The Customer Effect

How finance brands use Instagram

  • Big finance companies are increasingly looking to Instagram to associate their brand with experiences rather than product offerings.
  • Banks are using compelling, interactive content to align with the values and lifestyles of younger people.
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How finance brands use Instagram

A mountain top view. A close-up of a hand-rolled pastry. These images, while almost pedestrian on Instagram, are hardly what you’d expect out of a finance brand.

But that’s exactly what American Express’ presence on the platform is all about: An effort to connect with an experience rather than a product. “Instagram is really about engaging — it’s so powerful because it’s so visual,” said Mark Arnold, a branding consultant who specializes in financial services companies.

With Instagram, finance companies are focusing on content that generates interaction, since peddling products outright can easily be shut out by users who may not want to see advertising on the platform.

“If you engage, the sales will come, but if you sell on Instagram, that will backfire on you in a heartbeat,” said Arnold.

Among finance companies, American Express is seen by many as a leader in Instagram outreach. With its 173,000 followers and average of over 1,000 likes per post, its content is an assortment of high-quality food and travel photos.

“That’s not surprising, because they have lived in the lifestyle arena for a long time,” said Mariana Rittenhouse, senior director of brand strategy for Instagram analytics company Dash Hudson. “All the benefits from being an AmEx member wrapped up in food and dining are niches that perform well on Instagram, and they had a natural relevance there.”

The brand is so closely intertwined with travel and fun that even images of its card are popular on Instagram.

Similarly, Mastercard, with 61,000 followers, also uses Instagram to drive interest through fun experiences. To Mastercard, the tools enabled by Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, offer the ability to focus on specific demographics.

 “Instagram enables us to micro-target content around consumer passions and interests,” said Jennifer Stalzer, vp and senior business leader for external communications for Mastercard. And who wouldn’t be interested in winning a trip to Paris, like this photogenic young couple? 

For retail banks, making the banking experience less impersonal is a common goal. Instagram can make a bank seem more like a community center rather than a necessary evil.

TD, with 6,100 followers, plays up the human aspect of banking.

“TD’s objective is to unite people around common stories,” said Arianna Orpello Lewko, head of brand of digital marketing at TD Bank. “Banking has traditionally been transactional, but we know money is very emotional, therefore our goal is to create social content reflective of that emotion to help build better relationships with people.”

TD’s posts have emphasized diversity and strived to spark financial conversations among customers. Others, including Citibank, build brand awareness by showcasing the company culture. Citi has four Instagram accounts with a combined following of over 42,000 followers.

Curating a positive company image is also important for recruitment, particularly for younger people who are more likely to be Instagram users. An important player in this area is investment bank Morgan Stanley. With its 10,000 users, a good portion of its feed is dedicated to recruitment. What’s unique about Morgan Stanley is its engagement rate, the percentage of the account’s audience that has interacted with the content by liking or commenting. According to Dash Hudson, Morgan Stanley’s engagement rate over the past 12 weeks was over two percent, more than double that of American Express.

“We want our Instagram presence to give our followers insight into Morgan Stanley’s community, culture and impact,” said Alison Garrett, executive director of digital strategy at Morgan Stanley. “We use Instagram to give people a peek into our offices and events around the globe. We share images of our employees exemplifying Morgan Stanley values, volunteering in their communities or leading with ideas at technology or leadership events.”

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