With Great Data Comes Great Responsibility

Recent events at Facebook have caused Americans to take a hard look at the big business of big data.

As the saying goes, if you can’t identify a company’s product, then you yourself are the product. Facebook never hid that fact, but it took on a more sinister tone when Cambridge Analytics hijacked personal information from more than 50 million of its users. Tech superstar Mark Zuckerberg even landed himself in the hot seat on Capitol Hill.

It’s tempting, then, to throw the baby out with the breached-data bathwater. In reality, businesses – including community banks – have been studying customer information for a century or more. We recently started calling it data, but it isn’t any different, really. Even at the turn of the century a bank could easily look over the books and identify its best customers. These customers were catered to with special incentives and customer service. Remember the “Beverly Hillbillies?” You can bet that Milburn Drysdale knew all of Jed Clampett’s data.

Unfortunately, the overall focus of Drysdale’s fictitious First Bank of Beverly Hills was similar to that of Zuckerberg’s social media Goliath – to use customer information for manipulation. Nobody likes to find out that somebody has been pulling their strings.

On the other hand, nobody seems to mind it when Amazon suggests a book that is similar to one that they recently read. In fact, many customers actually appreciate the advice. Maybe it’s because Amazon is fairly upfront about the whole thing: remember when you bought this? Well, if you liked that, you might like this as well. No subterfuge there, just good old-fashioned salesmanship.

So why can’t your community bank use its data the same way?

“Recently, you told us that you were traveling abroad. Have you heard about our new Adventure Loans for campers and RVs? Now it’s even easier to get away from it all.” That’s not manipulation, that’s making good use of information.

People can tell when your heart is in the right place. Be straight with them, and they may actually be grateful for your suggestions and look forward to your marketing efforts. There’s nothing wrong with leveraging user data if everybody knows what is going on – and your tactics benefit customers as well as the bank.

Banks have been using employee data longer than almost any American business. Let’s show the world how to do it right.