Facebook asks banks for detailed financial information about customers

By Emily Glazer, Deepa Seetharaman and AnnaMaria Andriotis for Wall Street Journal 

The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed financial information about their customers, including card transactions and checking-account balances, as part of an effort to offer new services to users.

Facebook increasingly wants to be a platform where people buy and sell goods and services, besides connecting with friends. The company over the past year asked JPMorgan Chase JPM 0.37% & Co., Wells Fargo & Co., Citigroup Inc. C 0.01% and U.S. Bancorp USB 0.70% to discuss potential offerings it could host for bank customers on Facebook Messenger, people familiar with the matter said.

Facebook has talked about a feature that would show its users their checking-account balances, the people said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the people said.

Data privacy is a sticking point in the banks’ conversations with Facebook, said people familiar with the matter. The talks are taking place as Facebook faces several investigations over its ties to political analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, which accessed data on as many 87 million Facebook users without their consent.

One large U.S. bank pulled away from the talks due to privacy concerns, some of the people said.

Facebook has told banks that the additional customer information could be used to offer services that might entice users to spend more time on Messenger, a person familiar with the discussions said. The company is trying to deepen user engagement: Investors shaved more than $120 billion from its market value in one day last month after it said its growth is starting to slow.

Facebook said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-targeting purposes or share it with third parties.

“We don’t use purchase data from banks or credit-card companies for ads,” spokeswoman Elisabeth Diana said. “We also don’t have special relationships, partnerships or contracts with banks or credit-card companies to use their customers’ purchase data for ads.”

Facebook shares climbed sharply Monday on the news, rising 4.45%, marking the biggest one-day gain since last month’s historic drop.

Banks face pressure to build relationships with big online platforms, which reach billions of users and drive a growing share of commerce. They also are trying to reach more users digitally. Many struggle to gain traction in mobile payments.

Yet banks are hesitant to hand too much control to third-party platforms such as Facebook. They prefer to keep customers on their own websites and apps.

As part of the proposed deals, Facebook asked banks for information about where their users are shopping with their debit and credit cards outside of purchases they make using Facebook Messenger, the people said. Messenger has some 1.3 billion monthly active users, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call last month.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. also have asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to provide basic banking services on applications such as Google Assistant and Alexa, according to people familiar with the conversations.

Facebook has taken a harder public line on privacy since the Cambridge Analytica uproar. A product privacy team has announced new features such as “clear history,” which would allow users to prevent the service from collecting their off-Facebook browsing details. It also is making efforts to alert users to its privacy settings.

That hasn’t assuaged concerns over Facebook’s privacy practices. Bank executives are worried about the breadth of information being sought, even if it means their bank might not being available on certain platforms their customers use. Bank customers would need to opt-in to the proposed Facebook services, the company said in a statement Monday.

JPMorgan isn’t “sharing our customers’ off-platform transaction data with these platforms, and have had to say no to some things as a result,” spokeswoman Trish Wexler said.

Banks view mobile commerce as one of their biggest opportunities but are still running behind technology firms such as PayPal Holdings Inc. PYPL 0.62% and Square Inc. Customers have moved slowly, too; many Americans still prefer using credit or debit cards, along with cash and checks.

In an effort to compete with PayPal’s Venmo, a group of large banks last year connected their smartphone apps to money-transfer network Zelle. Results are mixed so far: While usage has risen, many banks still aren’t on the platform.

In recent years, Facebook has tried to transform Messenger into a hub for customer service and commerce, in keeping with a broader trend among mobile messaging services.

A partnership with American Express Co. AXP 1.04% allows Facebook users to contact the card company’s representatives. Last year, Facebook struck a deal with PayPal that allows users of that payment service to send money through Messenger. And Mastercard Inc. MA 0.54% cardholders can place online orders with certain merchants through Messenger using the card company’s Masterpass digital wallet. (A Mastercard spokesman said Facebook doesn’t see the card users’ information.)

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