Social Media in Financial Services...What The (Financial) World Is Waiting For?

As an ex communications bod for 2 of the UK's largest financial services providers, and now CEO of a social media agency this post is especially interesting to me. We always used to talk about 'value' for our members, and in today's uncertain banking environments 'value' can take many guises'; clear communications, rapid and personal customer service and general industry insight all add value to a businesses proposition. Add to that the fact that advertising new rates, new products and new services becomes free across many social networks, and would help to recruit a younger generation of saver who could be with their chosen bank for a lifetime (admittedly there are regulatory factors to consider here), and it becomes a compelling proposition.

...My final point is around the AGM which is so important to a members focused business: Many people can't be there in person but still have a huge interest in business direction. Quite often votes are cast, and opinions garnered at AGMs. Social networks such as Twitter could facilitate further participation and inclusion for these events (as in the examples of TED conferences), and again add further member value.

But don't take our word for it, here's a powerful case study from across the pond. My thanks to Putman Investments for the insight.

"We can't get into social media, blogs, Twitter, and the like because of the regulations in our industry."

Nonsense. There is nothing in the RegFD, SOX, or any other regulations that say you can't communicate. What's operating here is fear. It's fear of the unknown and fear of being first.

So it is with excitement that I can report on what Putnam Investments is doing in social media. Putnam Investments is a global money management firm with over 70 years of investment experience. Mark McKenna, Managing Director of Communications at the firm had this to say...

Putnam works with a content agency to help Mark formulate his high-level strategy. They also work together on the individual strategies for Putnam's content platforms.

Putnam was very early to the Internet according to Mark. For example, the firm was the first in the space to allow financial advisors to go onto the web and do transactions (that was back in 1995 and 1996). Now they are early again with Putnam's CEO Bob Reynolds @robertlreynolds being the first CEO in the mutual fund industry on Twitter.

Mark McKenna (L)

The Retirement Savings Challenge

They are also early with a Putnam blog The Retirement Savings Challenge that does not promote the company's products. Instead it is built to start a conversation about America's workplace savings plan because the team at Putnam believes it can become a more reliable savings foundation for the nation's retirement system. The blog delivers information to show how public policy needs to improve.

"We're proof that the SEC and FINRA have created broad guidelines and it is up to the industry to work within the guidelines to make social media work for shareholders," says Mark. "It's another media that we all have to learn. Some people were slow to the Internet and I see similar patterns with social media adoption where the power is underestimated."

Mark sees a revolutionary change occurring in the mutual fund industry right now. "Our industry is good at putting content onto our own sites, but bad at putting content beyond our own dot.com site and onto other places around the Web," he says. "At Putnam, we no longer think that our dot.com site is the center of the universe. We need to break down the walls and provide content in lots of different places. Long gone are the days when we just put out a press release or gave an exclusive to a reporter. Now journalists are looking for stories. So getting content onto blogs, Vimeo, Flickr, Twitter, and many other sites is the way we're going."

Mark sees the transition as going from what he calls an Enable Strategy (trying to be the premier destination site) to an Influence Strategy (distributing Putnam content across the internet). "It is an opportunity to create content and have it make its way from our site and if we get lucky it makes it onto the CNN Money, Forbes.com or the WSJ.com, and more," he says. "That's much better than advertising. Relevant frequent, high quality content is what will get eyeballs, not focusing on your big web site."

Now landscape on the web is changing. "The shift occurring with content is much like when people realised that the earth is not the center of the universe," he says. "Other firms are uncomfortable with the idea that they need to be more open and honest. But that's what this space requires. If you embrace the notion of being fully transparent than social media helps fulfill that philosophy."

Much of the credit for the early adoption comes from Putnam's CEO Bob Reynolds. "Bob is one of the first to recognize that that we need to get our content out there," Mark says. "When he wanted to get on Twitter, we shut the doors with the lawyers and said let's figure out how to do this. What we do is have a compliance person see a tweet before it is posted. But Bob has quickly become tuned to 140 characters and what he can say from the regulatory point of view. He's the first CEO in the mutual fund industry to be on Twitter @robertlreynolds, it's is a great place for him."

So if you're in the financial markets, stop making excuses. You can do it too. Send a link to this post to your bosses.

Paul Shepherd

I've worked in digital communications for around 15 years, and specialised in social media for the past three. Passionate about new technologies, media, and the impact it has on businesses bottom line, I try to bring that passion to every campaign for every brand we work with.