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Thursday, 24 June 2010

FSA social media review reveals misunderstanding of the medium

Last week the FSA produced a paper on the use of social media by Financial Services companies. The paper was an analysis of 30 Facebook and Twitter accounts held by different organisations - both big and small - across the sector.

The FSA stated that when financial services firms do ‘make use of new media as a platform for advertising they must make sure that the information stays accurate and relevant’ and does not go beyond ‘image advertising’. It was also keen to point out that the guidance around promotion of product applied in new media in the same way they do to other mediums.

However, reading the contents of the report is a little worrying. The paper has the feeling of a holding position for the FSA, while they get closer to and start to understand the medium and how best to approach its regulation.

The focus on Twitter and Facebook is the first alarm bell. Considering the wealth of sites out there that can be considered social the task of assessment is going to be enormous. The second was the use of the word advertising. This suggests a misunderstanding of the social web as a conversational medium. The third and somewhat more worrying alarm bell was a statement that appeared on OUT-LAW asked the FSA 'if promotions on Twitter that provide a link to further details are likely to fall foul of its rules on stand-alone compliance. An FSA spokeswoman said 'the FSA would not be prescriptive on that point''.

There are similar vague responses to the specifics of how regulation would apply in the medium. Overall there is an overarching feeling that Providers and IFAs are going to be left to interpret the regulations themselves. In an industry that has such stringent compliance procedures this position could very effectively dampen the growth of use of the medium for all but the most confident of companies. In a context where no regulation has been specified firms could take the view that it's simply too risky to enter the arena, or moreover social presences will become stiff broadcast mediums entirely unsuited to the new conversational online world.

The FSA needs to quickly get up to speed on this issue and offer much more specific guidance. This doesn't need to be a huge tome, in fact I'd suggest anything but, but it does need to provide examples of good and bad practice.

Maybe radically it could convene a loose working group that could help shape its approach to regulation in the medium. I know Teamspirit would certainly be keen to get involved in that. So how about it FSA? I'm having to ask you here because I couldn't find you on Twitter.

Crispin Heath
Head of Digital

Monday, 14 June 2010

Is sharing purchasing behaviour a step too far?

A new invitation only Beta was launched last week for Swipely. From the introductory video it looks strikingly similar to Blippy. Both services are essentially set up to track our purchasing behaviour. As a user, you choose the vendors you wish to add to your profile - mostly online currently, think Amazon, EBay and iTunes - then each time you make a credit card purchase that information can be shared online with friends, selected associates or with the entire world if you wish.

Along with location based applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla these online services are the latest attracting ‘why would you want to share that information?’ type attention, just as Facebook and Twitter have in the past. However, arguably, sharing purchase information or location information is more valuable to your friends and followers than updating your Twitter or Facebook profiles.

Let’s face it, you’re either a person who shares or you’re not. Even if you’re a person that shares, it doesn’t mean you have to share everything and all these services allow you to select what you choose to share, or not. The point with Blippy and Swipely is that by sharing your purchasing behaviour you potentially reveal far more about who you are and what your preferences are, than if you share your thoughts on Twitter and Facebook. So, if you’re interested in building a personal brand, as a opposed to a public image, these services start to become essential.

From a business perspective, this type of purchasing information becomes invaluable. For years now the large food retailers have built huge levels of data about their customers’ buying habits, and with it they’ve built strong relationship-led businesses. Services such as Blippy and Swipely potentially offer the same level of personalisation to financial services companies. Certainly credit card companies will be hugely interested. However the opportunities for personal finance products are potentially huge and who knows, as the services mature more structured products could start to become contenders.

Crispin Heath
Head of Digital

Monday, 7 June 2010

RDR: Simplified Advice

With a mooted 30 million UK adults beyond the scope of full advice (consumers with less than £257 a month to save can’t be economically served by full advice) and only 18 months to go until final RDR implementation the industry got together to ask “ where on earth are we?”. After a spot of good old show and tell from the ABI, KPMG, the FSA and several providers, here’s the consensus…