While the number of external blogs at U.S. banks and credit unions can be counted on your fingers today, that won't last. Here's the eight we've heard about:
Source: OpenSourceCU.com, Online Banking Report
The New York Times reported last Wednesday on the expected explosion of business blogging. Citing statistics from Nancy Flynn, director of the ePolicy Institute and author of Blog Rules, it is estimated that only 4% of major corporations operate external blogs today. However, 85% more plan to do likewise. Among small business, 10% have already incorporated blogs into their marketing plans.
Bank blogging forecast
We are in the process of developing a blogging forecast for release in November's Online Banking Report. Our preliminary estimate is that within two years, there will be at least 500 bank and credit union blogs.
It's no suprise that credit unions would jump on this trend; it fits right in with their membership and community focus. For example, Seattle's Verity CU has been blogging for almost two years (see 29 Aug 06). The unexpected first mover among major financial institutions is Wells Fargo (see 23 Sep 06), which has two blogs and six months' experience under its belt.
If you pride yourself on having a state-of-the-art website, you'll want to add a blog in 2007. You can start with something relatively simple, such as First Tech Credit Union's news and announcement service. Then you can graduate to the more advanced versions with real personality, such as Verity Credit Union's and Wells Fargo's Student Loandown.
In mid-August, Facebook, the popular social networking site aimed at college students, alums, and now a few select corporations has released a simple personal finance application. The original name was FaceBank (see screenshot at bottom of article), but recently it was renamed MoochSpot (click on screenshot below for closeup).
MoochSpot allows Facebook users to loan (i.e., spot), borrow (mooch), and settle debts with other Facebook users. At this point there is no payment capabilities, so the money must change hands through other methods.
Here's how it works:
- Create a "piggy bank" to track the funds
- Select a Facebook friend from the list that automatically shows in the MoochSpot list (note, in our screenshot below, we don't have any predesignated friends, so the list is empty)
- Enter the amount of the loan
- (Optional) Enter a reason for the loan
MoochSpot was developed, not because of huge user demand to track personal debts, but to showcase the type of application that can be built by outside developers using the recently released Facebook APIs. MoochSpot is highlighted on the Facebook developer's page <developers.facebook.com>.
BillMonk, the self-proclaimed "social money" site which allows debts to be split and tracked via website or mobile phone (see NB Apr 30), is the first financial services provider to jump on the bandwagon and create Facebook integration (in inset, see Facebook login in lower-right of BillMonk's homepage). We tried on several computers to get it to work and were unable to get past the Facebook login. We'll check back in a few days to see if they have the bugs worked out.
Financial institutions looking to create online banking sites that click with college students should pay close attention to BillMonk and MoochSpot. It would be relatively simple for a bank to use the Facebook API to develop even more powerful payment applications that combine the loan-tracking benefits of MoochSpot with actual epayment capabilities to move money back and forth among friends. While it wouldn't do anything that Paypal doesn't do today, the integration within online banking is important.
But the biggest reason to integrate with Facebook, MySpace, or any other 20-something social network is because it positions yourself as a bank or CU that understands the younger generation. And make sure you have genuine 20-somethings designing the marketing and writing the blog copy.
Below is the original FaceBank application prior to changing the name to MoochSpot:
According to Web-design firm Trabian <trabian.com>, one of its clients, Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union <lespfcu.org>, is redesigning its website to include many so-called Web 2.0 features including RSS, blogging, and integration with the photo-website Flickr and Upcoming.org, a user-fed events calendar owned by Yahoo.
So far, the most common Web 2.0 feature is an RSS feed, since it requires minimal programming or repurposing of content. Just about any timely content posted online can be delivered directly to the user's browser or newsreader through RSS techniques. For example, in Canada, Vancouver's North Shore Credit Union <nscu.com> now publishes rate updates through RSS (see above), and Madison, WI-based UW Credit Union <uwcu.org> offers 10 different feeds in its education area (see inset).
It's encouraging to see financial institutions begin to embrace newer collaborative technologies available online. We are not surprised to see credit unions lead the way. During the very early days, circa 1995/1996, many of the online pioneers were credit unions, notably Stanford FCU <sfcu.org> which posted account information online in 1994 and Boeing Employees Credit Union <becu.org>, which had the tenth largest online banking-user base in the world in early 1996.
While financial institutions still need to act like "grownups" on the Web (see note 1), younger banking customers in the "MySpace generation" (15- to 24-year olds) will grow up expecting certain things from the businesses they choose to patronize. For example:
- Instant-messaging access to customer service
- RSS feeds for service-related messages, such as holiday closures or systems maintenance
- RSS feeds for bill reminders and other alerts
- Open forums to post questions and review answers to others' questions
- Aggregating content from other sites, including competitors'
- A modern Web 2.0 design (see note 2)
- That's why we don't think it's such a great idea for financial institutions to post profiles on MySpace (e.g., Land of Lincoln Credit Union <myspace.com/llcu>). To prospective customers over 30, it looks rather silly. To those under 30, I suspect it looks incredibly lame.
- According to Seen Creative Group's <areyouseen.com> Nick Adams, a Web 2.0 look includes "large fonts, lots of white space, and big shiny buttons."
- See also, Banking the MySpace Generation, (NB Mar. 16)
Verity CU <veritycu.com>, a large Seattle-based credit union with a field of membership spanning the entire state, has been operating a public blog using Google's Blogger since December 2004 (click on inset for closeup), making it perhaps the oldest-running financial institution blog (let me know if you have one that started prior to Dec. 13, 2004).
Fourteen contributers are listed, more than 10% of the 105-person employee base. Each author has a profile posted online, making it a great way for members to get a better understanding of the behind-the-scenes activity.
Posting activity varies. In recent months, we've seen four or five lengthy entries. This month, there are 17 articles so far. Subject matter varies from the personal ("My trip to the dentist") to more salesy stuff about the credit union.
Comments are open, but little used. There were only two non-employee comments left in August.
The website counter shows 6,613 visitors.
Offering a blog is an excellent way to show that you care about customers/members and that you are Web-savvy. We applaud Verity for their pioneering efforts over the past 18 months. But it's time for the CU to upgrade its blog.
- Improve the design with a masthead, better archive options, and graphic images that link back to the CU. Users expect more than the basic free blogger template from their credit union.
- Shorten the entries and add graphics and pictures.
- Keep the postings relevant. It's OK to have the occasional rant about Seattle traffic, but stick to things that matter to the reader. Most come to your financial institution to learn more about your company or your products. Let them go to a million other blogs for entertainment.
- Highlight the author of each entry. Currently, the Verity author is listed in small, faint type near the bottom of each posting. You want readers to get a sense of the people doing the writing, so it's important they see the name at the top of the posting.
- Improve the author profile info. Some author-profiles are quite skimpy. If you want credibility, the authors need to fully disclose their role at the credit union.
- Close the comments. Blog-comment areas are fine if they are used; however, a big ZERO down there just makes it look like you're visiting a ghost blog. If you do use them, make sure they are fully moderated, i.e., no comment goes live until approved by the blog administrator.
Blog address: veritycu.blogspot.com
Launched May 16, Moneytrackin' <mo.neytrack.in> is a Web 2.0-inspired personal finance application from a Spanish developer. The free service, in public beta (looks more like alpha), has just one function, storing and categorizing transactions (click on screenshot below for a closeup). However, much more functionality is in the works (see blog here).
It's ultra-simple to use. Users can set up sub-accounts/projects on the fly then add transactions to each. Transactions can be "tagged" with as many categories as desired. A "tag cloud" runs on the bottom of the screen allowing users to click easily on any category to view the transactions. Finally, a pie chart shows a breakdown of expenses by tag.
The multi-language service is offered in English, Spanish, French, German, and in what must be unique in the personal finance space, Catalan, a Spanish dialect spoken by 10 million Southern Europeans.
For a complete run-down of personal finance functionality for online banking, check out our next Online Banking Report, available mid-August.
In today's Wall Street Journal, personal finance writer Jane Kim does a roundup of what she calls "the next wave of online banking." The impetus for the article was Yodlee's new MoneyCenter that will be available to consumers in early July. I was interviewed for the article and provided several of the examples along with the market size estimate.
In addition to Yodlee, the following developments were chronicled in the article:
- Citibank's <citibank.com> 50-fold increase in online interbank transfer limits from around $2,000 to $100,000 this summer. In what may simply be a self-serving comment made to a reporter, the bank cites the demand for its new e-Savings account as an impetus for the change.
- Commerce Bank's (NJ) Virtual Private Bank <virtualprivatebank.com> for customers with $1 million or more in investable assets.
- Wells Fargo's My Spending Report, a simple integrated spending report we discussed last year. (NB Feb. 17, 2005)
- Bank of America's <bankamerica.com> account aggregation and recently expanded account alerts.
- Chase's <chase.com> next-day bill payment.
Although most of these examples are relatively minor improvements, it's good to see the mainstream press recognizing online banking innovations. The last few years have been dominated by security concerns, and we believe it's a great sign that reporters are looking for "what's next." It would be wise to have an answer to that question when your local paper calls.
We believe the Virtual Private Bank (VPB) from Commerce and the Yodlee system deserve closer examination. We'll cover Yodlee's new product when it goes live next month. And, although we won't be able to drop a million into Commerce Bank, we'll take the VPB for a test drive later this week.
If you’d like to learn more about the future of online banking, check out the Online Banking & Bill Pay Forecast: Current, future and historical usage: 1994 to 2016 from our sister publication, The Online Banking Report.