The Aging of Facebook Makes it a More Appealing Platform for Financial-Services Firms

Facebook traffic from comScoreDue to Facebook's roots as a college-only social networking site, as recently as last year you had to use a .edu email address to gain admittance, it has remained a young person's playground much longer than MySpace. However, much to the chagrin of my college-age niece and her friends (note 1), Facebook has aged rapidly this year.

As you can see in the inset, in May, comScore reported that more than half of Facebook visitors were 25 or older (see full press release here and note 2). Using this chart, we estimate the median age of a Facebook visitor was about 23 a year ago and now it's closing in on 30 (I'd guess 27 or 28 based on the comScore data). Even more frightening for the younger set: last month there were 2.6 million more unique visitors over age 35 than in the 18-24 category. We noted this trend at MySpace last year (here).

Significance for Banks
As you consider your social networking strategy, don't think it's only for the under-25 crowd. Some of your prime customers, the 30-somethings with new families, new cars, new homes, and accelerating careers, also keep in touch with friends via social networks. Refer to Online Banking Report, Social Personal Finance, for a long-term forecast and strategic options for financial institutions. Also, see our earlier post on the Top-10 Banking & Money apps on Facebook here.

Facebook Lingo Defined
For those of you new to Facebook, Ad Age ran a sidebar off its lead article this week, This 23-Year-Old has Google Sweating, explaining a few key Facebook terms:

  • Minifeed: Like an RSS feed, that automatically updates everyone on your friends list of any changes you make to your profile, including removing items. This feature caused a bit of a revolt, due to privacy issues, when introduced last year. But now it seems to be an important part of the network. It's especially critical for the viral spread of new applications such as Lending Club or Chipin. Unless they opt out, every time a Facebook user adds an application to their account, all their friends are notified in the mini-feed.
  • Poke: The virtual equivalent of smiling at a co-worker passing in the hallway; a way to connect with someone without the more formal protocols of email, text, or voice messaging.   
  • The Wall: A place to write comments on your friends profile, or respond to comments on yours.
  • Tag: Allows users to associate names with the people in the pictures they've posted. As Ad Age says, "a college grads worst nightmare when it comes to the ever-crucial job search."


1. This summer, my niece, a college sophomore, couldn't believe that I had a Facebook account. And she was more than a bit skeptical of my claim that I was tracking the social network for my blog and newsletter. To her, it's a privileged place for her friends to communicate: uncles, aunts, and especially parents, are definitely not on the invitation list. It will be interesting to see what happens to the hip kids as the establishment invades their turf. The Wall Street Journal had a similar story this week about fellow workers and even bosses requesting to be added as friends in social networks (here).

2. comScore is reporting the demographic profile of visitors, NOT the active-user base, i.e., those that maintain profiles. Active users would undoubtedly skew younger.

PayPal Launches on Facebook: Who Wants to be the First Bank?

The social networking phenomena has entered a new phase: eCommerce. It has always been a bit hard to visualize mainstream businesses, like banks, book sellers, or phone companies making a profit on MySpace. It's been a great place for musicians and online dating companies to grab market share, but a MySpace Checking Account didn't seem just around the corner (see MySpace coverage here).  

All that changed May 24, when Facebook opened its network to outside developers, making its service more like Windows than MySpace. Already the service has grown by 3 million users, more than 10%, in the past 4 week, to 27 million (see Facebook profile in today's Wall Street Journal).

More interesting are the 893 new services have opened their doors on the platform. The most popular, Top Friends by Slide, already has 6.4 million users. Yes, that is no typo, in one month a Facebook service grew to more than 6 million users. With traditional marketing, it would have cost a bank or card company as much as $1 billion to attract that many customers assuming acquisition costs of $100 to $150 per new account. 

And it's not just the one app. A new Seattle-based music preference service, iLike, has added 3.8 million. There's not a whole lot happening in commerce apps YET, the first financial company with a service offering, Lending Club (see previous coverage here), is the most popular business app, with just under 10,000 users. That's about what iLike attracts in a busy hour, but for a financial services company, and especially a startup, that's huge, a grand slam using tired baseball metaphors.

For many reasons, it takes longer for traditional companies to pounce on new opportunities. But over the summer we'll start seeing hundreds of businesses launch on Facebook. By next year at this time, the Facebook apps directory will probably look like the New York City Yellow Pages (or at least San Jose).  

Financial Institution Opportunities

Searching the site, we only see four financial services that have launched on Facebook:

  • Lending Club's person-to-person loan marketplace
  • Prosper's lending game
  • Wesabe's personal finance groups
  • Pay Me, a payment service developed by Australian Ad Agency, Yellow Media using the PayPal engine (screenshot below, we'll provide more details once we finish testing it)

But so far there is no:

  • Bank
  • Credit union
  • Credit card issuer
  • Mortgage lender
  • Brokerage (although there are several stock monitoring service including Forbes, Yahoo, and Social Picks)
  • Rates tracking service
  • Credit report monitoring service (though Identity Guard is advertising heavily today)
  • Identity theft protection service

Let the race begin. But you better move faster than you've ever moved before, if you want to get the huge first-mover advantage on the Facebook platform. Good luck.

For more information, see our latest Online Banking Report, Social Personal Finance.

Pay Me on Facebook using PayPal

UK’s Co-operative Bank Goes Green at MySpace

Link to Co-op Bank's MySpace page Until this week, we hadn't seen much worth writing about on MySpace, other than Cassie's page, an avatar from Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island (here). A few dozen credit unions have posted pages that range from tolerable to atrocious using the same free tools that 16-year-olds favor. A clear recipe for mediocrity. 

But last week, UK's Co-operative Bank <> posted an excellent page that reinforces its reputation as a good corporate citizen (screenshot below). There's an interactive poll about automobile taxes, a CO 2 emissions calculator, some videos, wallpaper downloads, and the usual MySpace stuff. And to drum up friends, an important measure of success on MySpace, the bank will donate 20p to The Children's Society for everyone who signs on. So far its raised about US$20 with 48 friends. But the number is growing quickly; in the last 12 hours growing more than 50%, from 31 friends to 48.

The MySpace URL uses the company's tagline:  <>. The bank chose Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi as its background music, an appropriate selection. 

The Cooperative Bank's MySpace page

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 <>, 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

Lower East Side Federal Credit Union to Embrace Web 2.0

According to Web-design firm Trabian <>, one of its clients, Lower East Side People's Federal Credit Union <>, is redesigning its website to include many so-called Web 2.0 features including RSS, blogging, and integration with the photo-website Flickr and, 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 Uwcu_rssfeed_menuCanada, Vancouver's North Shore Credit Union <> now publishes rate updates through RSS (see above), and Madison, WI-based UW Credit Union <> 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 <> which posted account information online in 1994 and Boeing Employees Credit Union <>, 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)


  1. 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 <>). To prospective customers over 30, it looks rather silly. To those under 30, I suspect it looks incredibly lame. 
  2. According to Seen Creative Group's <> Nick Adams, a Web 2.0 look includes "large fonts, lots of white space, and big shiny buttons."
  3. See also, Banking the MySpace Generation, (NB Mar. 16)

E*Trade on MySpace

Etrade_myspace_ad1_1 E*Trade is running a clever teaser advertisement on MySpace today. The 200 x 175 pixel ad in the right-middle area of the user's homepage asks, "Are you willing to accept a $1.50 fee to see this ad?" (click on the inset right for a closer view).

Etrade_myspace_ad_1Choosing "yes" results in another screen saying, "Are you sure?" while selecting "no" yields a "Good." Either way, a pitch for E*Trade's ATM rebate program is the final screen (click on inset left for a closeup). Users clicking through end up on the landing page shown below.

Etrade_myspace_landing Analysis
Although it took me a moment to figure out the premise, that a $1.50 fee to view an ad is as absurd as paying that to use an ATM, it's a clever campaign. The company is sure to get good click-throughs, at least on the teaser ad. Whether the company signs up enough good checking accounts is another matter. But if you are courting young online users, you must take a look at MySpace (see
NetBanker March 16


Banking the MySpace Generation

Myspace_logoThere are 63,198,783 members in MySpace as of 9:45 am Pacific Time today. Even if you subtract 25 million or so phony entries, you still have a vast audience, making it the fifth-most popular place online (trailing only Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, and eBay).

And it’s not all teenagers. According to the member search, there are 1,054 male and 634 female members aged 45 to 50 within five miles of my Seattle home. Of course, in the same vicinity there are 2,958 22-year-old males and more than 3,000 females of the same age (search results stop after 3,000 hits), so it definitely skews younger.

Financial institution opportunities
Forget about the over-30 crowd, you already understand what they need. But what about the younger group, the 21-and-over post-college crowd just starting jobs and beginning a 70+ year stretch of consuming financial services. What do they want in a bank?

Ultimately, they want what their parents want: safe storage of funds, convenient payment alternatives, access to substantial credit, and fair prices.

So far nothing new here. But how you attract these young consumers will be very different than how you acquired their parents. For example:

  • Branches will have far less marketing impact: This is probably the biggest difference from past generations; that good-looking branch at the corner of First and Main will NOT automatically get you a 25% share of new hires in your neighborhood. Today’s new college grad is much more likely to do a Google search on "yourtown banks," check out your website, and if they like what they see, sign up for an account. Your branch network will only be an afterthought; nice to have, but not a key part of the decision.
  • Website must be clean and fresh: Since your bank’s first impression will come from its online presence, you must keep investing to ensure a website, and features, that at least match the competition. You don’t let your landscaping go to seed in front of the branch, so why would you not tend your website in the same careful manner?
  • Electronic communications channels: How does a 22-year old want to communicate with his/her bank? Think instant messaging from the PC, text messaging from the cell phone, and the ability to post questions for peer response. Email is also important for less timely information exchange, such as daily statement summaries and other account updates.
  • Intuitive online products: Anyone under 25, who’s come of age in the Internet era, expects to handle routine matters online. From a bank, they expect simple and instant funds transfer and bill payment to anyone at any location, including account-to-account transfers. They want plastic for purchase (primarily debit) and a reasonable line of credit backing their checking account. They expect online archives measured in years, not months.

A note on pricing
Like their parents (and grandparents), they don’t expect to pay much, if anything, for these services. Free non-interest checking will continue to be required, but add-on fees for premium services should be acceptable. They will also be less price-sensitive for revolving credit, so position that 15% overdraft line of credit as a major part of the business case. 

Advertising at MySpace
That brings us back to MySpace, a surprisingly non-commercial site at this time. But we expect that to change slowly over time as its owners, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which paid $580 million for the site last year, work on ways to make a return on that investment.

Myspace_greenday_searchThe company is currently earning revenues from a single banner across most pages, a few smaller ads in certain areas such as Films, a large ad near the top of each member’s home page, plus Overture-served keyword ads for its site search and Web search (click on screenshot for a closeup of the search results page for the band "Green Day"). The site also has a classified section that looks a lot like Craigslist, but is sparsely used, at least in the Seattle area.

For financial institutions, the main opportunity is traditional banner and display advertising. Today we saw banners from LendingTree, E*Trade and H&R Block (and AARP, was that a mistake?) But there is likely room for at least one or more financial institutions to strike deals with the company to become a preferred provider of banking services, with a premium position within the site, perhaps on the main navigation strip (think Amazon tabs), or in some yet-to-be-conceived commercial spot within the social networking site.