Finance with a face

The days of the faceless banking monolith are coming to an end.

Financial institutions are attempting to regain the trust lost, almost irreversibly so, post-2008. This has led to multiple attempts of looking less like a bank and more like a best friend.

While the trend of having a friendly financial institution is not a new one, as Howard Brown from Halifax can attest to, it is one getting a surge of momentum. This has been conveniently parallel with the explosion of social media. Now every bank has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page constantly trying to reach out and prove that they are not a cold corporation, but they are actually just like us.

This method can be used to great success, such as BMO Harris Bank’s incredible 41% engagement rate in June 2013 due to their partnership with the Chicago Blackhawks (winners of the Stanley Cup that year); it can often lead to less successful ventures. One example is JPMorgan’s poorly thought out #AskJPM campaign in 2013. This campaign led to heavily publicised tweet replies such as “What’s your favourite type of whale? #AskJPM” and “Can I have my house back? #AskJPM”.

Some are using more literal faces to represent their brand. Santander UK has struck up partnerships with sportspeople such as Jessica Ennis and Jenson Button to add a certain sense of likeability. This method can also backfire, such as when Iggy Pop advertised Swiftcover Insurance, an insurance firm which does not offer insurance to rock stars, which led to a ban on the advert by the ASA.

Financial institutions need to find their feet quickly as the rise of social payments comes ever closer. Twitter and Facebook are in the midst of finalising plans to make their own payment systems. Start-ups, such as Venmo and Clinkle, are adding social elements to peer-to-peer money transfer and Apple has already launched Apple Pay. The advantage for these firms is that they do not need to find a face; they already have them in the forms of people that you already know.

It remains to be seen whether my bank will become my new trustworthy best friend. I mean, I already have a best friend and I don’t even really trust him.