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The bicentennial teenager

A Facebook page, interactive videos on YouTube and even a Twitter handle that promises to listen to you — the 208-year-old State Bank of India is hitting all the right buttons to lure Gen Y to bank with them. Will it work?

In a crisp, clear tone, 48-year-old bank employee Rajesh Kumar* recalls the government-owned State Bank of India’s (SBI) initial hiccups with computerisation in the 1990s, some of them hilarious. “Handling the computer was tough for the senior employees, as most of them didn’t know how to use the mouse. When the cursor used to move upwards on the screen, they would automatically lift the mouse up,” chuckles Kumar, who has been posted all over the country. “But some of us knew typewriting, so handling the keyboard was easy,” he recalls.

Efforts to computerise the government-owned bank’s branches had begun in earnest in 1994, with employees in the bank’s back offices already working with computers. Kumar remembers the furore that the decision to computerise SBI led to, with labour unions worrying that bringing in the machine will lead to the ouster of many employees. It was a clash of two worlds. “Top officials from the banking sector had to intervene,” remembers the banker.

On January 23 this year — when the bank will complete 208 years of existence — the State Bank of India decided to turn younger in an interesting way — by launching a YouTube channel. The organisation launched a Facebook account in November last year and is in the process of launching a Twitter handle. But is the bank ready to straddle two diametrically opposite images — one, as a staid organisation and the other, a young, social media-savvy corporation where instant responses (and not hierarchy), will be the order of the day?

Language of the young
While careful not to divulge too much information about the Twitter handle, multiple sources at the bank explain that it is a little premature to talk about what the company will be allowed to tweet and re-tweet. “All that will be decided in the second phase,” explains a source. “We will have to be careful about what we re-tweet and consider its legal implications. We are not saying we won’t do it. We are only saying, at this point, we don’t know how it will shape up,” he says. The Twitter plan, currently, is to tweet about the company and its various services.

There is also a social media etiquette module in place. Responses to customers, for instance, should be polite. And, the content shared on Facebook will be neutral in tone. “Only a youngster can understand a youngster a little better, and use the language they understand. So we have many young professionals keeping that in mind,” adds the source.

Conquering social media
That the bank is ready to venture into the world of social media with a vengeance is clear from its existing media accounts on Facebook and YouTube. The 10 videos uploaded on the bank’s channel, for instance, include professionally shot videos on the legacy of banking and SBI in India. The video begins with sepia toned scenes of horse-drawn carriages in old Calcutta, to show the bank’s birth in 1806 as the Bank of Calcutta. In 1921, the bank merged with the Bank of Bombay and the Bank of Madras to form the Imperial Bank of India, whose early customers include Rajendra Prasad, Rabindranath Tagore and Motilal Nehru among others.

Lennon Andrades from RK SWAMY BBDO worked on the videos with a team of 10 people. The team had to sift through countless CDs and books of archival information and footage to make the video in a mere 15 days. Andrades explains that he discovered interesting nuggets of information while working on the project. “I learnt that before our modern currency was invented, people just used signed promissory notes, which included the amount of money one party owed the other and that was it. I discovered how this system was instrumental in bringing in our modern currency as we know it, which was very interesting.”

The first part of the ‘Legacy’ videos (there are seven parts), has already attracted 202 views and one comment from a viewer. Thanks, but the bank’s services are awful, says the comment. “SBI is only surviving because of its low interest rates and government accounts,” rants the viewer. The comment remains unanswered on the website.

The official Facebook page of the bank has already attracted 52,731 (and counting) likes. The page is interactive, with amusing quiz questions posted on a fairly regular basis. “Can you guess the word and why it is important,” the page teasingly asks its users. “Hint: You save money in mutual funds through this.” Replies include answers by the more enthusiastic customers and complaints by the not-so enthusiastic ones. “We are surprised by the number of likes that we have attracted. The platform is getting bigger than we expected and now we have more people managing it,” a source says. “The bank is actually 208 years young,” he laughs.
*Name withheld on request

History of banking in India
After the Bank of Calcutta was formed in the year 1806, mainly for European businesses, the Bank of Bombay and Bank of Madras were also formed in the year 1840 and 1843 respectively. The three banks together formed India’s first three presidency banks. The banks were later merged to form the Imperial Bank of India in the year 1921, which later became the State Bank of India in 1955, under the State Bank of India Act.

History of banking in India

After the Bank of Calcutta was formed in the year 1806, mainly for European businesses, the Bank of Bombay and Bank of Madras were also formed in the year 1840 and 1843 respectively.

The three banks together formed India’s first three presidency banks. The banks were later merged to form the Imperial Bank of India in the year 1921, which later became the State Bank of India in 1955, under the State Bank of India Act.

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