New Online Banking Report Published: Connecting to Customers with Twitter

obr 166_167 front page We just uploaded our latest Online Banking Report.
It will be mailed to subscribers next week. It’s also available online here. There’s no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately
for US$595.


Connecting to Customers with Twitter
The comprehensive guide to Twitter for financial institutions

84 pages (published 25 May 2009)

Twitter is everywhere these days (note 1). Those who use it think it’s the best thing since the invention of email. Those who don’t, think it’s just another Internet fad, enjoying its 15 minutes of fame before flaming out with only a Wikipedia entry to remember it by. 

imageThe reality: No one knows exactly how it will play out, but it’s something likely in between those two extremes.   

We are not surprised Twitter has taken off as a social connector. It’s a lot like other extremely popular communication methods: email, texting, and instant messaging. The rise of MySpace, Facebook and other social networks has paved the way.

image However, what’s surprising is that Twitter is actually a surprisingly effective, and extremely cost-effective, way for companies to engage online with customers and prospects (see Wachovia example in the inset).

Numbering more than 200 in the United States alone, there are already more financial institutions using Twitter than any other so-called social network. Most have started in the last month or two (see previous coverage). 

In this report (abstract), guest author Jeffry Pilcher (note 2), a branding and marketing guru who recently launched his own brand consultancy, ICONiQ, tells you exactly what you should and shouldn’t do with Twitter. He was an early adopter of the tool, and an expert on harnessing its power.

The report includes:

  • An overview of Twitter terminology and how the service works
  • Advice on how to develop a successful Twitter strategy and
    avoid common pitfalls
  • Explanations and examples of the different ways
    financial institutions are using Twitter 
  • A step-by-step guide on how to implement a Twitter strategy
    and navigate the “Twittersphere,” including explanations of
    how to create and customize a Twitter profile and presence

1. USA Today even had a story on the front of the Money section two weeks ago, entitled, “Banks try social networking, jump on Twitter wagon

2. Jeffry Pilcher blogs at The Financial Brand and frequently tweets here. He maintains a comprehensive listing of banks and credit unions on Twitter here.

Merging Online and Offline Channels via Twitter

image I’ve gradually come around to Twitter as both a communications and research tool. A year ago it could have been dismissed as a niche platform for a few hundred thousand hyper-social geeks. But now that adoption has tipped, with 14 million users last month (see chart), the power of the network is opening up new opportunities.

My favorite: Tweeting bakeries (note 1). A British company, Poke, has developed a little box that sits behind the counter at a bakery.  Whenever a new batch of rolls or pastries is ready to serve, the baker turns a dial to the specific item and presses a button. That automatically sends a pre-programmed Tweet to the bakery’s followers. It’s called, appropriately, BakerTweet.

Bank opportunities: Unless you merge operations with a bakery (maybe not such a bad idea), financial institutions have nothing nearly as exciting to Twitter about. However, there are useful items a branch could broadcast to its followers:

  • When the drive-thru lane was empty (or vice versa)
  • When branch queues have disappeared (or vice versa)
  • When platform officers are available
  • When specific specialists are available in the branch (e.g., home loan officer, small business banker, investment specialist)
  • When certain popular employees are working (could be tweeted to just the followers of that person)
  • Branch special offers
  • Local community events and specials

And if you really want to gain some global recognition, enable payments for the baked goods via Twitter (see TwitPay). For example, users could respond back to the bakery’s tweet with:

@bakerytweet hold 2 chocolates pay $2.45 via @twitbank

Assuming users were registered at BakeryTweet and Twitbank, that’s all it would take to order and pay for two warm rolls (note 2).


1. Kudos to Springwise for finding this idea here
2. Yes, there are fraud, privacy and reliability issues to work through, but as long as purchases are kept under a certain floor, the exposure would be minimal. 
3. See also the Harvard Business article last week (9 April 2009) by John Sviokla, Twitter: A Marketer’s Duct Tape.

Intuit Uses Real-Time Twitter Feed in Banner Ad on VentureBeat Blog

image Intuit’s TurboTax unit has long pushed the envelope in promoting its brand through social networks. Its Vanilla Ice YouTube promotion two years ago (previous post) is still one of my favorite financial user-generated-content (UGC) promotions.

But UGC promotions take a lot of planning and support, and unless they go viral, they may generate just a few thousand views and little new business (see note 1).

Intuit’s use of a real-time (note 2) Twitter feed in a banner ad (see at VentureBeat, screenshot below) is so much better than a YouTube promo in a number of ways:

  • Much more cost effective: It costs Intuit virtually nothing to post its Twitter stream to VentureBeat (other than the advertising expense). Intuit is already broadcasting on its Twitter channel for other reasons. This is just a repositioning of that content.
  • When Intuit answers a question within its stream (@ replies), it creates moderated “user-generated micro-content.” The newness of the content creates more interest and attention than a static banner ad.
  • The company jumps on the Twitter-bandwagon, a good way to generate press mentions.

Bottom line: This approach works only if you are creating an interesting stream of Tweets. TurboTax, during the early-April tax return mania, is a great example. Other financial companies can mimic the approach, and you’ll probably want to run a contest or do something innovative to keep your Tweets lively. 

VentureBeat home page (9 April 2009)


Landing page at Intuit’s TurboTax Twitter page @turbotax
(link, 9 April 2009)


1. But if you have a huge budget, the payoff can be great. According to Jeffry Pilcher’s Financial Brand post today, Barclaycard’s Waterslide promo, referenced on the UK homepage, generated more than a million views on YouTube. Barclay’s TV ad is here, the YouTube page is here and the Web-based game, here.

2. It’s a “speeded-up” real-time feed. The banner ad cycles through the five most-recent Tweets (all of which were posted yesterday). Each one is on-screen for several seconds, making it look like there is much activity. 

Straight out of Twitter: BillMyParents Launches

image I’ve mostly just observed the Twitter phenomenon, following a few people and seeing how banks and credit unions are using it (see my previous post for financial institutions on Twitter). However, I’d not fully embraced Twitter either as a publishing device or research source. The 300 or so RSS feeds, emails and news items that cross my desk each day seemed like plenty of intelligence to sift through.

But now, I’m reconsidering my priorities after learning about an interesting new alt-payment company BillMyParents from Twitter activity (see notes 1, 2).

How it works: BillMyParents is a new service from IdeaEdge’s Socialwise (press release). The service is primarily designed for kids to shop online. They select what they want, then at checkout, redirect the bill to their parents via an email alert to PC or mobile phone. Parents login and complete the payment process at their convenience using MasterCard, Visa, Discover Card (no American Express; see third screenshot below). Card info can be stored for one-click future approvals.

The company charges a $0.50 transaction fee for each purchase. But like PayPal, the real money will be made when the company pushes purchase transactions through the ACH system.  

Currently, BillMyParents is selling prepaid gift cards from its site as a proof-of-concept. I tested it yesterday and everything seemed to work as described (see second screenshot below).

The opportunity: The service reminds me of the unmet need that PayPal filled nine years ago. Purchasing at eBay was a major hassle due to the lack of online payment capabilities. Kids have similar problems when trying to buy things online.

The service could also be adapted to other situations where one party does the shopping but wants someone else to authorize payment such as small businesses, nannies, or even spouses. It could also be used for extra security when the shopping is done in a non-secure environment such as public terminal and payment is redirected to a more secure device, such as your mobile phone.

Like any alternative payment, BillMyParents requires the merchant to add the option to its ecommerce platform and consumers to set up accounts. Both of those are time-consuming and face the chicken-and-egg dilemma, i.e., it’s hard to attract merchants without a substantial user base while its difficult to add users without merchants.

Bottom line: This is a winning idea. The massive discretionary purchasing power of teens and pre-teens is a tempting target in this difficult retail environment. And financial institutions, or their payment partners (e.g. Visa, MasterCard), looking to differentiate themselves with the youth market, could jumpstart the program. Or more likely, PayPal and/or Amazon will dive in, either acquiring BillMyParents outright, or building their own version(s).  

BillMyParents homepage after setting up an account (26 March 2009)
Note: Split login screen for kids (left) and parents (right)


Proof-of-concept: Gift card purchase (26 March 2009)


Parent’s approval screen (26 March 2009)


1.  Thanks to Frederic Baud (@fredericbaud) who was the first in my network to Tweet about BillMyParents; and to Glenbrook’s Scott Loftesness (@sjl) who’s retweet is actually what caught my eye.

2. BillMyParents appears to have grabbed its Twitter page name (@billmyparents), but it’s not yet active.

Banks and Credit Unions on Twitter

image If you haven’t been following Twitter the last few months, you may not realize it now has almost eight million monthly unique visitors according to Compete. That’s almost double the traffic it had just two months ago and a nearly a nine-fold gain from a year ago.

To put that traffic in perspective, it’s more than half that of the NY Times and slightly more than banking giant Wachovia (see Compete chart below).


Banking activity
Financial institutions are pretty new to the micro-blogging platform. In a search today, we found 15 U.S. banks and 22 credit unions with active Twitter feeds (see notes 1, 6-8). There were also and nine international banks for a total of 46.

See the table below for the non-inclusive list ranked by number of Twitter users that follow the bank’s feed (note 2). Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo), the only major bank that has promoted Twitter on its main website, leads with 2,000 followers (see previous post on Wachovia’s foray on to Twitter).

Participating in Twitter is a low-cost entry into social media that can actually help save a customer relationship or three. Compared to blogging, it is much less labor intensive. It’s also less of a marketing platform given the 140-character limit in posts. But in the current environment, perhaps less truly is more. By all means, find a gung-ho Facebook devotee in your bank and let him or her get you into the Tweeting game.

Table: Banks and Credit Unions using Twitter (updated 16 March 2009)

Name Twitter URL (4) Updates Followers
1. Wachovia (Wells Fargo) /wachovia 257 2,058
2. Bank of America /bofa_help 557 1,486
3. Wells Fargo (3) /wellsfargo 4 548
4. ING Direct (6) /ingdirect 50 451
5. North Shore Bank /northshorebank 194 319
6. MSU Federal CU (7) /msufcu 180 270
7. Chase /chasebank 11 260
8. Pioneer Credit Union /pioneercu 225 251
9. 1st Mariner Bank /1stmarinerbank 140 227
10. Group Health CU /ghcu 353 219
11. GLS Bank (Germany) /glsbank 279 204
12. Brewery Credit Union /brewerycu 65 194
13. Bellco Credit Union /bellco_cu 67 192
14. Banco de Chile (Chile) /bancodechile 175 181
15. First Federal /firstfederal 89 177
16. Oklahoma Employees CU /oecu 14 148
17. CU Credit Union /mycucommunity 73 147
18. Allegiance CU (7) /allegiancecu 29 141
19. Heartland CU (7) /heartlandcu 33 125
20. Hopewell Federal CU (7) /hopewellfedcu 74 122
21. Tech CU (7) /techcu 62 115
22. Ubank (Australia, 8) /ubank 151 113
23. Banco Sabadell (Spain) /bancosabadell 2,272 111
24. FORUM Credit Union /forumtalk 19 97
25. Citibank /citi_forward 16 96
26. Fidelity Bank /fidelity_bank 11 92
27. Northeast Bank /northeast_bank 5 84
28. Banco Popular (Puerto Rico) /mi_banco 15 65
29. U.S. First Credit Union /schecking 43 61
30. Oklahoma Central CU (7) /okcentralcu 5 60
31. First Arkansas Bank /fabandt 27 59
32. SEB Bank (Germany) /seb_bank 37 59
33. 66 Fed Credit Union /66fcu 8 47
34. Telesis Credit Union /telesiscu 18 46
35. University CU (7) /universitycu 18 46
36. Nicolet Bank /nicoletbank 15 43
37. Chesapeake Bank /chesbank 8 41
38. Libra Bank (Romania) /librabank 14 38
39. KU Credit Union /kucreditunion 8 32
40. TwinStar CU (7) /twinstarcu 19 32
41. Capital Credit Union /captialcu 7 30
42. NW GA Credit Union /nwgacu 18 30
43. Banco de Guayaquil (Ecuador) /bancoguayaquil 77 28
44. COP Credit Union /copcu 7 26
45. Webster Bank /websterbank 3 20
46. Friesland Bank (Netherlands) /frieslandbank 8 10

Source: Online Banking Report, 13 March 2009 (see notes 6,7,8)

1. To be considered active, the bank or credit union had to have set up a Twitter account, customized it with its logo, have made more than 1 update or “Tweet,” and have at least 10 followers. 
2. This is not a complete list. With a few exceptions, we only looked for financial institutions with “bank” or “credit union” in their name.
3. Wells Fargo’s Twitter page says it will be launching soon.
4. Twitter URL =<shown below>
5. For more on bank blogging, see our Online Banking Report on Banking 2.0
6. List and totals updated with ING Direct and First Federal on 16 March 2009
7. Searched on “CU” and found eight more credit unions on 17 March 2009. Thanks Gabriel Garcia.
8. Added NAB’s Ubank from comments, unsure why it didn’t show up on “bank” search

E*Trade Casts a Wide Social Net to Support the "Baby" Campaign

image In my pre-Super Bowl post about E*Trade’s “baby” franchise, I wasn’t aware of several other ways the company is using social media to increase awareness:

  • Baby’s Twitter page (screenshot #1 below and note 1;): This is a new effort launched Jan. 22, the same day the 2009 outtakes clip was released into the wild via YouTube and press release. The baby Tweeted a few times on the days leading up to the game, and a few since, but the funniest part was the 26 game-day Tweets that actually incorporated real-time events into the script. There are only 650 followers today, but that’s up 150 since Monday morning  not a bad start for a low-cost marketing tool. 
  • Baby’s Facebook page (screenshot #2 below): Also launched around Jan. 22, the E*Trade baby Facebook page already has 3,825 fans. The commercials are posted along with a photo album. 

The E*Trade homepage has also been used before and after the game to take advantage of interest in the baby ads. The baby dominated E*Trade’s homepage the day after the big game (see screenshot #3 below of the Monday morning homepage). 

Lessons for financial institutions
You don’t have to be a Super Bowl advertiser to use social media to support your advertising campaigns. Banks and credit unions of any size can use these relatively low-cost tactics.

Here are the eight key support elements to consider for your next campaign:

   1. Press release
   2. Blog entries
   3. Facebook page
   4. Twitter stream
   5. YouTube page
   6. Homepage placement
   7. Landing page
   8. Google keyword buys (see screenshot #4 below)

1. E*Trade baby Twitter page (link, 3 Feb. 2009)


2. E*Trade Facebook page
(link, 3 Feb. 2009)


3. E*Trade homepage the morning after Super Bowl XVIII
(2 Feb. 2009)


4. E*Trade is running Google ads on searches for “etrade baby”
(3 Feb. 2009, 6PM Pacific)


1. Thanks Jeffry Pilcher for the Twitter tip.

2. See our Online Banking Report: Bank 2.0 for more ideas.

Wachovia’s Initial Foray into Social Media is Impressive, Now Twitter That

Link to Wachovia Twitter page Taking a page from Wells Fargo’s playbook, Wachovia has ventured into social media, giving Twitter a try (see screenshot below and previous Twitter coverage here). The bank has sent 94 updates (aka Tweets) via its Twitter page since it began Aug. 18 and has amassed 340 followers.

But more importantly, they are leveraging the minimal customer-support expense to support Twitter (see note 1) with a nifty badge on its Contact Us page (see inset and screenshot below). That little bit of online marketing, demonstrating the Web-savviness of the banking colossus, is probably worth 1000x whatever goodwill they earn actually talking to customers via Twitter.

Wachovia Contact us page with Twitter badge 17 Sep 2008

I’ll admit, I was expecting the usual corporate marketing-speak. But Wachovia is actually using the medium very well. So far, the bank has provided a realistic mix of low-key promotional items such as the following “Ike update” with real customer service response (see second example below).

Example 1 (earlier today): Promotional Tweet today mentioning the bank’s Hurricane Ike response with link to more info, e.g., <>: 


Example 2 (this morning): Responding to a customer complaint: 


This last message is directed back to a customer who posted a complaint about Wachovia in his public Twitter stream. Wachovia could have sent it privately, but they elected to respond publicly.

This is surprisingly bold, considering that the bank risks elevating the issue. For example, anyone following Wachovia’s updates can click on bastille71’s username and see that she is upset about a $250 overdraft charge. It’s unlikely anyone outside bastille71’s friends would have known about that had Wachovia not responded publicly via Twitter.

Twitter user bastille71 But anyone who really believes in social media will argue that the bank has far more to gain by demonstrating real commitment to solving customer problems.

Looking further at the above example, bastille71 (inset) has 135 followers on Twitter, her own blog, and who knows how many friends on Facebook. What are the chances that if Wachovia ends up refunding her $250, bastille71 (aka Miss Rehobeth) will write it up in her blog, Twitter it, and even talk about it with her co-workers and friends? 

And if you need more ROI than that, Wachovia has already received a good payback on its Twitter investment (note 1) with a nearly full-page article in American Banker last week during an otherwise not-so-positive news cycle for banks. In addition, the customer service innovation made several blogs and of course the bank’s been Twittered about in a positive way.

1. There’s no real cost to using Twitter other than staffing it with a social-media-savvy customer-service rep and someone in marketing/PR to look over his or her shoulders. 

Wesabe Adds Twitter Integration for Account Updates

imageWesabe’s latest feature, the ability to update your account via Twitter, isn’t likely to find too many users in the short-term. However, it’s a great marketing move that could see a fair amount of uptake over time (see note 1).

Although there are less than 2 million Twitter users, the company is currently white hot, one of the most talked about Internet companies (see Google trends below, which shows Twitter search volume is 7x or 8x that of “phishing“). So why not draft off Twitter’s hype, as long as it’s not too costly?

How it works
After logging in to Wesabe and providing your Twitter name, you then simply send a private or public message (aka Tweets) to Wesabe’s Twitter account. Wesabe then adds the expense to your cash-tracking account. You can include merchant name, expense categories, and descriptions to the transaction (see examples below).

Most common: Update via private message (no one else will see)

Private Twitter message to Wesabe

Less likely: Update via public message
(your friends will receive it, and if you have an open feed, anyone could see it)

Public Twitter message to Wesabe


Google Trends for Twitter vs. phishing (9 Aug 2008)


1. Updating accounts via text message and email has much wider appeal. It’s one of the recommended items in our personal finance feature set. See our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features for more info.

Quicken Loans is *Really* Using Twitter

imageLast week, I may have jumped the gun when I thought I'd found a bank using Twitter (post here). It's pretty apparent that E*Trade is not officially involved with that Twitter account.

But the ever diligent Ann-Marie Murphy was quick to add to the comments that her company, Quicken Loans, is *really* using Twitter to support its Quizzle personal finance site (see Quizzle coverage here). Beginning Feb. 22, the mortgage lender has posted 52 updates through last week (those would be called "tweets" if you are a real geek). That's about one per day, a good steady flow, without inundating the follower. 

Here's Murphy's rationale for using Twitter:

We've found it to be a great way to chat with our site visitors, get honest and helpful feedback to make the site better and give interesting home-related tips to followers. I especially like the instantaneous feedback. Ask a question, get a bunch of answers from folks who enjoy helping others.

Now this is what a real Twitter update stream looks like, complete with custom design. Nice.

Twitter page for Quicken Loans

E*Trade Bank Posts Savings Rates on Twitter

imageI was searching Twitter today to see if any major brokerages were using it to reach out to customers. The only hit was E*Trade which is using Twitter to update its Complete Savings Account rates. It seems to be coming from the bank, but it's possible someone else, perhaps an employee or fan, is responsible for the two entries: the first on March 12 announcing a 3.45% yield and then on April 1 when the rate dropped to 3.01% (note 1).

Regardless of who's responsible, it makes sense to use the new channel for outbound communications. If nothing else, the 90 seconds spent creating those two entries have already generated a favorable mention in this blog. 

For those of you not familiar with Twitter, it's a communications tool that allows users to post short (140 characters max) updates about what they are doing, what they are thinking, or anything else. Unless the user chooses to make their updates private, anyone can read them, just like a blog post. That's why Twittering is sometimes called micro-blogging. But it's more like "broadcast instant messaging" for most people who's musing will be seen by just a handful of friends, family and/or colleagues.

For more info from an actual Twitter user, read Ron Shevlin's recent post.



1. I suspect it's an "unofficial" Twitter page because they didn't put APY behind the percentage, although that is spelled out in the short bio section in the upper right, and they are not using the company logo.