How a 1920s court case still influences the use of social media in the UK

How a 1920s court case still influences the use of social media in the UK

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Financial services firms are a regulated industry, and so the way they can use social media is much debated and disputed. But alongside FSA compliance issues, the use of social media by the industry is often influenced by a much older ruling. From a case that was in the courts in the 1920s, not necessarily where one looks for guidance on how to use social media as a brand.

In 1924 the case of Tournier vs National Provincial and Union Bank of England, the bank disclosed to Tournier’s employer that one of his unpaid cheques had been drawn on a bookmaker’s account. He subsequently lost his job. The case that followed established the conditions under which banks owed confidentiality to their clients. And as a result, Britain’s banks have to be extremely careful about any activities that identify somebody as their customer.

This has translated to social media and caused some financial services firms to be circumspect about any activities that identify somebody as holding an account or investment with them. The impact on social media can be huge. Just responding to somebody in social media as a brand can appear difficult – does this act confirm that somebody is a customer and does this contravene the case law established in the 1920s? For many firms, this leads to shy away from any comment which directly refers to the customer’s own account – even if the customer has mentioned it.

This, of course, is problematic. It means that customers are talking about their experiences with the financial services firm – perhaps their problems of things they would like to see changed – and getting no response from the firm they are talking to. Or from the firms they hope will listen to and respond to them.

Consumer behaviour is changing and we are beginning to expect that brands will engage with us wherever we are. They should answer the phone when we call, respond to emails we spend, and talk to us in social media when we talk about them. By not engaging in these conversations, financial services firms risk just looking odd and peculiar, Because most consumers do not know about the case with Tournier almost 90 years ago.

The best banks are those who are exploring how they can use social media to talk to customers. Directing customer service questions to other channels, but engaging them directly, talking to them about financial and lifestyle matters, answering questions that are not about specific account questions and helping them to navigate better their way to pensions, savings and responsable borrowing.

Financial services products are typically ones that people can find difficult to engage with and understand. Social media is a great way to engage people and to help them to be more informed and responsible about their own finances. Letting case law from the 1920s impact how you use social media as a brand can appear odd but is something that financial services firms need to overcome if they are to engage profitably with people in social media.

Photo credit: Lunar Justice by stevec77