New Zealand bank wants to be Facebook friends

ASB virtual branch allows Facebook users to seek financial advice.

A virtual teller greets customers to the ASB Facebook branch.

A virtual teller greets customers to the ASB Facebook branch.

Tellers at ASB Bank in New Zealand are providing financial advice to customers over Facebook and attracting interest from around the globe. ASB opened the world’s first Facebook-based virtual bank branch in September 2010 and soon plans an upgrade to its mobile app allowing customers to send payments direct to Facebook friends.

ASB launched the Facebook branch as a “way for our customers to have real-time secure conversations with our ASB banking specialists,” said ASB general manager brand experience and digital channels, Anna Curzon. The bank hoped to build “strong relationships with its customers” and “be where our customers are,” she said.

Facebook branch customers “can do anything that that they’d be able to do if they called our contact centre,” Curzon told Computerworld Australia. However, if a user wants to transfer funds, the bank teller will forward the customer into a secure node, she said.

“Customers can experience the same level of security on Facebook as they do through our Internet banking services,” Curzon said. ASB has third parties do objective security reviews, she said. “We always treat security seriously, because it’s important for us and it’s important for our customers.”

“We have a lot of Facebook users from around the world who have downloaded the virtual branch app,” she said. Not surprisingly, most are from New Zealand and Australia. The bank gets visitors who are not actually ASB customers; Curzon estimated that about 16 per cent fall into that camp. She declined to provide specific customer numbers because they are commercially sensitive.

To access the virtual branch, customers browse to ASB’s Facebook page and download the ASB app. Customers can then select an available banking rep from a list and start a chat session. The branch is open 8am to 8pm. Monday to Friday and 9am to 5pm. on the weekend.

A “core group” of eight to 10 tellers manages the virtual branch but that can be expanded with demand, Curzon said. “It depends on the particular time of day” or if there is a news event driving people to the bank.

Since launch, ASB has tweaked the user interface of the branch both on the customer-facing side and the backend, Curzon said. “It’s about optimising the experience rather than revolutionising it.”

The internal changes have given ASB staff “a better handle” on how many people want to chat at “at any one time so they can manage the workload,” she said.

In mid-July, ASB plans to add a function to its smartphone app allowing customers to send payments to Facebook friends, Curzon said. The app already allows payments to phone numbers and email addresses.

ASB has made it a point to incorporate social media into its business, Curzon said. “We know that New Zealanders have a real love affair with social media.” As of writing, the bank had 52,864 likes on Facebook and the 5,542 Twitter followers. The company is also on Google+, although only 604 there have the bank in their circles.

Social media and mobile trends have forced banks around the world to adapt their business practices or risk potential customer loss, according to financial experts.

Banks “really have to participate in social [media],” and “build a community through Facebook and through Twitter and really understand the dynamics of social communities,” Curzon said. “Social media opens up the windows into the culture of the organisation … You really need to ensure that you’re extremely transparent with your people and with your customers and that you earn that respect.”

“My challenge to other banks would be, ‘Know thyself, know thy culture,’” Curzon said. “If you’re going to embark on a social media strategy, you have to be prepared to be absolutely transparent, upfront and honest with your customers, and you have to enter into a social relationship with the belief that feedback is a gift – good, bad or indifferent.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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