On Friday, October 28, 2011, Bank of America officially raised the white flag when it announced that it would exempt certain customers from its previously announced five dollar debit card fee. After severe criticism in the traditional media and especially social media, Bank of America announced that customers with direct deposit or Bank of America credit cards would not be assessed the five dollar fee. It is quite a win for consumers and a major setback for Bank of America's retail strategy team.
Just a month ago all the major banks were talking about recouping revenue through some form of fee on rank-and-file customers. However, in the wake of the severe backlash not only has Bank of America changed its tune but so have Wells Fargo Bank and JP Morgan Chase.
This American Autumn that was initially sparked with the birth of Occupy Wall Street, has taken to social media and has broadened its breadth and scope, resulting in an initial win with the withdrawal of Bank of America's debit card fee strategy.
Such an attempt 10 years ago would not have resulted in such an outcome. However, with social media's immediate and widespread impact, banks must now consider The Social Media Effect when devising corporate strategies. This is something that Bank of America failed to do. And it was evident on their own Facebook page, where complaints went unanswered by Bank of America.
As a long time banker I have always included "reputation risk" as one of the risks evaluated from time-to-time. However, as most bankers will tell you, this was always one of the lesser risks. As bankers we focused most of our energies on credit risk, interest rate risk, market risk and compliance risk. Now we must elevate reputation risk to the top tier thanks to social media.
The smaller the bank the less likely the bank is to register on the radar. Regardless, a community bank's reputation can be easily and quickly tarnished if "conversations" are not monitored and if banks fail to consider the Social Media Effect within the context of reputation risk.
So my advice to bankers in light of Bank of America's recent debacle is:
1) Utilize a form of social media monitoring. Whether it is something as simple as Google Alerts or SocialMention. And ensure that individuals within the organization are tasked with responding to comments in order to attempt to prevent a snowball effect that may create significant harm.
2) When developing strategies, do not fail to consider The Social Media Effect. A poorly thought out strategy can lead to severely adverse outcomes resulting in a loss of reputation and customers.
3) Include The Social Media Effect within the organizations crisis response plan.
While I do not believe that the "mob effect" will dominate all of the conversations within the banking industry, or any industry, for that matter. I do believe that we have reached the point where The Social Media Effect must be taken seriously.