it, if more businesses took this first step of getting Facebook integrated into their customer service in a well thought through way, as ASB has done (they're running a dedicated team of 8 staff in FaceBranch) then it would a huge step forward.
"We believe this is the first 'Virtual Branch' application of its kind to be launched by a bank on Facebook, anywhere in the world," says Anna Curzon, ASBâs general manager of internet banking. "It's really exciting for us to be able to run this application on Facebook and we're working closely with our customers to understand more about what they want from us in social media."
Just as a quick comparison to other banks and their social media efforts, Citi and 1st Mariner and USAAÂ® (USAA Federal Savings Bank) and Mechanics Bank are among those recently quoted as having advanced digital and social media efforts here are some factoids:
- ASB Bank's FaceBranch has nearly 5,000 fans now, a few weeks after its launch;
- Citi, for all its marketing might and global presence has 3,500 fans of its Facebook Page, which is just a Wall and with only 2 entries since March 2009;
- 1st Mariner, "proudly located in Baltimore" home of The Wire, has a much more active Facebook Page than Citi and provides more content - such as branch locations complete with FourSquare links (neat!) and videos from the managers - but has only managed to attract about 1100 fans;
- The USAA Federal Savings Bank prides itself on being innovative, and according to it's Facebook Page was just named the was named Best in Class for mobile banking "for the second year in a row". There is no doubt that their FB page is far more advanced than ASB. Its My USAA tab/app is the whole box and dice of Internet banking integrated into Facebook. There's lots of activity, with the exception of Discussions which seem to have fallen through the cracks, and there are over 100,000 fans of this bank! Impressive. But in any case let's take ASB's FaceBranch claim at face value, there is room for everyone in these innovations.
- Mechanics Bank is a little off the Facebook scene, as I found them hard to find and that they have not even taken advantage of their potential short name facebook.com/mechbank (as in www.mechbank.com) but they do have a Facebook Page with 28 fans. It has 3 posts for this February and none since. I would think that a business like Mechanics Bank would really be able to capitalize on their community connections and make their FB Page a real source of connection and business. They have plenty of content on their website.
As far as other Australia NZ banks go, just as a quick comparison, I couldn't find any Facebook Page for ASB's owner the Commonwealth Bank; Westpac has 74 fans; the ANZ doesn't appear to have a Page although their "Barbara the Banker" PR campaign has a user page with 166 fans; the NAB doesn't appear to have a Page but it's wholly-owned U-Bank has nearly 5,500 fans - U-Bank has a strong social media presence since it is an Internet-only bank. In New Zealand none of the ANZ National Bank, the Westpac NZ or the Bank of New Zealand appear to have any official Facebook activity, at least none that appeared in my searches.
So the ASB Bank stacks up very well considering their FaceBranch is only a few weeks old.
Hat's off to ASB, I like the effort and it's part of a shift which is important for business.
Rather than inventing a whole lot of "Facebook Branch 2.0" ASB is going to listen to their customers, from the perfect vantage point of their Facebook Branch 1.0, and develop what customer's feel is most useful.
To me, businesses are severely underestimating the power of Facebook as an adjunct to their digital engagement, especially services businesses, and I can only say again that if they got their minds around the step that ASB has taken then they'd see potential for themselves. I'm especially interested in how small and medium businesses can use Facebook for eCommerce and migrate that aspect from their current websites.
Which bank have you seen with the best Facebook presence?
What is the best use of Facebook for SMB and eCommerce/Customer Service?