How Innovative is First Direct’s UK-First Innovation Lab Based on Crowdsourcing?

First of all, it is always with great excitement that I review any new first direct initiative in the digital engagement space.

In the last three years, unarguably first direct has been one of the most active financial institutions in the UK in social media with a social media newsroom, mylittleblackbook – a recommendation sharing site -, talkpoint – transparent customer feedback on their site -, a youtube channel, a twitter account (@first_direct, in the top 10 twitter accounts in the UK)… A few fews ago, they launched a facebook page and since today the first direct Lab is now live.

Nevertheless I must admit that my expectations being so high with fd, I’ve always found myself a bit disappointed and wanting more engaging, and market leading, social media initiatives from the country’s most recommended bank: I’ve always believed that with their fantastic brand asset and unique level of customer advocacy, they had to do better than their current focus on PR and marketing.

Today, at last, first direct launches a more engaging and meaningful social media initiative. They became ‘the 1st bank to embrace crowdsourcing‘. That is in the UK. Basically, they launched the 1st version of their first direct lab whereby they invite UK residents to share their thoughts and suggestions on various services and products. Please note that the topics go over and beyong fd’s banking products and services: they also cover ‘more exciting’ topics, like on their facebook page: today the bank invites you to share your thoughts on Pizza Express’ iphone application…

Before I share my thoughts on first direct’s strategy in the social media space and my initial comments on their latest innovation, let’s have a closer look at the Lab.
Please find below an extract from the official press release:

“Launching today, first direct Lab is a social platform that will be populated with content every month such as product designs, service innovations and website concepts.”

Paul Say, first direct’s head of marketing“This is about changing the way people interact with banks by giving them a stake in some of the products and services that allow them to manage their personal finances.”

Three Key Sections
The Lab is divided into three key sections:

Live tests
At launch, first direct posted four key topics:
* QR codes,
* Redesign of its homepages (prospect + client)
* First direct Lab
* Compare Mortgages App

Tried and tested
As you’d expect, there is nothing in this category yet.

Your suggestions
This is an open area where people can leave their suggestions, by the look of it, any kind of suggestions. Just like fd’s talking point, the data is uncategorized.

How it woks
Anyone can leave a comment. At that time, you don’t even have to create a profile or enter any personal information such as your email address, your age range or confirm if you are a fd customer or not.

FirstDirect-Crowdsourcing-Labs-ModerationAs expected, entries are moderated. I’m not sure how quickly first direct plans to publish the comments.

The bank will only ask you to enter a username and a message of up to 200 words.

At 2:25pm GMT, apparently 25 comments “have already been left across the site” (I’m not sure they are all public or going through the moderation process). I could find 6 entries in “your suggestions” and already one response from the fd team.

My Take
Over the last 21 years, fd has been used as one of the best examples all over the world by pretty much every single 100% direct banks like Australia’s UBank or Italy’s Webank. I strongly believe first direct should be a leader in the innovation space, including social media, and not a follower.

LloydsTSB-InterviewAnd in all fairness, the most loved UK bank is the defacto leader in social media in the country. But this is mainly due to the slow adoption by the banking industry.

I invite you to watch my video with my ex-colleague Katie Birch, Senior Manager Social Media at Lloyds Banking Group last week on that topic.

Overall UK banks have been busy focusing on getting rid of their internet legacy systems and haven’t really started to leverage social media in a truly meaningful way. Except for Lloyds TSB, which achieved a lot in the last 12 months especially in the customer support space on twitter with their award winning @LloydsTSBOnline, there is not much to write home about. Of course, you find quite a few social media campaigns such as Santander Students or HSBC Students both on facebook, and other banks like Barclays has been busy gearing up and creating a framework for its 20+ twitter accounts and many other facebook pages and apps…

the Visible Banking Team is now tracking in the UK financial services industry over 50 facebook pages and apps (1000+ globally) and close to 100 twitter accounts (1,550 globally).

MetroBank-VideoReviewEven the newest players like the fresh and cool Metro Bank which even one year after launch hasn’t started yet to embrace social media and teach its competitors how to be transparent and engage with the market on twitter or facebook (please watch my video ‘UK Metro Bank & Social Media: a Match Made in Heaven, you’d Think…’).

VB-Video-CrowdsourcingSo how innovative is the first direct lab? Quite innovative in the conservative UK market. But I invite you to watch my recent video on crowdsourcing and Innovation Labs to give this initiative some global perspective.

You are looking for market leading innovation in crowdsourcing in banking? Check out webank’s wepad project or Danske Bank’s Idebank app on facebook…

Having said that, first direct is the 1st bank in the UK to embrace crowdsourcing, so kudos to Paul Say and his colleagues as well as Matt Colebrook, who is still first direct CEO until the end of August.

I can’t wait to find out how much emphasis Mark Mullen will put on the Lab, which could potentially potentially fits nicely at the centre of fd’s customer centric strategy.

This is an excellent move from first direct. And what a timing: I’m going to Leeds the day after tomorrow to record a couple of video interviews withPaul Say and Natalie Cowen, Head of Brand and Communications. Stay tuned on Visible Banking!

My wishes for the coming months: a best-of-breed customer support service on twitter and facebook, and customer reviews on their prospect site.

Working Together
We at Visible Banking would be delighted to help you and your team better UNDERSTAND and LEVERAGE social media in a strategic yet pragmatic way.
So please don’t hesitate to call me, send me an email or DM me (@Visible_Banking) to book a meeting and talk about twitterfacebookcrowdsourcingcustomer reviews, social media & social commerce in banking, financial services and insurance.

What do you think?

Written by Christophe Langlois

Based in London for almost a decade, Christophe is an entertaining fintech marketing keynote speaker and a trusted advisor to the global financial services industry on the topics of digital marketing, innovation and B2B social media.

Christophe has contributed to over 140 events in 18 countries.

Currently, Christophe is advising a number of fintech startups on marketing and growth hacking and he is the Chief Marketing Officer of The Fintech Power 50, an exclusive annual programme helping fintech scale-ups to accelerate their growth globally.

Christophe's views on are his own.

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