Banks shouldn't act 'cool' with Gen Y consumers

Web 2.0-savvy youths don't want banks to be their friends on Facebook, finds new survey which highlights mobile phones as key access points for banks to reach out to digital natives.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Generation Y users prefer their bank to fulfill its core functions rather than be "friends" on social media platforms such as Facebook, according to a new survey, which highlights mobile phones as digital natives' key access points for banking services.

Gen Y consumers want their financial services provider to be reliable and trustworthy, and "do not want their bank as a Facebook friend or try to be cool", said Graham Brown, cofounder and partner of research firm, Mobile Youth.

Youths also expect banks to be accessible and offer guidance for them to make decisions, added Brown, who revealed these findings from a global survey conducted by Mobile Youth and software vendor Oracle, during a Webcast last week.

"All I want to do is pay in money and draw it out. At the end, the bank is a bank," he said, citing a quote from a respondent.

Hence, he noted that banks are mistaken if they think they can be relevant to Gen Y customers by "being cool" with them at their level. He compared this to how parents befriend their kids on social networking sites such as Facebook.

Relationships youths have with their banks are similar to that with their parents, Brown said, adding that this parent-child relationship provides insight into what banks should not do with their young customers through social media.

"It doesn't mean that the parent is irrelevant in their lives because they don't talk or dress like them," he said. "[Gen Y users] want the bank to be there in the background. On that basis, we have to be careful that banks don't try to be relevant by being cool, but be relevant with the right approach."

Bianca Koh, a 23-year-old sales executive based here, concurred with the survey findings. In a text message interview with ZDNet Asia, she said: "Banks should definitely not try to act cool because 'seriousness' actually works for them and one is able to associate trust with that."

Koh added: "If banks go all cool, it brings down the image that they can be trusted with your money."

Mobile access to be "new norm"
According to Brown, youth is a key market for banks. Over 2.6 billion people in the world today are aged below 30, he said.

Ultimately, what Gen Y consumers expect of their banks will redefine the "new normal" on how banks operate their services and handle customer relationships, he said.

"Young people have a pattern of discovering new methods, after which older generations later catch on and outnumber them," he added, and noted that one key aspect of the "new normal" was increased accessibility through mobile devices.

"For youths, it is normal to access the bank through the mobile phone", Brown revealed. This is in contrast to older generations, for whom the phone is seen as an inferior alternative to retail banking, he added.

Young consumers do not expect banks to be "exciting", he noted. They want basic functions to be done uncommonly well, he said, pointing to the ability to check account balances anytime on-the-go, or receiving text notifications whenever their account runs out of money.

"The small things, when done uncommonly well, can have a big impact", Brown summed up.

The mobile is also "the quicker win [and the] easier way" for banks to build a two-way dialogue with young people, compared to traditional advertising or forms of customer service such as call centers, he said. The latter channels of communication are not as effective with this particular generation as compared to their predecessors, he added.

Brown noted that youths gravitate toward other methods of accessing their bank such as online banking, and want a richer environment when they do so via their mobile. Rather than organizing offline advertising campaigns or hiring spokespersons, banks can tap mobile platforms to better market their services to Gen Y consumers, he added.

26-year-old teacher, Diana Tay, said in a text message interview that she dislikes the "inconvenience of going to the bank to queue and wait", preferring instead to access banking services online via her laptop. Asked if she would use the mobile phone, Tay told ZDNet Asia: "Only if it was urgent and necessary because of security concerns".

The Mobile Youth survey's findings corroborate with an earlier report by Firefly Millward Brown which highlighted that companies are still struggling to use social media effectively to connect with customers.

In addition, the report stated that consumers want to be engaged in dialogues and two-way conversations with companies on social networks, and do not want companies to use social networking sites as a marketplace to hawk goods and services.

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