Recently, some overseas banks have partnered with Facebook to leverage the social network’s website as an easy-access portal to online banking. First National Bank of South Africa and ASB Bank, based in New Zealand, have both recently launched partnerships with the social network. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia is planning on doing the same.
One often-cited benefit of these arrangements is that peer-to-peer, or P2P payments, can easily take place over the network, between Facebook friends. While that’s interesting, there are other considerations you might want to keep in mind before making Facebook and your bank virtually indistinguishable from one another.
Facebook's whole business model is predicated on gathering information about things you like and things you don't like, and using that data to target ads better—and, now, allowing the companies you like to put stories and posts in your feed. Interspersed with baby photos and friends' status updates are advertisements from brands you "like." Your profile, which ostensibly exists to tell friends and strangers what your interests are, actually exists to make you more valuable as an advertising target.
So, why exactly would Facebook play host to online banking if there wasn't something in it for them? An opportunity to see exactly how much money you spend and at which businesses is of obvious value to a company that sells advertisements. Can't you just keep this between you and your bank? Your bank doesn’t rely on advertising revenue to stay in business.
Aside from concerns over Facebook mining your data to sell ads, which is a bit creepy but not exactly wrong, there's also the question: Why do you want all of your information in one place with one company? Especially when this company has been, let's say, slightly less than straightforward with its users? Not to mention the company has just gone public, meaning it must show profits and growth to investors every quarter.
What is wrong with letting your bank know your banking info and your social media site know your social info? Think about this in the reverse: Would you want to join a network on Bank of America's online banking portal, where you could befriend other BofA customers and share links with them? No, because it would be odd to share personal information with fellow customers of your financial institution like that. The same holds true for Facebook.
3. Why do we need this replaced?
If there's one assumption that app-hungry businesses rarely ask themselves, it's this: What are we attempting to replace and why? What is wrong with what we already have? The iPhone was so revolutionary a development in cell phone and mobile computing that it seems we have forgotten that some things we've done in the past are perfectly fine the way they are. Banking online didn't exist the way it does now just 10 years ago, and it's a fantastic development. Making an app for customers to use on their iPad or iPhone or Android is certainly helpful, too.
Bringing banking capabilities to Facebook ought to raise some important questions: Why must banking be added to this portal? Is this in any way better than having our customers go to our website or use our app? Is it an out-of-touch ploy to appeal to Millennials?
There’s a good chance the answers to all of the above might be: no, no, and yes.
4. Shouldn't you take your finances more seriously than this?
Managing your finances and shooting the breeze with your friends are two activities so divergent that they probably require slightly different mental states. Back before online banking, you didn’t go to the bar to grab a pint and balance your checkbook—or, stranger still, share some details of your statement to fellow bar patrons. Whereas sharing vacation photos is as old a habit as photography, banking is a totally private part of our lives that will never be appropriate to share. Even if a banking app remains a totally “walled garden” within Facebook’s architecture and nothing about your banking relationship is shared, it’s still an odd impulse to bring these two habits together.
Finished checking up on your ex-girlfriend? Why not login to your bank account and properly calculate your monthly budget, and credit card payments and savings without getting distracted by a notification or a chat window. There’s good reason for a bank’s typically austere feel: A bank isn’t a place to have fun or share vacation photos; it’s for storing and investing money.
The banking industry in 2012 is far from perfect, but attaching it to another imperfect industry won’t necessarily make it any better.
Willy Staley is a staff writer and columnist for MyBankTracker.com. His columns cover banking, policy, and culture.