LONDON: Banking brands around the world have proved slow to leverage social media, although operators like the Royal Bank of Scotland, ING Direct and Westpac are progressing in this area.

KPMG, the business services firm, spoke to leading executives about their engagement with social platforms. "The widespread consumer adoption of social media is hard to ignore," David Sayer, its global head of banking, said. "But retail banks seem to be lagging behind."

However, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK-based financial group, now utilises social media as a listening channel, to help with customer service and as a means of soliciting suggestions from web users.

"We see social media as much more than a simple marketing tool," said Tim Oakes, senior manager, service, analysis and reporting at the Royal Bank of Scotland. "It is also an unprecedented opportunity to listen to our customers, improve our service and rebuild trust."

ING Direct, headquartered in Amsterdam, has always kept single, unified records about every account holder globally, thus preparing the company well for certain challenges of the digital age.

But the firm believes further work is needed to exploit all the possibilities offered by social media, from customer relationship management (CRM) to determining possible sales events, like when a user gets married.

"Targeted sales pitches, cross selling of services, effective customer support, even applying CRM capabilities .... all require significant changes in banks' technology infrastructure and related processes and controls," van Beurden said.

The Westpac Group, running an eponymous retail bank in Australia and New Zealand alongside the Bank of Melbourne, St George, BankSA and BT, has allowed its various units to take a flexible approach.

"We recognised early on that it would be important for each of the brands to develop their own social media strategy in a way that made the most sense to their particular business," said David Bell, general manager, corporate affairs and sustainability at The Westpac Group.

In China, the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank has also actively embraced the chance to gain consumer insights and customer feedback on their experiences and potential new products.

"More than a dozen Chinese banks ... are now active on social media" said Xie Hong, the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank's, general manager of its mobile finance department.

"However, Chinese banks are also keenly aware of the risks involved in participating in social media. As a result, the use of social media in domestic banks is still in trial mode."

Data sourced from KPMG; additional content by Warc staff