Date
18 August 2018
Facebook is negotiating with banks for them to join the Messenger app and allow users to gain access to financial information such as credit card transactions and account balances. Photo: AFP
Facebook is negotiating with banks for them to join the Messenger app and allow users to gain access to financial information such as credit card transactions and account balances. Photo: AFP

Should Facebook turn to banks for growth?

Despite the privacy scandal triggered by Cambridge Analytica, Facebook continues to be the main social media platform of internet users worldwide.

It’s probably because Facebook is a habit that is hard to break, and most users don’t want to quit it because they don’t want to erase the thousands of pictures and interactions they have stored through the platform.

Be that as it may, many people are now aware that their personal information, their browsing habits, the footprints they leave online are open for social media platforms and other tech companies to use for monetary gain.

In short, they are now aware that their privacy is at risk whenever they use the internet. And Facebook is the Big Brother behind the computer and mobile screen.

Earlier this week it was reported that Facebook is negotiating with banks for them to join the Messenger app and allow users to gain access to financial information such as credit card transactions and account balances.

Such a plan is likely to raise concern among Facebook users, especially in the light of recent revelations about how the company has been using their personal data.

Banking data is one of the most sensitive of personal data, and any leakage of such information to unauthorized or unwanted parties could trigger a huge crisis of confidence, if not widespread panic.

Facebook, in fact, has partnered with Citibank in Singapore that allows customers to use the bank’s Messenger chatbot to check their balance, report fraud or seek assistance without having to wait on hold if they call the bank’s customer service hotline instead.

That chatbot integration, which has no humans on either end of the line to limit privacy risks, was announced last year and launched this March.

Moreover, Facebook has been working with PayPal in more than 40 countries to let users get receipts for their purchases via the Messenger app.

In Hong Kong, Hang Seng Bank is one of the market pioneers in using the latest technology to reach out to customers. Early this year the bank launched its chatbot on Messenger to interact with its customers, although the service is limited to promoting new offerings and excludes banking services.

Facebook stressed that it is not interested in gaining access to customers’ credit card transaction data or building a banking feature where users can access their bank accounts.

It also clarified that it is not going to gather data for targeted ads or use such data to promote Marketplace products.

Linking users’ bank account to Facebook’s Messenger will enable them to receive real-time updates of their transaction data such as account balances, receipts, and shipping updates.

But the fact is, banks already provide smartphone apps that enable their clients to receive transaction alerts once they turn on the notification function.

It is not necessary for people to make use of Messenger to access such highly sensitive information through a third-party platform.

A Facebook representative stressed that the idea is to provide convenience to bank clients, who normally have to wait for minutes if they call the customer service hotline to seek assistance over the phone. 

Facebook also pledged that it would not use the bank clients’ information for advertising, and keeping personal data safe and secure was a critical part of such a partnership.

Still, the company obviously intends to benefit from the partnership, which could pave the way for the social media giant to build a financial services platform.

Indeed, using Messenger as a platform for interaction between banks and their clients will allow Facebook to build an ecosystem that could offer various services just like what China’s WeChat is doing.

From a business perspective, it’s not wrong for Facebook to reach out to banks to establish a collaboration that would boost its usage.

In fact, such a service is now available in Hong Kong.  ICBC, for example, has linked up with WeChat for a service that allows bank clients to check financial information and receive product information and news of special offers. The ICBC WeChat app offers three types of services: help desk, self-service and information.

But before seeking to establish partnerships with banks through its Messenger app, Facebook should strive harder to win back the trust of its users, who have become wary of tech tools that have access to their personal data. 

Otherwise, such new offerings will only raise concerns over the risk of data breach.

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CG

EJ Insight writer

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