What We’re Reading: Credit Unions, Bank Branches and Square

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • Credit Unions May Gain Mobile Payments Edge with Shared Tech Platform

American Banker

CO-OP Financial Services hopes the model used in one of the oldest staples of credit union cooperation, the shared branch, can drive new digital commerce innovation such as person-to-person payments and mobile remote deposit capture. The country’s largest credit union service organization, with about 1,400 credit union participants in its shared branch program totaling about 4,400 branches, has extended components of the shared branching model to digital commerce, using centralized processing resources to allow credit union consumers to access mobile payments and other digital capabilities.

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  • Online Banking Design Succeeds or Fails on Feedback, Details: Citi’s Weber

American Banker

After Forrester Research dubbed Citi’s online banking site the best in the U.S. last week, we spoke with Tracey Weber, Citigroup’s head of internet and mobile banking and Bank Technology News’ Mobile Banker of the Year for 2012, about the bank’s latest initiatives. Citi partners with Yodlee for PFM and account aggregation. “But I think what we did that was different, and that will lead to a better experience for customers, is the integration of PFM into the online banking dashboards,” Weber says. “Historically PFM capabilities have been somewhere off in a corner of the site.” This echoes comments made by Chris Cox at Regions Financial last week, when he shared how his bank is trying to weave online banking and PFM together.

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  • Banks Take a ‘Swipe’ at Square

BAI Banking Strategies

As the swoosh of the card swipe migrates from the terminal to the tablet or the smartphone thanks to mobile payment devices like Square, banks have decided they want a piece of that action both for the revenue opportunity and to solidify merchant relationships. Unlike other mobile payment schemes, which may require consumers to enter codes or utilize wireless near-field communications, the mobile swipe approach enables them to conduct a payment transaction in the same way that they have at the point-of-sale (POS) terminal for years. The difference: the minimalist technological infrastructure involved in these mobile POS terminals, which are typically a few inches long and attach to an iPhone, iPad or Android, appeals to merchants reluctant to invest in card functionality.

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  • Say goodbye to more bank branches

CNN Money

Banks are killing off branches by the thousands. Overall, banks closed 2,267 branches last year and opened only 1,149, according to research firm SNL Financial. That resulted in a total loss of 1,118 branches nationwide — the highest level since 2005, when the firm began tracking closures.  Looking to cut costs, many banks are aggressively shuttering branches they deem unnecessary and encouraging customers to shift to online and mobile banking instead, said Nancy Bush, a bank analyst and contributing editor at SNL.

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  • Scammers Now Taking The Time To Chat

Credit Union Journal

A new attack scheme is hitting banks and credit unions that takes advantage of the live chat feature in the FIs’ online banking platform, Guardian Analytics reports. The criminals impersonate a member or customer and initiate fraudulent wire transfers. Many have been successful. “It’s difficult to predict how it will spread, but criminals usually stick with what works. When it stops working they find another approach,” said VP of Marketing Tiffany Riley.

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  • Fiserv Study: It’s A Mobile World

Credit Union Times

In its fifth annual study of bill payment habits of U.S. households, Fiserv Inc. found that this is the era of the “omnivore” bill payer – multiple methods are proliferating – but in the fast track is “mobile bill pay. It is growing very fast,” said Eric Leiserson, an analyst. In 2012, 8% of online households paid at least one bill with a mobile device, up from 6% in 2011, per the Fiserv research.

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  • Nacha Establishes Guidelines for Using Bar Codes for Bill Payments

Payments Source

Nacha, the electronic payments association, issued guidelines for the use of quick-response (QR) codes for consumer bill payment. QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes that can be scanned with a smartphone’s camera to direct users to a website or pull up specific information. The codes are increasingly common in stores and advertisements to direct consumers to product information, and some mobile payment systems use them to present account data.

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  • 5 Financial Accounts You Should Check Every Week

Yahoo! Finance

Individuals should track their weekly expenditures on budget accounting Web sites like Mint.com to get a complete picture of where and how they’re spending that hard-earned cash. These online sites allow users to review their balances and transactions for all accounts – credit cards and retirement accounts included – usually at no extra cost.

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  • What Is a Mobile Wallet?


Mobey Forum, an industry organization established by banks in 2000, is dedicated to encouraging the use of the mobile channel in financial services. Sybase 365, now SAP Mobile Services (and my employer), has belonged to the group since 2006. In the Forum’s most recent quarterly meeting, the 60-plus members couldn’t agree on what a mobile wallet was.

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Your Money or Your Bank

Customers logging into the Citizens Bank site had a problem last week. The online services “were not available at this time,” they were told, and while no reason was given for the outage, it seemed apparent that foul play was involved, specifically a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.

This is by no means the only bank to be on the receiving end of such assaults, and Citizens even had more traditional criminal issues to deal with—two of its branches in Philadelphia suffered old-fashioned bank robberies. True to pulp fiction form, one was from a perpetrator wearing a surgical mask, while in the other case the suspect handed a note to the teller demanding money, got away with an unspecified haul and, yes, is “considered armed and dangerous.”) Still, the outage is newsworthy specifically because it captures so many trends of the moment.

First, a spokesperson for the bank politely urged customers to find their way to a local branch—advice that will seem increasingly irrelevant. This has nothing to do with the incidence of bank holdups; it’s simply because the number of branches is dwindling. According to a report from research firm SNL Financial, banks closed 2,267 branches last year while opening only 1,149. That’s the biggest net loss since the firm began tracking closures in 2005.

There’s no single reason for this, of course. The economy at large, competitive factors, government regulation, shifting interest rates, internal priorities—they are all factors in any given trend. However, as even the new report makes clear, many financial institutions are encouraging their customers to move to online and mobile banking.

Which brings us back full circle to the issue of online outages, and the most recent problems in that area.

Any news search at any given time yields a plethora of stories about banks launching new initiatives in the online/mobile space. There are always deals being offered to draw new business, mobile apps developed and released to the market (both consumer and business) and significant investments being made. For everything from infrastructure to customer convenience, this is where the action is right now.

In this context, even a minor outage can be devastating. Customer loyalty can be extremely fickle: Just as retailers have found that the unavailability of a single item can mean the loss of a customer forever (since there are so many alternatives available at the click of a button), banks may find that patrons will go elsewhere because it’s easy to do.

Even the best security measures cannot guarantee that there will never be a data breach. DDoS attacks of the kind apparently experienced by Citizens Bank—which create enormous amounts of fake traffic to a targeted site, temporarily crashing servers and weakening defense—will likely gain in popularity. Customers don’t know or care what the problem is; they’ll know there is one and take their business elsewhere, and tell their friends to do the same (not just through word of mouth but also widely disseminated social media).

In essence, the ROI of any investment in online and mobile banking must involve more than the sum of its parts. There will always be online attacks and outages. The differentiator might be in how the affected financial institution deals with it.

What We’re Reading: Green Dot, Virtual Piggy and Mobile Banking

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • Account Balance Forecasts On the Way to E-Banking

American Banker

What would it take to make personal financial management apps more popular? Cash flow predictions and deeper spending insights, say many observers in this market, from entrepreneurs to analysts to bankers. “Historically, most PFM solutions focus on what has already occurred. It’s too late. It’s done. You spent it. It’s gone,” Jacob Jegher, senior analyst at Celent, tells BTN.

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  • Mobile Banking Via Tablet Continues To Grow

Credit Union Journal

A new study from SYNERGISTICS Research finds that four in ten Internet households already have some form of tablet device, and one-third of those report that they use those machines for online banking. The study, titled “Optimizing Mobile Banking and Payment Strategies,” found that mobile and online banking activity is most widespread among consumers ages 18 to 34-a demographic many credit unions and banks are trying to attract.

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  • Get a Fresh Financial Start with a Credit Union Savings Plan

Credit Unions Online

When it comes to helping members budget and gain control over their spending in order to save more, Leaders offers Greenpath Financial Education, and Intuit FinanceWorks integrated into their online banking. “FinanceWorks is very similar to Mint, yet it’s already built-into online banking and allows the member to track spending, set goals, and categorize their finances,” explained Josh McAfee, Marketing Manager, Leaders Credit Union.

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  • Threat of the Week: Corporate Credit Unions Should Bolster Defenses Against DDoS

Credit Union Times

The accepted opinion among security professionals is that most credit unions will get a free pass to dodge the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) blitzkrieg that has been knocking big banks offline and that is because the attackers have exhibited a strong preference for hitting targets that – when they go down – generate headlines, like Bank of America or Capital One. Historically, DDoS attacks were driven by pings from a ragtag Zombie PC botnet. Today’s attacks against big banks are said to be organized by a nation state and they harness not Zombie PCs but industrial-grade web hosts and data centers.

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  • Virtual Piggy Puts Allowances Online–Could It Be Paypal For Kids?


Virtual Piggy’s software for desktop and mobile allows families to manage allowances and helps guide kids’ shopping online, 100% free for users. The rapidly-growing Hermosa Beach, California-based company has attracted the attention of billionaire John Paul Dejoria, (no. 92 on the FORBES 400 list with an estimated net worth of $4 billion) who in 2012 made a multi-million dollar investment and joined the company’s board. Actress Sela Ward and Oprah Winfrey‘s longtime partner Stedman Graham also advise.

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  • If You Use Chase Mobile Banking, You’re Probably Richer than All Your Friends Who Don’t

Go Banking Rates

According to data recently released by Intuit, the use of banking technology in addition to banking through traditional brick-and-mortar branches may aid in saving money. The Intuit data, which examined information from approximately 50 financial institutions, collected between July 2009 and Sept. 2012, revealed that people who bank online are far more engaged with their financial institutions. Director of analytics at Intuit Financial Services, Russell Lester, stated the ease of accessing accounts and making transactions via online and mobile devices was beneficial for both parties. “The data is clear — greater engagement via digital channels leads to better financial outcomes for the user and the financial institution,” he explained.

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  • Green Dot’s GoBank Takes Aim at Gen “Y.2” and Slow-Moving FIs

Javelin Strategy & Research Blog

Green Dot’s effort to blaze a trail for the next generation of banking highlights the building competition for Gen Y consumers and the challenges that must be overcome to redefine banking. It also sends a warning signal to the credit union industry that it must do something to avoid becoming a generational anachronism. As Javelin detailed in “A Tale of Two Gen Ys” – a report issued to subscribers last week and scheduled for public release Jan. 22 – the growing economic clout of Generation Y cannot be ignored. Of immediate interest are 25- to 34-year olds – whom we dubbed “Y.2” – a group of hyper-vigilant but cautious consumers raised with expectations of digital service but struggling at times to establish online and mobile financial habits.

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  • Banking Branchless & Mobile Only

Juniper Research Blog

Branchless banking is a banking strategy beginning to be widely adopted in many developed as well as developing countries over the world. Banks and FIs opting for branchless banking will not have any kind of physical presence or branches – whether expanding their network or starting a new network – in any of the markets. For example, First Direct in the UK launched branchless banking as early as 1989 and operates only via phone, post and online.

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  • New Bank Has No Branches, Just an App — And Thinks You’ll Volunteer to Pay for It


The company that made prepaid debit cards for the “unbanked” ubiquitous has a new venture: a bank. But Green Dot isn’t planning on opening any branches. To visit this bank, you have to open up the app. Green Dot’s GoBank, announced this week in San Francisco, attempts to push mobile banking forward by making banking mobile-only. And the company seems to believe the GoBank app will delight account holders so much that they will voluntarily pay for the privilege of using it.

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Banks: Games People Play

If you want to see how much technology has changed the relationship between banks and their customers, then take a trip down to the Berkshire Bank branch in Pittsfield, MA. Yes, branch, as in real-world, brick-and-mortar, set-in-stone structure staffed by flesh-and-blood humans.

It’s got cash dispensers, high-quality TV screens, Sony PlayStations and a community room that can accommodate up to 30 people. And while this is the county’s largest bank, at least nine other Berkshire outlets have been similarly renovated recently.

Perhaps the most interesting addition has been teller pods, which essentially remove the time-honored barrier between customer and teller. In this arrangement, the teller stands in front of the computer, right alongside the customer during each transaction. If the teller is busy, there’s a place for the customer to sit while waiting. Cash dispensers situated by the pods enable tellers to stay accurate without actually counting the bills—another anachronism that can be happily disposed of. (It’s interesting to think about how bank robbers see this.)

The rationale behind all these changes, of course, is to personalize and enhance the interaction between corporation and consumer. People generally don’t go to the bank unless they really need to, and the inclination is always to conduct the transaction and depart as quickly as possible. For their part, most branches assume that the customer who can leave the fastest is the happiest.

However, when so many banking transactions are conducted online, it’s surely worth taking a look at alternative models.

In a sense, this approach flips conventional wisdom in other ways too—while consumers use banking apps to stay away from the branch, these banks are using different kinds of technology (teller pods, TVs, gaming consoles) to lure the customer inside the branch, and keep them there. The question is the extent of the value that can accrue from this relationship.

Not every branch has the space to even offer a community space, and customers who come in to, say, make a withdrawal have no real business staying there after they’re done. However, given the number of options now available to every consumer, anything that strengthens the relationship is a good thing.

A long time ago, IKEA created a differentiator by offering space for children to play while their parents shopped for furniture (it had been done before, but probably not to that extent). It’s even easy to surmise that kids clamored to go to the IKEA playpen, which in turn induced their parents to shop.

It’s hard to think of a direct equivalent for the banking industry, but it’s definitely interesting to see what innovative companies will try to lure new business and retain what they have. Might we see good banking combined with fine dining—a restaurant inside the branch, open only during banking hours? How about a sports bar where you get a drink and watch the game while paying your bills? Perhaps laundry services while you wait for a transaction to clear?

Comic speculation aside, innovation is always welcome. The banking industry’s reputation has taken a battering recently. Any approach designed to strengthen the brand and cultivate relationships is a very good thing.

Fast Facts: Student Loans

The Financial Services Roundtable recently released another iteration of its Fast Facts, reliable, bullet-point research about issues facing the financial services industry. Topics span TARP, Dodd-Frank, insurance, lending, retirement savings and more.  Below are some updated Fast Facts on student loans, which are  the largest form of consumer debt outside of home mortgages.

FACT:  More Americans are attending college at a time when college is getting more expensive.

  • Total college enrollment has increased 50% in the last 15 years.
  • College costs are increasing at double the rate of inflation.  Last year, tuition and fees grew 8.3% for in-state students at 4-year public schools, whereas the Consumer Price Index increased 3.6% between July 2010-July 2011.

FACT:  Many students borrow money to pay for a college degree.

FACT:  Student loans are now the largest form of consumer debt outside of home mortgages, eclipsing both auto loans and credit cards, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

FACT:  The vast majority of student loans are federal loans.

FACT: Private student loans often supplement federal borrowing to help families pay for the higher cost college of their choice.

FACT:  Private student loans have a significantly lower default rate than federal student loans.

FACT:  The federal government can recover defaulted student loans through administrative wage garnishment, offsetting federal tax refunds, and even part of Social Security checks.

  • In contrast, private lenders may not use these methods to collect on education loans.  Further, collections on private education loans are subject to statute of limitations; there is no statute of limitation on the collection of defaulted federal loans.

FACT:  Seventy-two percent of college students who graduated between 2006 and 2011 report that they have paid off one-quarter or more of their college loans, according to the Center for Workforce Development.

FACT:  On average, Americans with a college degree are twice as likely to be employed as the national average.

  • According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree and higher is 3.9%, compared the national average of 7.8%.
  • An American with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn more than $1 million more over their lifetime than someone who never went to college.

Copyright © 2013 The Financial Services Roundtable, All rights reserved.


Love at First Use: Three Tips for Building Awesome Products

It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Nowhere is this more true than in product development. You may have built a truly amazing product, full of wonderful features that deliver lasting value to customers, but if you don’t have an amazing first-use experience, it’s game over!

In today’s world, first impressions matter more than ever before. Prospects have little patience for friction or confusion. In a mobile-first world, potential customers will download and test-drive our app, and if it doesn’t deliver some benefit or WOW in its first impression … they press the app until it wiggles, hit the X, and go searching for a better solution.

This new reality has motivated us to take a fresh look at our first use experiences, and our observations have led to three guiding principles to successfully introduce customers to our products:

  • Time-To-Benefit: Make sure that the customer immediately sees how and why they would use the product. Resist the temptation to reveal all the great long-term benefits, but instead, focus on getting to real core customer value in a simple, fast and approachable manner.
  • Ease (Do It For Me): Only ask for the absolute minimum information to get started. Once you ask for it, don’t ask again. Every request for information introduces friction and can reduce conversion significantly.
  • Emotional Delight: Go beyond functionality and surprise your customers. Make the most important tasks easier than expected. Seek to create moments of “Wow!” that will generate positive word of mouth.

A great first use experience is the front door to powering growth for a new or existing product. Don’t let all the hard work that goes into creating a great product be sabotaged by not putting in the time and effort of designing a delightful gateway. None of us want to see the next thumb being placed on our wiggling app to delete it!

*This blog originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Brad Smith on LinkedIn here.

What We’re Reading: The Underbanked, Credit Union Executives and Social Media

Below are interesting stories the Banking.com staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • It’s a Real Bank, and It’s Made by Real Internet

All Things D

Green Dot today launches the smartphone-based GoBank, which will have no overdraft or penalty fees, no minimum balance and a “pay what you feel is right” monthly membership fee. GoBank promises that it can fully bridge the two worlds. That’s because pre-paid card provider Green Dot actually bought an FDIC-insured bank back in 2011 in Utah, after two years of regulatory hurdles.

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  • Mobile Devices Can Help Bank the Underbanked

American Banker

Mobile technologies are revolutionizing financial services in both developing and developed economies, helping bring a wider range of services to a greater number of people than ever before. As a result of advances in mobile technologies, the way consumers interact with financial institutions is being redefined, providing a new level of access. While potentially revolutionary for everyone, this is particularly so for the underbanked.

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  • Pessimistic Outlook for 2013 in Web Survey of Credit Union Executives

Credit Union Times

An increasing number of executives are pessimistic about the 2013 outlook for their credit unions because of more regulations, low interest rates and a weak economic recovery, according to a Web survey of 271 credit union leaders by Abound Resources, an Austin, Texas-based management consulting firm. The survey found that 25% of credit union executives are either somewhat or very pessimistic. Last year, the Abound Resources survey found only 16% of credit union executives were either somewhat or very pessimistic in 2012.

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  • Reacting to Nasty Tweets, Snarky Posts May Help CUs Shine

Credit Union Times

Just when your credit union starts getting the hang of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google+, someone writes a negative post on your page, and all hell breaks loose. The ability to create a forum where credit unions can communicate directly with members or potential members creates a direct relationship. According to Michael Ogden media relations manager-new media for CUNA Mutual Group, a recent survey of credit unions by the groups marketing research department showed that 94% of credit unions are investing time and money on Facebook as a part of their marketing strategy. Facebook and Twitter are the two most-used social media platforms for credit unions and 55% of credit unions are using some form of Web analytics.

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  • Beyond Mobile Banking: Building New Consumer Apps

Financial Brand

Examples of non-core mobile apps from financial institutions certainly aren’t common. That’s not to say that in the future, financial institutions won’t invest more time and money into this area. The strategy offers a number of advantages: Provide real value for customersIncrease loyalty, Attract new customers, Extend product and service offerings, Boost saving volumes and interest in investments, Improve corporate social responsibility. We are already seeing non-core banking apps, allowing people to take their financial institution with them where the last hurdle (house hunting, acquiring goods/services, etc.) ultimately comes back to paying for something. Device developments and the explosion of data will give consumers apps so they can navigate these experiences more seamlessly.

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  • Reboot Hadoop?


Big Data’s sweet spot starts at 110GB and the most common customer data situation is between 10 to 30TB.Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit came out with a set of articles highlighting the fact that “Big Data wasn’t just for Big Companies”. Brad is right. If you look at the distribution of businesses by employee count in the U.S here, you’ll notice, that, state by state, the number of companies between 20-500 employees is on average 40 times larger than that of large companies.

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  • US Bank to pilot NFC iPhone case

Payment Eye

US Bank has chosen Salt Lake City and Portland as test sites for an iPhone case that turns the handset into a contactless payments device. The bank is offering its FlexPerks Visa customers in the cities the chance to sign up for the Go Mobile trial if they have an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S.

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  • Seven Resolutions to Get Your Nest Egg in Shape

Wall Street Journal

But if you want to learn to stick with a budget over time, a growing number of largely free online tools and mobile apps can help. Services offered by banks and companies, including Intuit Inc.’s Mint.com import and aggregate data from your credit cards, loans, and bank, brokerage and 401(k) accounts. They break down your spending into categories, such as utilities or groceries, and some can even track how much you spend at specific stores or on specific items, like coffee. Once you know how much is going out and for what, it becomes much easier to pinpoint cuts that can make a real difference.

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Social Media Statistics: By-the-Numbers, January 2013

Below are some interesting statistics on social media usage. Feel free to share your favorite social media statistics in the comments section or Tweet @bankingdotcom.

  • 200,000,000 – The number of members for professional social network LinkedIn, an increase of 13 million since November 1, 2012. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • 181,000 – The number of Twitter users with “social media” as part of their bio as of January 2013, up from just 16,000 in 2009. (Source: AdAge)
  • 2 – The number of people that join LinkedIn every second, which equates to more than 172,000 new members per day. (Source: LinkedIn)
  • 92 – The percentage of people who share mobile video they have watched on their phone with others. (Source: IAB)
  • 200,000,000 – The number of monthly active Twitter users. (Source: Twitter)
  • 87 – The percentage of US magazine and newspaper publishers that have an iPad app. (Source: Alliance for Audited Media)
  • 33 – The percentage of US Internet users who said they ended a connection with a brand on social media due to the brand sharing too many updates. (Source: eMarketer)
  • 1 Million – The number of websites that have integrated with Facebook (Source: iStrategyLabs)

Did you catch the analysis of the most loved and most hated brands of 2012? Social Media Explorer has the breakdown.

Social Media BandwagonPhoto credit: Matt Hamm / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Industry Perception, Optical Delusion

In Washington, they talk a lot about ‘optics.’ This has nothing to do with regulatory scrutiny, or government mandates on eyeglasses. It has to do with perception—how something looks, the way a particular story or incident comes across to the public at large. For example, when a presidential candidate makes a speech on camera, there’s a full team of image handlers making sure that, policy implications aside, the whole event looks and sounds right. The backdrop of flags, the blend of folksiness and credibility, the focus on sound bites—it’s all about optics.

The financial services industry has terrible optics. Even with massive lobbying efforts and armies of PR specialists, the stories that dominate the news and capture the public imagination—in effect, go viral—seem calculated to portray the worst stereotypes.

The most recent entry to this dubious gallery is surely Maurice R. “Hank” Greenberg, former chairman of AIG, the recipient of a massive government bailout a few years ago. Mr. Greenberg now heads Starr International Co., which was once a major AIG shareholder and is now pursuing a lawsuit against the very same government that rescued the corporation. The reason: the terms of the bailout were apparently too onerous. Starr wants about $25 billion in restitution.

To be fair, AIG—which has been publicly thanking the nation for the bailout—eventually declined to participate in the suit. However, the very fact that such a move was under consideration, not to mention Starr’s ongoing litigation, has unsurprisingly sparked a barrage of criticism from across the media and blogosphere. Even tastemaker Jon Stewart devoted a lengthy segment of ‘The Daily Show’ to the subject.

Also in Stewart’s crosshairs was HSBC, another star in the Hall of Shame. That storied corporation has earned infamy for its recent exploits, which apparently included dealings with a host of shady characters and institutions across the notoriety spectrum. The company agreed to pay massive fines last year for alleged money laundering, and is now part of a proposed mortgage settlement alongside such marquee names as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

As documented here recently, HSBC is a prime example of the ‘too big to jail’ phenomenon—companies that don’t face even harsher penalties because that might destabilize other parts of the industry, or even the economy at large. This aspect in particular arouses the ire of many credible industry critics, and at some point the patience will surely run out.

Because of these and other noteworthy problems—think everything from credit-default swaps to LIBOR—criticism of the industry is now coming from a broader audience than ever before. Writers at such distinctly non-leftist outlets as Forbes and Harvard Business Review, among many others, have piled on with harsh words.  For the record, these issues do have nuance, and the Wall Street Journal, among others, has pointed out the subtleties in the AIG issue. But none of that gets away from the optics—it all looks really bad, and that will have consequences.

It’s not as if every other industry gets away clean. The energy sector had many perception problems even before the British Petroleum oil spill, cable companies get savaged for bad customer service and airlines take it on the chin every time a flight is delayed or a bag gets lost. But the financial services industry is about, well, finance, and that’s a very different issue. People are funny about money, and that affects how we go about our business.

There’s no panacea here. Corporations large and small will occasionally make mistakes or behave badly, and those errors will reflect on everyone else in the business. Our job in the trenches is to provide great service to our customers, and if we do that everything else will take care of itself.  Looking at the year ahead, however, the industry’s representatives in the capital and the media would be wise to worry about the optics.