Re-humanizing banking: making savings social

Banks focus a lot on scale and efficiency. On making financial plumbing work better. And that’s good.

But banks are largely ignoring another source of value: personal connections.

Now, social tools and practices make it practical to “re-humanize banking” – to connect employees to employees, employees to customers, and customers to each other. (In a “re-humanize” series of posts, I’ll be writing about each category.)

“Social saving” is one area where connecting customers to each other can help banks as well as customers.

Here are several examples. Note where the innovation is coming from – and where it isn’t.


Social saving” is broadly defined as sharing a saving goal with your social network and having them help you reach that goal through peer support or contributions.

Perhaps the best example of social saving is SmartyPig: “a free online piggybank for people saving for specific financial goals.”

With an engaging mobile app, SmartyPig makes it easy for users to “add money to an existing goal, make contributions to friend’s goals…and share messages through Twitter and Facebook.”

Where does the money go? Not to your bank but away from it. (“Savings accounts are securely held at BBVA Compass and are FDIC insured.”)


piggymojo focuses on “impulse savings.” (Here’s a nice article on describing the concept.)

When it comes to money, piggymojo aims to “make saving it more rewarding than spending it.” Every time you turn an impulse buy into an impulse save, you text the amount to piggymojo. Then they share it with your savings “partners” (e.g., your spouse) as well as your social networks.

Unlike SmartyPig, piggymojo doesn’t handle your money. They just track your savings and “make it easy for you to transfer your weekly savings to a dedicated savings account.”


Savingspoint “is an online social savings account that allows you to save and contribute money towards savings goals.” You simply share your goals online and with your social networks. Then you give or receive money for things like weddings, college, or fund-raising events.

Like SmartyPig, Savingspoint uses a 3rd-party to hold the funds instead of your bank (“your funds are held by Partner Bank(s), which are FDIC members”) but they charge fees on some transactions.

Banks encourage savings, too. (But they’re not social.)

Putnam, an investment company, takes the idea of impulse savings a step further. Their PriceCheck&Save app lets you scan a barcode, retrieve a price, and (instead of you buying the item) transfer that money to your Putnam 401k account. (To further motivate you, the app tells you how much more you’ll receive every month throughout your retirement as a result of saving instead of buying.)

PNC Bank lets you “Shake the Pig” with its Virtual Wallet. Their mobile app lets “customers…shake device [sic] or tap the wallet to transfer funds from the Spend Account to the Growth Account”

Both of these financial firms want to make it easier for customers to save and increase balances. But they’re missing the social element that provides support and encouragement and makes the whole savings process more engaging.

There’s more. Much more.

All the banks are looking for ways to be more profitable. Instead of a race to the bottom on efficiency (or, worse, adding fees) – instead of just using social tools to generate Likes – they might look for new ways to connect people to increase engagement and create value.

The customer-made videos on SmartyPig’s inspiration page speak to the possible increase in customer engagement. And this quote from a SmartyPig customer speaks to the business threat and opportunity for banks:

“Went to a bank yesterday to open an account. Picked up a magazine while waiting for the rep, saw an article about SmartyPig, went home and opened up my SmartyPig account. Funny how things happen.”

— Susan B. (via Facebook)

Want ROI? Here are 5 places to look for measurable savings

In benchmarking social business programs, I recently met with a company that started their effort more than 3 years ago. Now, more than 20,000 people at their firm were actively using one of the leading collaboration platforms.

“That’s great!” I said. “How much value has that generated?”

The project owner paused.

“Well,” she said, “people seem to like it.”

The ROI of your social business effort should be obvious

These people weren’t stupid. They were smart and generous and genuinely wanted to drive change. It’s just that they were never forced to think through the business value of what they were doing. Or, perhaps worse, they didn’t think it was possible – that social business efforts were somehow different.

Well, social business effort aren’t different. And the good news is that most large companies are so complex and wasteful that, once you start really looking, you’ll see money everywhere.

Here are 5 of my favorites places to find measurable value.

1. Problem resolution times

Larger firms have many people who perform similar jobs but are poorly connected. When you have a problem at work, can you easily tap into the expertise you need?

One of the first social business practices I recommend is to form role-based communities of practice. They make it easy for people in similar jobs to share learning and post problems they’re having.

Community members are eager to help since doing so shapes their reputation among peers, providing greater visibility and access to opportunities. Community managers curate community wins (where members help each other to solve problem more quickly) and, after an independent vetting process, track reductions in problem resolution times. Savings are measured in staff-days as well as losses avoided.

2. Unneeded assets

Firms pay for resources that people no longer need or want but don’t know it. The firm typically has the data – who uses what software, hardware, real estate, market data, phone services, etc. – but it’s all locked up in different golden sources.

Social business platforms make it possible to display all of that data together as part of an employee’s profile and then act on it so you can crowdsource data quality. The savings associated with this one idea could dwarf the spend on your entire social business project.

3. Help desks

How many calls and emails does your IT help desk receive? Your HR department? Your facilities group? These numbers can run well over 100,000 every month.

Yet it’s rare that you need to call a help desk at home. You help yourself.

Social platforms enable increases in self-service by making knowledge bases available as searchable on-line forums. Better yet, they let users rate the usefulness of an answer or add content themselves. So you can measure forum usage while you also  measure the reduction the burden on your help desk for common problems

4. Website customization

The typical intranet is an insidious mess. Content is poorly structured, poorly maintained, and poorly measured. And it’s still costly.

Everyone wants a website, and so internal communications and teams of all sizes spend time and money to create their own. Most standard offerings aren’t compelling – especially if they’re not using a global, modern platform – so money is spent (in hundreds of small slices) to customize the user interface or add functionality. Across a large firm, it can easily be in the millions.

The best social platforms provide a compelling intranet experience largely out of the box. By providing well-designed site templates and reining in development, you can measure a dramatic reduction in customization costs and in time to implement new sites (now largely self-service) while you provide a truly interactive web experience.

5. Project management overhead

There’s a cottage industry of people who periodically collect project status, compile it into Excel or Powerpoint, and email the compiled results to a select audience. This work, typically the purview of your local Project Management Office, is almost all waste.

You can eliminate the bulk of it with well-designed, curated project pages on your social business platform, and let anyone interested in a project subscribe to updates in real-time. You can measure how many artifacts you eliminate – and the associated cost in terms of time, email, and other overhead  – and reduce or redeploy project management resources.

Aim higher (while keeping the investment low)

Is this all that social business can offer? These 5, admittedly mundane, sources of savings?

Your social business effort can and should go beyond capturing administrative saving to truly transform core business processes. But those may take longer to realize or be harder to attribute quantifiable savings. (Was that new sales enablement effort really the cause of additional revenue?)

You help your ROI case by keeping costs low and targeting measurable waste in your firm. Delivering quantifiable savings – and relating the stories of inefficiency behind them – will buy you credibility, time, and more funding so you can go after even bigger gains.

A really, really big idea

(Cartoon by Gary Larson)

Much of what we practice as management today is unthinking and ineffective. And it’s been that way for a long time.

There’s plenty of research to show that the way we recruit people, measure their performance, and promote them are all seriously flawed.

Our budgeting, strategic planning, and other big-company processes – even the ways we organize ourselves – are are so universally maligned as to be comic, inspiring cartoons, TV shows, movies, and even a board game. (“Dilbert”, “The Office”, “Office Space”, and “The Peter Principle Board Game” to name a few.)

They’re funny because they’re true. We’re all going through the same management theater even though we all know it’s not working well.

But it’s not that we’ve been stupid. It’s that we’ve had the wrong model for how an enterprise should work.

What’s wrong?

For the last 100+ years, our model for the modern corporation has been a machine, and all the players in it merely parts.

This has had some upside and, for certain kinds of work, still does. We focused on process, repeatability, and automation. We became much more efficient at making and moving things.

The problems arose when we applied that mechanical model to everything we do in a company.

In applying this mechanistic model, we’ve tried to take the human out of work. We created management processes for everything, organized people into discrete units to implement parts of those processes, and then measured inputs and outputs.

The corporate machine would work well if only everyone knew their part and all the parts were aligned properly,

But we aren’t aligned like cogs. Much of management is about people. And people, to quote Trisha Liu, are “messy.”

What’s possible?

Humanize”, an excellent book by Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, points to another way, “a dramatic shift away from our mechanical model and toward a more human way of running our organizations.”

Importantly, “Humanize” doesn’t preach overhauling everything we do but seeks to complement our mechanical model with a more natural, biological approach to work. To embrace our humanity and create a working environment that’s more agile and self-organizing. One that tries many new things and fails but, in so doing, is more adaptive and likely to survive.

How might we achieve this? What would it look like? Since it’s not a machine, there’s no blueprint. No mechanistic model to try and replicate.

Instead, the authors demonstrate how core elements of our humanity can be applied and used as a latticework – like amino acids in a double helix – upon which a modern business can grow.

What’s next?

Changing our very concept of an enterprise is a really, really big idea. It’s heretical. It goes against everything we’ve been taught. It’s different from what everybody else is doing.

It’s akin to what the first quantum physicists went through – and are still going through – as they overturned centuries of Newton’s classical mechanical model of the universe. From “Humanize”:

“Going against centuries of scientific truth is not easy, even for the scientists who led the way. Quantum physicist Neils Bohr said, “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.” We have collectively struggled to find language that describes the strange reality of quantum physics. One astronomer said “the universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.: Having grown up in a world of machines, we have a hard time figuring out what a thought looks like.”

We’re amazed by possibilities of social media and social business, of re-humanizing businesses. Yet we, too, struggle with language to describe the future of management. And it may take decades for these ideas to evolve and for us to implement them well.

Applying the ideas in “Humanize” is a great first step.

Re-humanizing banking

The only people I trust with all my money are my wife and my bank.

Yet, while I love my wife, I don’t know a single person at my bank.

Despite all its skills and resources, my bank is, for me, just a faceless institution that houses cash machines. There’s no personal connection or trust. No real difference for me when I walk into any of my bank’s branches or a competitor’s.

Isn’t that odd? Isn’t that an opportunity?

Branch of the future(?)

Banks know that things can be different. And several are promoting their version of the “branch of the future.”

The problem is they all seem to focus on the wrong things.

The NY Times, for example, reviewed one such opening:

“[The CEO said] “customers want to be served in a very different way.”

To accomplish that, they, first and foremost, bought many flat-screen televisions.

The new branch features them on seemingly every available surface, including six “interactive sales walls” that take the place of paper brochures. The branch — which has the feel of a chic hotel lobby more than anything else — also features a 24-hour video-chat terminal for customers who happen to find themselves needing assistance from a representative at, say, 4 a.m. on a Saturday.

“We want this branch to be more than just a bank,” [said a head of retail banking]. “We want this branch to be a place where customers view it as a hub, a center of the community, if you will. A place where they feel warm and welcome, that they can come in and experience our free Wi-Fi access.”

That’s the future? Really?

Banks are people, too

Flat-screen TVs and WiFI won’t make a branch a “center of the community.” People will.

Banks don’t have to be faceless institutions. There are 2 million people who work in the top 20 banks alone. And, in all the banks I’ve worked in, it’s the people who’ve truly made those places great.

Banking can and should be personal.

Branch of the future!

The branch of the future should focus on personal connections – on re-humanizing banking.

While “personal banking” has traditionally been reserved for very small banks or very wealthy clients, social tools and practices make it easier to scale a wide range of personal connections.

  • Connections between employees and customers. Using social platforms to build relationships with customers that want them. Complementing the globalized, standardized bank processes with local, personalized advisory services that build trust and engagement.
  • Connections between employees. Cultivating internal communities of practice so employees in similar roles can help each other solve problems and get better at what they do.
  • Connections between customers. Cultivating customer communities to connect customers with similar financial goals and challenges. Enabling customers to help each other by providing the platform, community management, and professional advice.

Yes, there are significant risks and tradeoffs with all of this. Yes, it’s hard.

But, given the amount of money involved and the number of people working with and for banks, the benefits of re-humanizing them are staggering. And well worth the effort.