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Politics & Money

Will mortgage lenders get the social thing in 2011?

It was interesting to see Danielle Kucera’s story in The Washington Post the other day. This Bloomberg reporter was asking why brokerages weren’t using social media more often to interface with the wealthy clients they hope to attract. The article covers all the standard excuses. In the end, it is pretty clear that these firms should be using new media tools to get more business. If it is true for firms that cater to the wealthy, it is even more true for banks who target the millions of soccer moms and recent college graduates who need a relationship with a bank. I’ve been saying that mortgage lenders should be leveraging LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for a long time now. But many have been held back by a misunderstanding of the tools, fear of what an employee might publish on such a site, and lack of clarity regarding financial services regulations. At least that’s what they’re saying. I think most are holding back because they don’t know all that much about forging real relationships with their customers. What does it really mean to have a relationship with your bank? Millions of Americans who fell behind on their credit card or mortgage payments in 2008 and 2009 found out exactly what that means, and they didn’t like it. Perhaps that is why most lenders have stubbornly resisted the move into social networking, where consumers swap stories about what they love and hate about the companies that serve them. But sooner or later, lenders who are serious about originating a significant volume of new mortgage loans are going to have to go where the customers are, and that’s online, and I’m not talking about the company’s million-dollar retail lending website. I’m talking about the place people go to ask their friends who they should be working with. In her story, Kucera cites a study performed by New York-based wealth marketing firm HNW, in which it found that nearly half of the financial advisers aren’t sure where new media tools fit in with their other marketing strategies. It’s actually worse than that. They don’t even know what department should be handling it. Is it marketing or public relations? Should it be handled by the guys who built the website? Is this an investor relations thing? Less than 10% of these firms have a separate line item in their budgets for social media, according to HNW. I have yet to meet a lender who does (OK, so they don’t show me their budgets but I bet it’s not in there). Finally, 60% of the firms HNW surveyed said that they consider themselves social media novices, which suggests that 40% think they are doing pretty well. They’re not. As far as I can tell, they don’t even have their toes in the pool yet. They’re not routinely monitoring the Web for social media mentions of their companies, brands and executives. They’re not providing easy, social-media-powered methods for customers and prospects to interact with them or comment on the service they have received. They’re not being proactive in starting and then participating in conversations about issues that are important to the consumers they serve. There are some who believe financial institutions will begin to get it next year, and that will open up a whole host of problems for them. Internet Identity is a firm that helps companies secure their Internet presence. Each year, the firm offers a list of top enterprise security trends for the coming year. At the top of this year’s list: Bank-oriented Social Networking Attacks. It makes sense. If you know a bank has opened up a social media channel to interact with customers, why not hack into the channel, pretend to offer some assistance and scoop up some information that will allow you to empty the account? It will happen. What’s worse than that (for those not directly impacted by this type of fraud) is that it will serve as just one more excuse for banks to use to avoid putting forth the effort to build real relationships with consumers in the way more consumers will be building relationships in the future. Rick Grant is veteran journalist covering mortgage technology and the financial industry. Follow him on Twitter: @NYRickGrant

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