Indian banks testing social media waters

05 September 2012

NEW DELHI: Financial services providers like ICICI, Citibank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are attempting to leverage social media in India, while addressing consumer and in-house concerns about this channel.

ICICI, one of India's biggest banks, already boasts a Facebook app allowing clients to view their account details, check statements and upgrade their debit card, among other activities, but still maintains a cautious attitude to social media strategy.

"The customer is also much more engaged with us. He is willing to interact more and it is up to the banks to use this," Abonty Banerjee, head of digital channels at ICICI, told Livemint.

"But sometimes we get carried away ... social media does not work in isolation," he added. "One must be very clear as to what spaces one wants to occupy ... You just don't want to end up answering complaints because it is not the only objective."

Citibank has been another early adopter of social media. It gathers insights from Facebook fans, asking them to identify appropriate sites to locate ATMs, but still believes in holding a balanced approach.

"Banking is not the safest thing and we should not get carried away by ... social media; to take banking all the way there does not make sense," said Sridhar Iyer, the firm's director of digital business. "We need to understand the mood of the customers and how they operate. This is the way to go."

According to Pinstorm, the digital marketing group, there are over 30,000 mentions of Indian banks online each day. While 50% of this activity occurred in working hours a year ago, that total now stands at just 15%.

"It is important that we listen to everything that is said and figure out if it is a service issue or a non-service issue," said Mahesh Murthy, Pinstorm's chief executive. "Secondly, one should profile those customers who are happy with you and those who are not, and what the bank learns from it."

Aruna Rao, executive vice president of Kotak Mahindra Bank, similarly argued that social media is reshaping consumer behaviour and offers particular opportunities to engage young shoppers, but must be managed well.

"As far as risk is concerned, it is not customer risk but our ability to strategise well," he said. "About 67% of the new project spends are invested in new media and we have to be very careful as to how we make these investments."

Despite the obstacles, Sanjay Sharma, managing director, IDBI Intech, a unit of IDBI Bank, suggested that the next five years would bring seismic change.

"I think everything will turn digital. We will only be talking about how to make this medium better," he said. "A large number of people who are coming to banks are users of the social media channel. They need personalised solutions and you cannot offer that without using digital technology."

Data sourced from Livemint; additional content by Warc staff