The single tweet that announced tweetMyMoney's September 2009 launch didn't bring Vantage Credit Union a wave of new customers, but it did attract plenty of attention.
The credit union became the first in the financial sector to offer some banking services through the social network Twitter. It lets customers send a direct message to check balances, get information about recent transactions, or transfer money between accounts-much the same way many institutions would do mobile banking using text messages.
A year later, Vantage is still believed to be the only institution offering the service. But since going live it has received so many phone calls from other credit unions, community banks and vendors wanting to buy the proprietary solution that in November it launched a technology subsidiary, TecHatchery.com, just to sell tweetMyMoney.
"We realized there was a market need," says Eric Acree, executive vice president at Vantage. "And this is a way for us to generate some nontraditional revenue."
Vantage seized upon Twitter as cheap way to offer mobile banking in spring 2009 because at the time it couldn't afford to ramp up mobile services in the typical ways-such as having a website formatted for a mobile phone or using simple text messages.
Instead, the St. Louis credit union leveraged an existing channel-Twitter-and launched the service using Vantage's existing online banking system to authenticate transactions.
Users send a direct message to Vantage using a code to indicate what type of transaction they want to do. The credit union then automatically retrieves the requested information and sends the results to the user in a direct message. No account numbers or other sensitive data is included so the information is useless if it is ever intercepted.
Vantage will also sell through TecHatchery what it calls a "Gen Y" online banking system that offers a "social coupon" service. This is where online banking consumers receive digital coupons, which appear as Web ads on their banking pages after they've logged into their bank accounts. Users are also automatically logged into their Facebook and Twitter accounts, so members can click a "share" button on the coupon to make it available to their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The coupons come from local merchants participating in advertising deals with the bank.
Some analysts question whether such offerings are able to supply sufficient returns to make them worthwhile. Mark Schwanhausser, senior analyst at Javelin Research, applauds Vantage for showing creativity in reaching out to customers. But, he cautions, "People are just now figuring out what they like regarding social networking. They're not making a connection with Twitter and Facebook as banking tools."
Acree concedes that only about 2 percent-or 1,100-of its 55,000 online banking customers have used tweetMyMoney. But he said adopters tend to use it a lot.
The credit union hopes to attract more young, tech savvy customers with such offerings. The average user of tweetMyMoney is 32 years old; but the overall average age for Vantage customers is 41.
Vantage has since begun offering more traditional mobile services too. But Twitter's ultimate appeal is still the cheap installation. "Deploying text-based mobile banking is expensive," Acree says. "Why not do it through a popular interface?'