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Facebook brings the game to legacy banks

The recent news that Facebook is close to gaining a banking license in Europe is an interesting development, and potentially quite a frightening one for the established banks. No longer will banks be able to complain that e-money technology vendors are cutting costs by way of their freedom from proper regulatory scrutiny. Now, Facebook will be play by the banks’ own rules.

However, this does not mean that it will use the same game plan.

Most banks now use social media for marketing and brand awareness. Some banks have gone even further, and Fidor bank’s use of Facebook (setting interest rates according to the number of likes the firm receives, and so on) is not as well known as it should be. However, such innovation remains extremely unusual, and no mainstream bank can match the kind of native social know-how, and expertise in building emotional connections that is second nature to Facebook. Facebook already runs a highly customer-centric business and knows how to focus on its customers’ immediate wants. This should allow it to build market share and awareness much more effectively than legacy banks.

It has taken the legacy banks too long to wake up to the transformative effect social media is having on the way in which consumers interact - not just with each other, but with organisations as well. Consumers now expect the companies they patronise to be part of the same always-on social ecosystem they themselves inhabit. And, while banks ease themselves into the 21st century, the social media game itself is already moving on.

Unencumbered by a legacy infrastructure of branches and aging IT, Facebook could potentially generate a great deal more profit from transaction and payments services than established retail banks.  Indeed, Facebook’s reserves of cash and secure revenue streams mean that it could potentially absorb a loss on services while it establishes itself in the market.

While many commentators have pointed out the potential for Facebook to exploit the remittance market and offer services to unbanked migrant workers in Europe, it must surely have its long term sights trained on established banks. It’s conceivable that Facebook could expand the services it offers to eliminate third-party payment services, and become a one-stop day-to-day financial service for the digital consumers of ten years’ time. In theory, Facebook could allow customers to conduct the majority of their transactions online and through NFC-enabled mobile wallets (perhaps secured by biometric technology), allowing instant, secure purchasing, with as few interactions as possible.  

Facebook also has access to much more sophisticated customer analytics than any normal bank – they even know what their customers like and what they might be willing to pay for. While there are some security implications, data gives Facebook a huge advantage over the established banks. In fact, the company has the potential to become the largest bank in the world, if it can persuade users it can be trusted with the security of their financial data.

Becoming a licensed bank means that Facebook will have to assume the responsibilities of a bank, and guarantee its customers’ money. This should go a long way to building trust and, with its insights into social data and marketing, the company ought to be able to consolidate that position relatively quickly.

Until the established banks become more data-driven – and until they use data to become more customer-centric – then there will always be an opportunity for innovative newcomers to the market. These are not limited to the 'challenger' banks which have emerged over the last decade or so, but now include other service-based companies as well. Its customer-centric ethos makes Facebook well placed to take advantage, and legacy banks should not ignore its moves in their industry. 


Comments: (4)

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 15 May, 2014, 15:08Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Google, Facebook, or Apple will eventually offer online banking services as Moven and Simple have done, and these services are sure to be much easier to use — and more powerful — than what an old school bank could give us. Banks would be smart, King says, to just plug into these services, rather than trying to play catch-up in a race they’re unlikely to win.

Ketharaman Swaminathan
Ketharaman Swaminathan - GTM360 Marketing Solutions - Pune 17 May, 2014, 19:20Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Am I missing the “Sponsored by Facebook” line somewhere? In Why Banks Can't Transform Legacy Applications - Part 2, I’d referred to flawed messaging used to hype the threat to the banking industry from technology. For more reason than one, this post is an example of such messaging:  

FB launched FB Credits with much fanfare a few years ago and shuttered it after a year or so. 

Even when it's encumbered by legacy infrastructure, financial services is the most profitable sector in FORTUNE 500. On the other hand, Amazon, Square, Twitter and other Internet companies are not exactly known for profits.

It's no secret that banks have been making money forever in the credit card business despite their legacy infrastructure. However, with all its spanking new technology, a nonbank darling like SQUARE has managed to bleed so badly in this business that it has to fight off rumors of having to sell itself off to survive.

There’s no law against crystalball gazing but it's another matter when predictions sound like fantasy when set against the backdrop of the woeful performance of Facebook - and other wannnabe bank killers - whenever they’ve dabbled with financial services in the past.

Christopher Williams
Christopher Williams - RTpay - Winchester Uk 19 May, 2014, 14:12Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

It will be interesting to see which aspects of banking Facebook may wish to compete in. It may be solely for card acquiring and other ecommerce payments, reducing clearing costs, but it could be much wider.

The sector which could make the greatest change would be in the granting of credit, essentially taking on the Visa/ MasterCard issuing banks. The consumer knowledge base is something that can optimize value for Facebook, by linking credit facilities with ad revenues in a way which enables a far lower cost base to occur.

The big question, in my mind, is whether they can do it soon enough to get an advantage before Google et al go the same route. In any case, I agree with the author; banks (and card associations) are likely to have some lively competition very soon! 

A Finextra member
A Finextra member 20 May, 2014, 03:50Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

This will be an interesting development for the industry to watch for. There are many product offering wherein the dependability increases with high level of responsibility. FB may be a challenge in cyber world but will take time to emerge as a challenge in physical. Customer verification is also going to be a challenge and many more. I am optimistic and would enjoy this phase.