RSS, Blogs, AJAX, Podcasts, Wikis, Toolbars – these are the basic elements of Web 2.0, which is the popular name given to the collection of technologies that underpin the next dot com wave. Web 2.0 is typified by user-generated content. Leaders in the Web 2.0 era have focused on providing the platform into which their visitors have contributed most of the content. For example, Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org) is a free encyclopedia where users contribute and rate each other’s articles; Flickr (www.flickr.com) allows users to share, search and find photographs, and You Tube (www.youtube.com) does the same thing with videos. User-rating is becoming very popular in publishing, going by the runaway success of the technology article portal Digg (www.digg.com).
Barring the few exceptions of financial institutions like UBS and Dresdner Kleinwort who have used RSS technologies to distribute research to clients, Web 2.0 technologies have so far not made too many inroads into business applications, whether in BFSI (Banking, Financial Services & Insurance), or in other sectors. However, all that is about to change. Gartner has recently called banks and financial institutions to use more Web 2.0 technologies in their IT applications. A recent report from the leading IT analyst notes that engaging with customers through call centers and via Internet campaigns is no longer sufficient. It recommends that banks adopt Web 2.0 technologies and applications in order to provide personalized service to customers.
We can expect Web 2.0 applications like RSS, Corporate Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, Toolbars and AJAX to feature more prominently in the application portfolios of banks and financial institutions, especially for customer-facing applications like Internet Banking, Online Stock Trading, Research, Electronic Bill Presentment & Payment, Remittance, and so on. Banks and FIs can use a combination of Blogs, RSS and Toolbar technologies to communicate more proactively with their customers. They can use a blog (derived from web log) as the mechanism for publishing details of new products and services, research updates and changes to policy. Using RSS (Really Simple Syndication), they can create regularly updated information feeds. Through Toolbars, customers get to notice such updates even if they don’t visit the bank’s websites.
Let’s take one example to see how all of this will work. I recently created a web toolbar with three RSS feeds: one for home page stories in digg, the second for updates of my blog (called Talk of Many Things hosted in my personal website www.sketharaman.com), and the third for article updates on my employer’s website (www.iflexsolutions.com). You can download and install this toolbar into your own PCs by clicking on the DOWNLOAD FREE TOOLBAR link on the lower left hand side of the homepage in www.sketharaman.com. The toolbar looks like this:
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After installing this toolbar in your PC, you will find that it appears just below the browser’s search box. For example, in my PC, it appears just below the search box of Internet Explorer.
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The “Talk of Many Things RSS feed” notifies toolbar users every time a new blog is posted on the sketharaman.com website, whereas the “i-flex Article Update” RSS feed alerts them to any new article published in i-flex’s website. This happens automatically whenever toolbar users surf the Internet for any reason including, say, to check their webmail. They do not have to visit either sketharaman.com or iflexsolutions.com websites to get these notifications.
Now, let’s say a bank creates a similar toolbar featuring RSS feeds. When customers install this toolbar on their PCs, they will receive automatic notifications from the bank whenever they are online, without visiting the bank’s website or placing a telephone call to the bank’s call center. You can now easily imagine the power of Blogs, RSS and Toolbar technologies in communicating with customers.
Greater power to communicate with customers using Web 2.0 technologies could also have an impact on the customer engagement levels. In the Web 1.0 context, a customer has to specifically remember to visit a bank’s website. With Web 2.0, a customer checking her webmail over the Internet could per chance notice in her toolbar an interesting update in the bank’s RSS feed viz. an increase in term deposit interest rates. This could prompt the customer to visit the bank’s website even though she had no prior intent of doing so. As a result, banks and financial institutions could see significantly higher levels of customer engagement as they accelerate the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies into their customer-facing applications.