Social networks like Hyves and Facebook are the banks’ best friends rather than their competitors. The claim in De Telegraaf on 8 November that social media will take over the role of banks in the long run is unjustified. Financial institutions are increasingly making use of social media to improve communication with customers on either side. The announcement that ‘the first American bank has now opened a virtual branch on Facebook’ is hardly groundbreaking news. Dozens of banks all over the world (including the Netherlands) are already using Facebook and other networks in order to improve their service to customers.
I think it’s also an illusion that banking matters can be arranged via social networks in the future. Hyves and Facebook will not be able to present themselves as the banks’ competitors, as a competitive position would involve social networks taking part in the transfer of money. Regulators will not allow that so easily. The first major case concerning the Internet lender Boober and the Dutch regulator Netherlands Authority for the Financial Markets (AFM) already took place in 2007. The AFM demanded that Boober should apply for a licence in order to lend money to customers via the Internet. The company wriggled out of the licence obligation by restricting itself to a maximum of 100 loans worth a total of € 39,000.
In the news item, social media strategist Rick Mans says that banks ought to treat their customers as friends. I don’t know whether I’d particularly want to start up friendly relations with my bank. I think it’s more important for banks to enter into dialogue with customers. Social networks are ideally suited to that. And in the case of customers who aren’t quite ready for that yet, go and visit them or invite them in for a talk. Think about your message. Ladies and gentlemen of the financial bastion, come out of your ivory towers, go out onto the streets and see what it’s like to have customers. Shake their hand, talk to them, hold them and give them a hug. It’s really not that hard, I promise you.