By Martin Hesse and Given Majola
South Africans generally do not view their banks favourably, but a survey shows that banks that engage better on social media are rated higher than those not keeping pace with digital communications.
This is according to the 2021 South African Banking Sentiment Index by social media analytics company BrandsEye, which surveyed social media posts pertaining to banking, giving a street-level assessment of what South Africans think of their banks.
In its sixth year of producing the index, BrandsEye collected over 2.7 million posts on social media, news sites and other online platforms about South Africa’s eight major banks, from the beginning of September last year to the end of August this year. The company analysed some 500 000 posts, initially establishing a post’s overall sentiment (was it positive, neutral, or negative about the bank?) and then delving into details on channels and products used and service received. It also assessed posts on the Treating Customers Fairly (TCF) outcomes prescribed by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA).
“Public net sentiment” was the overall customer satisfaction metric, calculated by subtracting all negative sentiment from positive sentiment. “Operational conversation” refers specifically to feedback about the customers’ experience of business operations, and “reputational conversation” reflects online press coverage, marketing efforts, and publicity generated by social responsibility efforts.
Overall, as in previous years, the banking industry experienced more negative sentiment than positive on social media, resulting in public net sentiment of –7.5%. But the industry appears to be slowly improving its image, having bettered its overall rating for a second year in a row.
Absa came out top at 0.2%, seeing the greatest improvements in overall public net sentiment. Despite an increase of 1.3 percentage points, FNB still found itself with the lowest net sentiment across the board, at –18.4%. Discovery logged an 11 percentage point increase in public net sentiment from its 2020 figure to come in at –11.4%.
BrandsEye business development director, Lyndsey Duff, said that advancing in the index ranks proved more difficult this year. “Absa, Nedbank, and Discovery Bank all surpassed Standard Bank, which declined by only 1.4 percentage points in public net sentiment," Duff said.
In terms of reputational sentiment, one of the new banks on the block, TymeBank, scored highest by a large margin. The digital bank leveraged social media influencers as brand ambassadors to drive positive content, boosting reputational sentiment by 3.8 percentage points and securing third place overall in the 2021 rankings.
Banking customers posted about 189 000 priority Twitter posts more than last year, representing 28% growth in service conversations, indicating an increasing demand for social media customer service across the industry.
The index suggests, however, considering that many posts (57%) went unanswered, that South African banks still have a way to go in meeting the growing social media service demands of customers. Duff said: “Banks have yet to effectively handle the growing volume of service requests on social media. Service-related requests spiked in 2020 as a result of Covid-19, but have continued to increase throughout 2021.”
When measuring social media posts against the TCF outcomes prescribed by the FSCA, Brandseye found that half of sentiment-bearing conversations had a conduct theme.
“With the Conduct Standard for Banks having come into full effect from July of this year, South African banks are required to enforce the TCF principles across multiple areas of market conduct, or risk facing hefty fines,” Duff said.
Absa retail and business bank managing executive for customer value management, Christine Wu, said Absa acknowledged that more can be done and they were working hard in this regard. "Over the last year, we have significantly enhanced our social media servicing capabilities and have created innovative social media marketing campaigns (which have won several marketing accolades). We are looking forward to building even stronger relationships with our customers on social media as well as all other channels," Wu said.
The bank said that it was delighted that its ongoing efforts to streamline and improve engagements with customers on social media had culminated in the bank taking the top spot in the latest index. She said that the recognition was a solid foundation to build on as it continued to implement its “closer to customer” strategy.
"Our strategy is premised on best-in-class customer experience across all channels. This investment has already yielded tangible improvements in our customer experience scores. From a strategic perspective, social media allows us a meaningful platform to engage our customers about our products, services and banking platforms."