Small Business Networks from American Express, Capital One, Advanta, Bank of America, QuickBooks, and HSBC

Earlier this week, Visa launched its Facebook Business Network. While the first to use Facebook, several other major financial institutions have opened small biz networks on the Web in the past six months:

  • image Advanta’s Ideablob launched last September at DEMOfall (previous post here). It’s a unique website with monthly contests awarding $10,000 to the best idea, as voted on by users. It’s an intriguing concept with decent traction, almost 30,000 unique visitors last month according to Compete (see chart below). (Full disclosure: I just realized I’m wearing an Ideablob t-shirt; schwag can still pay off!)
  • image American Express’s OpenForum: As the name suggests, it’s a business forum and resource directory, not unlike Bank of America’s (see below). American Express has added posts from several prominent bloggers such as John Battelle’s Searchblog and Anita Campbell’s Small Biz Trends to keep the site fresh. The site has 5,400 members and monthly traffic of about 11,000 unique visitors, up threefold from a year ago.  
  • image Bank of America’s Small Business Online Community, a general forum and resource directory, launched in October 2007 (see original post here). It’s primarily a forum, with some additional articles on the side. Total membership is just under 15,000.
  • image Capital One’s Slingshot, launched in February, is primarily a business directory. But it does aim for community involvement with user-submitted business reviews and comments on certain topics.
  • image HSBC’s (UK) Business Network: Another forum-and-blog site similar to AmEx’s OpenForum. So far it appears lightly used, with just six blog entries this year and 270 member profiles.
  • image Intuit’s Quickbooks Group: Although not a financial institution, the Quickbooks site is a good example of an active community with more content, including ten blogs, and as much traffic as the others combined (not including BofA which is unknown) with nearly 90,000 unique visitors, almost double the number a year ago.

 Unique website visitors in May 2008 (source: Compete)

image

Facebook Battle: Students 1, HSBC 0

My teenage son has just starting "Facebooking," and he loves it. It's his first foray into social networking, and I can tell he'll be a user for the rest of his life, or at least until something better comes along.

Those of us who are merely parents of social network users often find it difficult to understand its power. In my son's circle, Facebook IS the Internet. It's where every online session begins and ends and where important social connections are made and nurtured. That's why strategic investors such as Microsoft, Google and others are said to be giving Facebook as much as a $10 billion valuation (see previous coverage here).  

All this has enormous implication for every retailer and service company on the planet. It amplifies word of mouth exponentially. Remember the old adage that every disappointed customer tells 10 people about their problem. With the instant broadcasting capabilities, an unhappy customer can now share his/her thoughts with 100+ Facebook friends with a single click (note 1).  

And it's not something that is 15, 10 or even 5 years away. It's happening today. Case in point: this summer HSBC (UK) was forced to reverse a policy change that would have ended a common perk for U.K. student banking accounts, a multi-year grace period for overdraft credit lines with limits up to US$3,000 (see HSBC student page here).

Local students were so taken aback by this change in account terms, they formed a Facebook group called, "Stop the Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off" (here or see screenshot below). Apparently the group was planning to rally its 5,000 members into a little civil disobedience. The group was hoping to cause customer service headaches by flooding the bank's branches, and overloading teller lines, with student customers asking for detailed explanations of the new fees.

According to news reports (here and here), the bank quickly backed off the rate change and reverted to the liberal interest-free borrowing guidelines.

Implications
You should be using, tracking, analyzing, and brainstorming about how to tap social networks for sales, marketing, service, and recruitment.  

Note:

1. And the simple click-and-complain activity can be broadcast to every friend before the disgruntled customer has a chance to cool down (and/or sober up) and think through the issue in a more rational way.

HSBC Joins the U.S. High-Rate Savings Account Race

Hsbc_us_highrateHSBC’s U.S. unit launched a 3.50% APY savings account that competes directly with ING Direct (currently 3.30%) and other high-rate financial institutions. The rate is featured in an eye-catching red box smack dab in the middle of HSBC’s homepage (click on inset for a close-up). 

For more information on high-rate savings products, select Checking & Deposit Accounts from the navigation in the right-column of this newsletter. Also, read our latest Online Banking Report devoted to the subject, Lessons from the High-Rate Marketers (OBR 120/121).

Update 9/1/05:
The rate was raised to 3.75% today vs. 3.30% at ING Direct

JB

Financial Institutions with the Longest Online Archives

In the most recent issue of Online Banking Report, we outlined an important competitive feature going forward: online archives.

We sampled 50 financial institution websites and found the longest archives as follows:

Statements – 24 months at The Whitney Bank
Transactions – 58 months at ING Direct (since inception of the bank)
Images – 84 months at E*Trade Bank

Frost_logoWe’ve just been alerted that Frost Bank has real-time statement archives dating back to 1997, a full 100 months and counting. That’s nearly 5 times the length of our previous front-runner, The Whitney. And effective July 17, Frost will also have 18 month image and transaction archives, double the average length of our sample banks.

Finally, if you sum the archive length across all 3 types, Frost’s 136 (11 + 18 + 18) is the clear winner. Runner-up is E*Trade at 126. No one else is higher than 70.

Keep those cards and letters coming. Email me if you know of anyone who has longer archives than those listed above.

P.S. Another one we got partially wrong: HSBC provides 24 months of archives for deposit products and 12 months for credit cards. We reported 12 months for all.

JB

HSBC Right-Sizes Website Fonts

Hsbc_fox_utility_boxDo you get complaints that the copy on your website is too small?

First, make sure that you have not disabled the customer’s ability to control font size from their browser toolbar. This allows your savvier customers to easily change font sizes whenever necessary.

However, for the rest, who haven’t a clue that it’s even possible to change font size, consider adding a utility to your navigation menu that automates the process.

HSBC’s UK website features the above utility box on most interior pages, with the exception being the homepage. Not only can users easily increase/decrease text size (note the use of user-friendly language), they can also print the page or click through to the customer service contact center (itself a model of user-friendliness).

JB