As if financial institutions don’t already have enough to do to keep up with developments in social media. They must clearly outline company policy to employees concerning what should and should not be posted, inform agents of the regulatory do’s and don’ts, and continually scan the internet to respond to comments about their brand. Now, it is clear that they must also guide customers about the appropriate and inappropriate use of social networking when dealing with fiduciary transactions.

As usage grows, requests to employ social tools as the main communication tool between customers and their financial providers will also increase. For example, Bank of America now offers a Twitter feed to their customers as a first point of contact. Customers tweet their inquiries, complaints, solutions, etc. and these are transferred to the BOA customer resolution system at a call center. A customer service professional asked me about this recently, “How does the bank prevent customers from tweeting their account number?” My reply? “They can’t.” Last week, I was speaking with one of the largest disability insurers in the U.S. and found that their claimants are asking them to track their recovery on Facebook. To paraphrase the question received from a client: “I am keeping my family and friends updated on my progress by posting on Facebook. Can’t you just follow along?”

These are only two data points, but I suspect there are many more. Customers need their awareness raised about what information should be protected when communicating with a bank or insurer. These institutions have been dealing with privacy and confidentiality protection for decades, but usually in a context where the conversation is more controlled and private. With the broadening use of social networking for operational processes, companies must explain and remind their customers of the sensitivity of data.

I took a look at the Facebook walls of ten U.S. financial institutions and noted that there was no mention of do’s and don’ts or reminders to safeguard information on these front pages. There were plenty of contests I could enter, and a few postings on positive service experiences, but no tips on how to keep financial data safe. There were mentions of confidentiality and privacy on some Info and Guideline pages, but these are the domains of attorneys and dedicated research analysts – not likely where John/Jane Q. Customer is going be.

As social sites become more “operational” in nature, highlighting this issue in high profile places such as the main wall will be necessary, but not sufficient to protect customers from themselves. Look for leading companies to aggressively coach their customers and prospects on how best to use social tools when posting/tweeting/blogging on the same valuable real estate that they now reserve for marketing messages.

This blog has been reprinted with permission from Celent.

Mike Fitzgerald is a senior analyst in Celent's insurance practice, and can be reached at mfitzgerald@celent.com.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Mike using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

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