Post from Sibos: Social Media Site Brings SEB Group Visibility, Deeper Relationships

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Although you could argue he has plenty of responsibility in his day job, managing a staff of 516 people as global head of GTS at SEB Group in Sweden, Lars Millberg also manages a social media site for people involved in trade finance, cash management and global custody.

"It started with me — I had an issue with a new Mac," Millberg recalled in an interview at Sibos in Toronto today. "I typed a query of my issue into Google Search, hit up on a forum, and encountered other users with the same issue."

The experience made Millberg think that people in trade finance could benefit from the same type of forum; for one thing, they tend to be lonely, he says. "They're very smart, but they're very alone and they have issues they need to talk about," he says.

In discussions within the bank about this idea, many were skeptical. "If people can write what they want about us, what if they say something bad, many people thought," Millberg says. "I told them that if that happened, we would answer right away."

Millberg launched a new site called The Benche in 2008, aiming for 250 users. Within two weeks, without any search engine optimization work, the bank had users from around the world typing in their trade finance questions and receiving answers from their colleagues and Millberg's staff. Today, the site gets 20,000 visitors a month.

One thing Millberg has noticed is that about 80% of the questions are duplicative, so he gets his staff to post how-to videos that answer common queries. A recent video posted about how to fill out a guarantee application has been watched 1,700 times and has reduced the number of questions on this topic.

Millberg personally rejects and approves new members to The Benche, but few people are bounced. "We're much more liberal than we thought we'd be," he says.

The bank hasn't tried to monetize this effort, and visitors are mostly outside of Sweden and outside of SEB's market. "There's no monetary benefit to us, it's all free," Millberg says. But the site does give the bank a platform for thought leadership and has raised its profile. "If you type 'best cash management bank in Greece' in Google, The Benche comes up first," he says. The site also shows people what the bank can do. "Merchant banking is a true meritocracy," Millberg says.

In addition to the website, SEB has launched an Android app that lets people use the forum easily from a mobile device.

The next step for The Benche is to create a distinction between members that are SEB clients and those that aren't. The clients would have access to additional content. Millberg would also like to drive up the number of people who actually contribute to the site, rather than just visit and lurk.

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