The growth of the social Web is something that cannot be ignored by banks and should be embraced as a means of connecting with customers, according to first direct CEO Matt Colebrook.
In an article celebrating the direct bank's first 21 years, Colebrook says that social networks and smartphones have given customers a powerful voice, enabling them to air 'gripes' and niggles' with organisations.
However, Colebrook insists this can prove beneficial to banks if they use it to make things better, tapping customer experience to fashion products and services.
"Whether the conversation is positive, negative or indifferent; as bankers, we must act upon it. It's this feedback that will shape the way the industry works," he says.
Last year first direct began trawling the Internet for everything that's said about it online and then feeding the information - good or bad - onto its "live" Web site.
However, people do not just want to air their views, they also want banks to use social media to respond, engaging with them and providing a regular flow of interactive and easily shareable information.
Colebrook admits to initial scepticism about social media, worrying about its "fluffy connotations" and the return on investment.
However, he is a convert and believes "in regards to social media a bank's 'return', shouldn't necessarily be measured only in terms of monetary profits, but instead focused on increases in engagement, awareness and actions".
A recent study from Yankee Group for Siemens Enterprise Communications shows that companies failing to use social media to reach their customers and employees do so at their own peril.
According to the online poll of 750 people, 70% of consumers want access to company experts and support via social media channels and trust company information provided to them via these networks. Nearly 60% feel "company outreach" via social media would improve their loyalty and most also think firms should be monitoring the medium for feedback.
"The channels come and go and the banking industry will have to deal with this, but the real challenge is to understand the social changes," says Colebrook in the Independent. "The erosion of trust in establishment figures, the ease with which communities of likeminded people can coalesce and the urge for people to do so, the technological empowerment of the individual, and the resulting increased expectations. These are the forces which will shape the next 21 years. It's a huge challenge and one to which we fully intend to rise."
Colebrook also referenced advances in mobile telphony, predicting that in the next three or four years, the customer's personal handset will become the predominant channel for banking services.
"The next generation of banking customers view their mobile phone as their information terminals," he says. "A great fact I heard recently was that while most people my age would turn off a light switch with their finger, younger generation more often than not use their thumbs! Think about it."