Wells Fargo Continues its Social Media Innovation with a MySpace Page

Wells Fargo avatar on MySpace Wells Fargo marked the one-year anniversary of its first blog, Guided by History, with a Q&A today with the bank's Social Media VP, Ed Terpening. The post appeared in the the bank's Student LoanDown blog (post here), which just made it past the six-month mark. I've already weighed in on its blogging strategy (see previous coverage here), so I won't repeat myself.

The bank is experimenting with a number of social media outlets to extend its brand and see what works and what doesn't. Not all of these will pan out. The MySpace presence seems like a long shot, but then again, the cost is negligible so it’s worth a try. Wells Fargo has wisely not posted a pure "banking" presence, but instead used one a character from its StageCoach Island game (see screenshot below). 

Bottom line: The bank's willingness to try new things has created an impressive lists of "firsts:"   

  • First U.S. bank with a blog (though Verity Credit Union beat them to it by more than a year)
  • First bank with a student loan blog
  • First bank with a business banking blog
  • First bank in the world with a Second Life presence
  • First bank on MySpace at <www.myspace.com/stagecoachisland>, really more an extension of its StageCoach Island game which also has its own blog here (see below; though several credit unions beat them to it)
  • First bank with 2, 3, and 4 blogs
  • First bank with an avatar persona on MySpace
  • First bank with a VP Social Media (who appears to be proactively reaching out to the blogging community)

Wells Fargo MySpace page

Orbitz Alert Ticker Could be Used in Online Banking

I've been an Expedia regular for 10 years, so I only check Orbitz on occasion. But I was there today and was impressed with what they are doing in mobile alerts. You'll have to read the next Online Banking Report for all the details (note 1), but I wanted to pass on one idea that could be used by banks and credit unions today.

I call it an alert ticker. What it does it track the number of OrbitzTLC alerts sent to customers (see it in action here). The odometer-like counter rolls over about once per second and currently reads 87,794,309 (see inset). ING Direct has done the same thing for many years with the total interest earned by its savings customers. 

Below the ticker is another feature that financial institutions supporting voice-mail alerts should consider, a quick trial entry form. Users can type in any phone number, landline or mobile, to receive a sample voice message alert (note 2). Those entering a mobile number can also receive a sample text message by checking the lower box (note 3).


1. Online Banking Report #140 will be available in early April.

2. They didn't ask for mobile phone carrier, so Orbitz must send a message to all the major carriers, e.g., yourphone#@cingular.com, yourphone#@verizon.net, and so on figuring the right one will get through eventually.

3. It's been three hours and I've received neither a voice message or text message. 

4. Banks should also take a page from Southwest Airline's Ding service (see coverage here and here).

Social Lending Pioneer Zopa Celebrates Second Birthday

The nascent market of online social or person-to-person (P2P) lending turned two as its pioneer, UK-based Zopa, celebrated its second birthday today. In addition to slapping a this enormous "2" button on its homepage (see screenshot below), the company marked the occasion with an open house at its headquarters, an online lunch-time webcast, and an online giveaway of ten iPod shuffles (see the text of the email message sent to Zopa lenders and borrowers here).

Zopa's homepage on its second birthday (7 March 2007)

The Latest Numbers out of Zopa

According to Easier Finance (thanks to PaymentsNews for the link):

  • Zopa has 135,000 members
  • Zopa lenders have received on average 6.75% before-tax annual return after fees and defaults
  • Zopa borrowers have obtained loans at rates as low as 4.2% APR
  • The current default rate is only 20 basis points, 0.2%

Zopa continues to create a considerable buzz in the UK. The company's homepage links to 42 articles from a diverse range of publications, most recently The Sunday Times and The Daily Mirror. And my favorite, an awesome piece from the UK's public-service Channel 4, that is unlike anything I've ever seen on U.S. news (click the play button below). 

The YouTube replay of the 4-minute feature was posted to Zopa's blog March 1 along with TV clips from CNBC and Fresno, CA news. The Channel 4 piece covers the topic of "social lending" in general and primarily covers Zopa, but near the end, another UK alternative lender is interviewed, Fair Finance <fairfinance.co.uk> is interviewed. We'll look at Fair Finance in a separate post.


Wells Fargo Launches Two More Blogs

Evidently, Wells Fargo has found blogging religion. Not only is it the only major U.S. financial institution with a blog, but it now has not one, not two, but FOUR public blogs.

Here's the lineup:

Previously reported:

  • Guided by History: The bank's first blog, a community service resource that began in March.
  • The Student LoanDown: An excellent blog launched in September to support the bank's student loan business. We've reported on it here and here.

Launched in August, but not previously reported:

  • Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) Blog: This B2B blog supports the bank's Commercial Electronic Office business portal. It launched August 10, but is not listed on the bank's blog index page <blog.wellsfargo.com> or on the bank's main website. Our initial reaction: The CEO Blog is an all-business affair with 39 posts in four months, a good rate for a business blog (see screenshot below). We'll take a closer look in a future post.



  • Stagecoach Island Community: Another good-looking blog (see screenshot below) launched Nov. 27 supporting the bank's Second Life-inspired virtual world Stagecoach Island (see our coverage here).

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island blog

Top 25 Web 2.0 Financial Websites

Since its September launch,  Your Credit Advisor <yourcreditadvisor.com> has posted several trendy lists to attract traffic to its credit card application portal. The latest entry, "Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps for Money, Finance, and Investment."

The article includes helpful summaries of each site's capabilities. It's a good jumping-off point to do a little outside-the-box thinking about Web-based finance (see also, Online Banking Report #135/136, "How to Web-2.0 your Online Banking").

This list includes:

  • Two loan sites: Zopa and Prosper (see previous coverage here)
  • Six personal finances sites: Three we've covered: Dimewise, foonance, ioweyou (see our previous coverage here) and three new entrants: NetworthIQ, MedBillManager and Wesabe, a fascinating social money site we'll cover later this week
  • Five real estate sites: Homethinking, iiProperty, Rentometer (owned by iiProperty), Trulia, and Zillow (see our Zillow coverage here)
  • Two miscellaneous sites: PayScale, cFares
  • Ten investment sites: BullPoo, Motley Fool's CAPS, DigStock, FeelingBullish, GStock, MoneyTwins (foreign currency), SaneBull, StockTickr, WikiFinancial

Royal Bank of Canada Launches New Blog Supporting its "Next Great Innovator Challenge"

Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) launched a blog Tuesday, becoming the second largest North American bank in the so-called blogosphere. Wells Fargo was the first (see coverage  here). Thanks to Colin at BankWatch for the tip.

The RBC blog is part of a larger effort, The RBC Next Great Innovator Challenge, a marketing campaign aimed at rewarding innovation among Canadian college students (see main page below, note the Second Life-like avatar on the right).

The team of college students that develops the most innovative idea in the area of "teens and financial services," in 2,500 words or less, wins CDN$20,000. The top five teams will present their ideas to RDC management. Runnerups receive CDN$1,500 to $10,000 (total prize pool is CDN$40,000). Registration closed Oct. 31, with final presentations scheduled for early 2007.

RBC's student innovation challenge main page CLICK TO ENLARGE

From a marketing perspective, there is much to like about this effort that:

  • Positions the bank as innovative and striving to be even more innovative
  • Generates a tremendous amount of positive press, both at the outset of the program and later as finalists are selected, then as winners are announced
  • Drives traffic to its website
  • Brings in new student accounts (it is no coincidence that the program launched during back-to-school time)
  • Impresses the parents by rewarding creative teamwork by their kids
  • Provides a large number of ideas that RBC can use in future bank products and student banking efforts
  • Identifies potential future employees among the contestants
  • Impresses Canadian businesses with the bank's support of young entrepreneurs

It's surprising that the bank didn't start a blog until the content closed, but better late than never. The blog will still serve as a great way to continue the momentum as the contest moves through the selection process. We'll take a closer look after it's been running for a few weeks.

Bank-Anywhere.com Launches Branch Locator Mashup

For some time now, branch/ATM locators have been standard feature on banking websites. They began in the late 1990s as crude lists providing an address and maybe a phone number.

Today, locator tools are more robust, with branch hours, maps, pictures, and more. Still, many provide a simple listing instead of the locations pinpointed on a map. 

Sovereign Bank branch locator CLICK TO ENLARGEFor example, here's the output from a search at Sovereign Bank for all branches and ATMs in zip code 10019 (click on inset for closeup).

The list is well laid out, but you must wade through it to find the closest branch, then drill down through the links to find more details and a map.

Compare that to the tool at Bank-Anywhere.com <bank-anywhere.com>, a mashup of Google Maps and the FDIC branch location database <www.fdic.gov>. Here's a list of all banks in my zip code 98115. Clicking on the bank icon or the list on the right side triggers a pop-up callout with additional info.

Bank-Anywhere.com tool CLICK TO ENLARGE

Branch-Anywhere is in public beta after a Sept. 15 launch (see its blog). The company behind it is Dash Space, a Vancouver, BC-based developer with such a low profile they don't appear on Google searches. They did respond promptly to our email questions (email here).

Financial institutions should consider using a similar approach on their websites and either program the function themselves, or outsource it to Bank-Anywhere.com or others. It is important for this logical link to make a good first impression with potential customers of your bank. The Ajax-based map not only looks more sophisticated and up-to-date, but also is easier to use.

Podcasts and RSS Feeds from City National Bank

We are starting to see RSS feeds used at public financial institutions, primarily to keep shareholders up-to-date on new filings and press releases.

Consumer feeds are still relatively rare, but are growing quickly. By this time next year, we predict as many as half of all major U.S. banks and credit unions will be producing feeds as part of their online marketing mix.*

One bank in front of the curve is Beverly Hills-based City National Bank <www.cnb.com>. The bank has seven RSS feeds and three podcasts (see below). They've even added an RSS feed button on the bottom of most website pages (see End Notes). The podcasts are just read-throughs of the articles. That's OK, but the bank should let customers know not to bother subscribing to both. 

The newsfeeds are geared primarily towards business users (2 feeds) and shareholders (3 feeds), but there's also a Personal Finance feed and a Market Perspectives feed. The bank has published three Personal Finance articles so far: the first on Aug. 16; another two weeks later on Aug. 30; then, after a two-month hiatus, a third one today.

City National Bank RSS list

The bank is also podcasting more thoroughly than we've seen before, with not one but two monthly podcasts: personal finance and international business. The company also produces a weekly market perspectives podcast (see list below). Users can subscribe to the audio reports via a newsfeed (RSS) or directly into Apple's iTunes using the appropriate button.

City National Bank podcast listing

*Preliminary forecast. See the final forecast numbers in our upcoming report, Online Banking Report #135, Web 2.0-itizing your Bank (to be published in early November).

End Notes (click on link below for more screenshots)

City National homepage includes links to newsfeeds (lower left)
Note also: link to remote deposit capture service (mid-page)


RSS page loads whenever clicking on an RSS link from another City National page (see RSS button in lower-right corner)


City National podcast directory (note the integrated iTunes button)


Mortgagebot Offers Custom Mortgage Rates Widget

Mortgagebot widget for Fairwinds Credit Union Mortgagebot LLC, the online mortgage spinoff from M&I, has introduced an online widget for its clients (see Fairwinds CU version inset). The widget allows users to keep current mortgage rates visible on their desktop.

Typically, it would appeal primarily to someone currently in the market for a mortgage or refi where an 1/8 difference in rate can add up to thousands over the life of the loan. 

So far, seven of Mortgagebot's 600 clients have posted the widget at Yahoo's widget center; however, many more offer the service through their websites.

The first widget posted on Yahoo was uploaded Aug. 28 for Northwest Savings Bank and has been downloaded 711 times. In total, the Mortgagebot widget has been downloaded 2,200 times.

  • Northwest Savings Bank (national), 711 downloads since Aug. 28
  • Fairwinds Credit Union (Florida), 215 downloads since Sept. 27
  • Vista Federal Credit Union (California), 330 downloads since Sept. 27
  • Gateway Community Bank (Iowa, Nebraska), 275 downloads since Oct. 2
  • Northwest Bank (national), 351 downloads
    since Oct. 3 
  • Macon Bank (North Carolina), 216 downloads
    since Oct. 12
  • Riverside Bank of Florida, 127 downloads
    since Oct. 12

For more information on creating a desktop presence, read Online Banking Report #85, Grabbing Desktop Mindshare. Also see our previous coverage here.

Blog Sighting: Toronto Electrical Utilities Credit Union

Toronto Electrical Utilities Credit Union <teucu.com>, the ninth North American financial institution blog, and third in Canada, debuted Aug. 15 at <teucu.ca/blog>. The other eight are listed here.

The CU has done a reasonably good job keeping the blog alive with 11 posts in its first two months. The posts have been all business, ranging from notice of an ATM service interruption to a discussion of loan options.

The CU allows comments, and so far 13 have been posted. None were particularly interesting, mostly "thanks for the info." That will change as users understand what blog comments are for (i.e., furthering the "conversation" or adding some informational value).

The blog runs on Google's free Blogger platform (see screenshot below). It's an OK start, but the CU should invest a few hundred dollars in upgrading the template as soon as possible.


TEUCU homepage CLICK TO ENLARGETEUCU publicizes the blog in a prominent spot on its homepage (see inset).

Thanks to the guys at Trabian for the scoop.

Zopa Emphasizes Community with New Homepage

Although you may have little interest in the niche market for person-to-person loans (previous coverage here), you should keep tabs on the websites of Zopa and Prosper to see how they build a community of borrowers and lenders.

The new Zopa homepage (see screenshot below) features several interesting community-involvement devices:

  1. "I'd like to meet…" tool in upper left
  2. Community factoid ticker running across the middle of the screen (see list of factoids below)
  3. Community tab in primary navigation (top)

Zopa home 18 Oct 2006 CLICK TO ENLARGE

"I'd Like to Meet" tool
This tool, placed in one of the most-viewed areas of the homepage (upper left), allows users to find like borrowers and lenders. Using drop-down boxes, users may narrow their search to just borrowers in a single city, oI'd like to meet tool CLICK TO ENLARGEr those of a certain age or age range, and so on (see inset). 

Unfortunately, we were unable to see the results since our search queries just showed an endless "search in progress" graphic image.

Community factoid ticker
Even though scrolling tickers are annoying, they do draw attention. Since Zopa must make prospective users comfortable with its novel service, it makes sense to be mildly annoying to get the point across that Zopa is a vibrant and fast-growing community. However, the 3-minute cycle time (before stopping) is too long; a 30-second scroll along with a link to more factoids would be better.

In our test at 7:00 PM London time Oct. 18, there were 17 items running across the screen in this order: 

  • 1,571 Johns have joined since we launched …
  • 4,350 members have registered so far this month …
  • 480 Zopa members have logged into their accounts today …
  • 553 Sarahs have joined Zopa so far …
  • Adrian from HULL has just joined …
  • In the last hour, 8 new members joined …
  • Lorraine just offered 50 to Zopa borrowers …
  • Mark from OXFORD just had a loan reserved in the B market …
  • More members come from London than anywhere else …
  • The average age of a Zopa member is 36 …
  • The last member from the Isle of Wight to lend was Laurence …
  • The last person to join from Aberdeen was Clare …
  • The most common name amongst Zopa members is David …
  • There have been 4,875 requests for loan quotes in the last 24 hours …
  • Thomas recently paid in using their debit card …
  • We have 595 members from Leicester …
  • Yesterday, 251 new members signed up …

Community tab
The Community tab in the site's main navigation leads to a page jammed with more community-building features and tools including (see screenshot below):

  • Company blog
  • Member discussion board
  • Finance news as gathered by "Zopa and friends"
  • Zopa newsletter
  • Member story (monthly feature)

Zopa vmain community page CLICK TO ENLARGE

A good effort by the person-to-person lending pioneer. We look forward to the company's U.S. launch while passing along our regrets to the recent passing of its founder Richard Duvall (memorialized in this Oct. 17 Zopa blog entry).

Truly Virtual Banking in Second Life

We've come a long, long way since the dawn of the commercial Web, which in banking began in May 1995 when Wells Fargo posted the first customer statement on a website.

Back then, when we talked about virtual banking, we meant Internet banking. Now, there's the very distinct possibility that banks and credit unions will set up shop in virtual worlds such as Second Life from Linden Lab <secondlife.com>.

Let's call it truly virtual banking. Second Life, with more than 940,000 users, allows the exchange of virtual Linden dollars for real greenbacks, currently at a rate of L$273 to US$1. Due to the possibility of real profits from virtual activities, this metaverse has attracted more than 10,000 businesses including Starwood Hotels and others (see Analysis below). 

Apparently, the first real-world bank with a truly virtual presence is none other than Wells Fargo, whose Stagecoach Island debuted in Second Life late last year. However, after a few months the site was moved to a standalone site with no connection to Second Life <stagecoachisland.com> (see screenshot below).

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island game CLICK TO ENLARGE

In Second Life, the private island was accessible only to Wells Fargo customers who received an invite from the bank. Normal Second Lifers could not gain entry. Users were given a $30 stake in virtual cash. Although the island tempts them with various ways to spend it, the goal is to save, with interest paid at the rate of 10% per day. Users can earn additional cash by taking finance-oriented online quizzes.

The stated purpose of Stagecoach Island is financial education. It is part of a larger program aimed at younger adults. The We Take the Fun of Money Seriously program was piloted in Austin and San Diego last year. Here's an excerpt from the Sept. 14, 2005, press release:

Wells Fargo is hosting a series of live "We Take the Fun of Money Seriously" events throughout Austin and San Diego during September and October where young adults can participate in various activities — from karaoke and trivia games to athletic challenges and photo booths — and win prizes while learning about banking basics. Event participants will receive the Web address and a unique log-in code for the Stagecoach Island software and will have the opportunity to play the online game at home for 30 days.

Apparently, the pilot was successful. This year, the program was used at summer rock concerts, primarily a dozen venues of The Warped Tour, and at 19 college campuses this fall. The first stop was Aug. 20 at the University of Nebraska and the tour ends Nov. 1 at Central Washington.

The bank was assisted by Swivel Media, a San Francisco-based marketing firm which hosts a Web page and short video devoted to the game at <www.swivelmedia.com/fun_money.htm>. According to a July blog post at Clickable Culture, the company paid $17,000 to Second Life freelancers to build the game.

Online gaming, or advergaming as it's sometimes called, is a good way to make an impression with younger users, even though it may be difficult to create a game not considered totally lame by the target audience. We recommend keeping it simple, and bribing the target audience with numerous prizes.

The bigger issue, whether to create a presence in Second Life and/or other metaverses, is more complicated. Several major brands have recently taken the plunge including American Apparel, Starwood Hotels, and others.

The Starwood's program is interesting. They are using the Second Life hotel project, aloft, to create a buzz for a real-world brand they intend to introduce in 2008 under the same name. The hotel's Second Life effort is chronicled in its own blog, <virtualloft.com>, which includes a virtual grand opening featuring Ben Folds scheduled Oct. 19.

Financial institutions, looking to create some buzz, should consider a presence in Second Life. With an expected population of one million by year-end, the marketing opportunities within the metaverse are intriguing. But more importantly, a Web-based blog and marketing campaign could yield millions of free impressions for online and offline media.

However, this is not as easy as it seems. There are numerous risks and obstacles that must be overcome. The largest banking operation in Second Life, Ginko Financial <ginkofinancial.com> which lends Linden dollars at 44% interest, has been plagued with accusations of fraud, specifically of being a Ponzi scheme (read Reuters article here). There have also been recent incidents of Second Life hacking that have caused problems.

But the biggest risk is to your reputation. Not only are you vulnerable to the whims of the game players, you also risk being associated with the more adult-themed activities in Second Life. Before taking the plunge, you should have a staffer join the metaverse and consult with seasoned players for advice on proper "game etiquette" (remember "netiquette" ten years ago?). You want to make sure you position yourself as "less lame" than the average financial institution.

But those risks are manageable; in fact, they are similar to the problems you deal with in the real world. And given the potential buzz from a successful Second Life brand, it's worth your while to investigate the potential.

P.S. If you think this is all a fad, consider the source of the Ginko Financial article cited above. It was written by a new full-time reporter from Reuters who works IN Second Life (see NY Times story here).