Pioneering Social Media for the Financial Community
by Håkan Aldrin, Managing Director, The Benche, and Patrik Havander, Head of Concept and Packaging, SEB Merchant Banking
As the momentum towards better communication, interaction and information sharing accelerates ever more quickly, it seems that few people in today’s business world leave their houses in the morning without a BlackBerry or an iPhone, with an iPad on many people’s Christmas list. However, while smartphones, netbooks or tablets have become essential tools for interacting with a wide range of media and communicating with friends and family worldwide, they are often used for little more than email in their professional role. While a selection of business networking tools exist, such as LinkedIn, in an otherwise increasingly crowded social media marketplace, there remain few opportunities for the financial community to meet, share and learn with like-minded professionals. Recognising this gap, and anticipating the growing importance of collaborative web tools for professional interaction in the future, SEB first launched an independent, online community forum for trade professionals in November 2008, named the Benche (www.thebenche.com) which has since been extended to cash management and custody.
A commitment to collaboration and co-operation
Our customers tell us that one of the benefits of working with SEB is our ability and willingness to facilitate co-operation and collaboration with other corporates, so they can share views and experiences and discuss approaches to evolving challenges. While this remains pivotal to the way that we work with our customers, it is not always easy for finance professionals located in different parts of the world and with full diaries to attend meetings and seminars. We also needed to find an effective way of supporting an increasingly global client base. For example, although most of our clients are headquartered in the Nordics and Baltics, their activities span the globe. No bank can have expert individuals sitting alongside every customer with comprehensive knowledge of every market.
Although the Benche is facilitated by SEB, it is ultimately owned by the membership, who are responsible for driving content, instigating dialogue and defining the future evolution of the site.
We therefore wanted to engage not only our customers, but the wider financial community, in a way that was inclusive, convenient, easy to use and could quickly become part of financial professionals’ daily routine. Embracing, and indeed pioneering, the social media phenomenon to achieve this was a logical decision for SEB, leveraging our innovative approach to technology, and commitment to encouraging dialogue, collaboration and knowledge-sharing amongst the financial community. As new media becomes ubiquitous across the business community, we wanted to harness this new opportunity to deliver services to our customers in a convenient and innovative format.
From isolation to inspiration
Since launching the Benche and extending its reach across trade, cash management and custody, it has become a primary reference and communication forum for finance professionals, with around 4,000 members and 14,000 visitors each month. Visitors originate from 200 countries (leaving only six remaining) with members from large multinationals through to small and medium-sized enterprises, together with their banks and advisers. We quickly recognised that the Benche had a major role to play in relieving the professional isolation that many practitioners were experiencing, not only those located outside their company’s headquarters or in countries without an established treasury community, but all those dealing with new challenges or expanding into new countries.