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Colin Bristow

In 2013, a unique collaborative project between SAS, the leader in business analytics, and Deloitte was launched. SentsCheck is a new social sentiment analysis index of customers’ opinions about the banking industry.  Colin Bristow, retail banking consultant at SAS UK & Ireland, reviews this first year of the SentsCheck initiative and discusses how sentiment towards banks has changed during the period.

Scandals, glitches, mishaps and mis-selling have meant banks have stolen the headlines over the last year. After banking trust hit an all-time low in the wake of the economic crash followed by banking bailouts, the industry has been hard pressed to restore faith.

Colin Bristow

Colin Bristow

From the start of 2013, SAS and Deloitte began tracking and analysing social media to gather insight into the perception of the UK’s high street banks by the online community. SentsCheck provides a fresh perspective into the events and experiences that affect consumer sentiment. It identifies key ‘pain’ points and moments of truth for UK banking consumers, pinpointing when they occur.

Since it began analysing online commentary, SentsCheck has scanned over 1.2 million relevant social and news media documents. From this huge volume of ‘expressions’ of sentiment, three key customer priorities were identified; value, customer experience and trust. SentsCheck monitors how sentiment fluctuates against these three categorisations, measuring sentiment on a scale from 0 to 100, with 50 taken as neutral. With the categories and scoring system defined, an assessment of banks performance measured against online sentiment can be undertaken.

The first quarter

The Q1 2013 report set the foundations for each priority area for the year and found that of the three categories, trust in banks scored the lowest. The scale of anti-bank sentiment was shown by negative sentiment across all three categories outweighing positive sentiment by over 50 points. This report discovered that trust generated an average sentiment score of just 32.

Typically the news agenda drives the nature of online conversation and between January and March 2013 banks struggled with a number of incidents that drove customer sentiment lower. The main topics that fostered negative sentiment included fallout from Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) and interest rate swap mis-selling, LIBOR rate-rigging and concerns around senior banker pay.

Throughout the first three months of the year, customer experience sentiment was the most positive, although still scored below neutral, with an average SentsCheck index value of 40. Social media engagement actually boosted banks standing as customers’ left positive feedback on Twitter help-desk pages.

The first report also unearthed differences in behaviour between traditional and social media. It found that where traditional media quietens down towards the end of the week, consumers tend to take to social media to talk about their bank on Thursdays and Fridays. It also seems that consumers tend to start their day by sending out negative sentiments online about banks, with sentiment at its most negative at 8am in the morning.

Second quarter

From April through June this year, SentsCheck found that the aggregate sentiment score towards banks increased by six per cent, from 29.6 to 31.3. As the banks posted better than expected financial results and worked towards reclaiming banker bonuses, they were able to garner improved sentiment online.

Despite this slight improvement, sentiment remained negative on the whole as ongoing issues around PPI penalties, job cuts across the industry and a failed bank acquisition were responsible for encouraging negative sentiment across the various social media platforms that are monitored.

Throughout the second quarter SentsCheck measured value as the worst performing of the three customer priorities. Leading the charge on criticism was traditional media rather than consumers, although between them they were able to produce negative expressions at a rate of three to every one positive expression, with PPI fines a major source for online discussion.

Further negativity was accrued in the customer experience category where sentiment decreased by over nine per cent as long waiting times, IT failures and online banking glitches rallied consumers to complain about the banks on social media platforms.

Third Quarter

As the year progressed, sentiment gradually increased which was proof that banks had started to tackle some of the problems that were driving negative sentiment. For the first time since the index began, traditional media outlets produced more approving comments about banks over social media users.

September saw the introduction of new account switching regulations, placing huge pressure on banks to improve customer services in order to retain and attract new customers. SAS conducted consumer research at the time and found that as many as five million current account holders may switch their account provider over the next year. The good news for banks was that sentiment around customer experience actually improved over this period, accounting for the highest volumes of positive sentiment in the quarter.

Sentiment around trust showed a real upswing, as there was a significant decrease in the amount of negative comments relating to bank trustworthiness. Over the quarter, negative sentiment relating to trust dropped 22 per cent.

Continuing the theme of reacting to legislation, social media users did react positively to government schemes that supported homebuyers and lowered mortgage rates. However, PPI continued to rear its head as a cause for negative sentiment, despite the number of complaints about the product to the Financial Conduct Authority falling by almost 20 per cent compared to the same quarter 2012.

Fourth Quarter

In the last quarter of the year sentiment continued its gradual climb, reaching the highest point for the year at 39.0, a seven per cent increase on Q3. Banks signing up to the government’s Help to Buy scheme, mortgage lending hitting a five-year high, account switching services and new innovations around mobile banking and cheque-cashing fuelled this optimism. The most positive day coincided with three banks announcing they would join the Help to Buy scheme.

However, high-profile bank fines, executive scandals and banks facing balance sheet problems ensured that negative sentiment still outweighed positive. Quarterly results attracted some of the largest criticism, as the huge impact of PPI provisioning on profitability became clear.

The consumer facing benefits of Help to Buy and improvement in savings rates meant social media was the real driver behind the increased positivity around banks. However, thanks to IT glitches around the busy Christmas shopping period, social media remained the outlet to complain about poor service.

This quarter marked the largest divergence between social sentiment and news sentiment. Whilst coverage intensified, with a 20 per cent increase in articles, media sentiment remained broadly unchanged. Journalists’ attention was captured by an executive scandal, falling rates on personal loans, and fines related to the sub-prime mortgage crisis. This divergence suggests that bloggers and twitter users are making up their own mind on customer experience.

A year in review

The SentsCheck index has proved to be a unique barometer of public sentiment towards the high street banks. The insight it provides into events that encourage online discussion is highly valuable for the banking industry. Reviewing the 2013 data we can see that over the course of the year banks have made progress in reducing the amount of negative sentiment that appears online.

However, this is a trend they will be hard pressed to continue in 2014. In the first few months of the year we have already seen outcry over data breaches, IT glitches, jobs cuts and branch closures as well as the long awaited charges over the LIBOR rigging scandal.

There remains a significant amount of work to do to improve sentiment and reputation across the banking industry. Scores across all three of the customer priorities still remains well below a neutral index score, and topics such as PPI have, and will continue to, negatively affect sentiment for UK banks.

Banks can take heart from the improving opinions around customer experience. New online and mobile services have been welcomed and banks can use this platform for continuing improvement throughout 2014. As social media becomes increasingly intertwined with our day-to-day lives and as social media platforms increase user bases year on year, banks will have to adapt, listen and communicate with their customers through this unique channel. As the number of high-street branches continues to dwindle, social media will become an increasingly important point of contact for banks. It is essential these organisations begin to understand best practices for social media engagement or they risk adding to the negative sentiment levied at them.

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