Blog
Posted on April 4, 2019

What’s Twitter got to do with consumer protection?

For financial service providers and regulators in Kenya, social media monitoring can help make complaints handling more efficient, and improve the customer care experience in financial services to weed out some of the abusive practices we have seen occur far too often in Kenya.

Social media is changing customer service by shifting the ways in which consumers seek resolution of problems and the channels firms make available to consumers. The ability for consumers to directly, instantly, and publicly praise or chastise the service of a firm has led to increased accountability and new ways to remotely resolve customer issues swiftly.

In Kenya, “#KOT” or the “Kenyans on Twitter” community has become an important channel for raising issues with financial products. This is often borne out of a frustration that traditional channels like the regulator or a bank’s customer care hotline have not given satisfactory complaints resolution.

But Twitter can be more than just a place for venting frustration. It could be a place to get complaints resolution for individual consumers, and to flag emerging consumer protection issues across the financial sector. As more and more Kenyans share their issues with financial services on social media, a new evidence base is being created that can help providers and government to better measure, monitor and resolve consumer protection problems. All we need is a way to make sense of the data…

From August, 2018 through November, 2018, FSD Kenya and Princeton University partnered with CitiBeats, an AI company that collects and analyzes text data such as Twitter messages, to track and analyze consumer protection-relevant tweets directed to 29 different Kenyan financial institutions. Using keywords and machine learning we tracked tweets across 10 different consumer protection categories (Table 1.)

Table 1. Consumer protection categories monitored through Kenyan Twitter

Category

Category description

1.      Agents

Monitoring of the behavior of banking agents who conduct different services on behalf of banks such as funds transfers, bills payment, cash withdrawal, cash deposits and balance inquiries.

2.      Blacklisting

Refers to the word often used to describe negative loan repayment data in credit histories. This topic included that and other related discussions of credit history and Kenyan Credit Reference Bureaus.

3.      Frozen account

Tweets regarding the inability of a consumer to access their accounts and conduct transactions.

4.      Functionality

Consumer concerns related to the performance of financial technologies such as mobile banking, apps and websites.

5.      Insurance claims

Requests to insurance companies to compensate for loss or occurrence in relation to the loan terms.

6.      Loans

A wide range of topics related to loans such as hidden interest rates, being denied loans, or delays in money remitting to borrowers’ accounts.

7.      Privacy

Primarily concerns regarding how private consumer data is collected and the ways service providers share consumer data with third parties.

8.      Resolution/ customer service

How banks communicate and serve their customers both physically in branches and through nonphysical ways such as calls and social media platforms. This topic received the most Twitter traffic of all 10 topics.

9.      Scams

Illegal or unauthorized transactions that take place without consumers’ knowledge and consent. Unauthorized debits on bank customer accounts was a concerning problem discovered in this three-month pilot.

10.  Charges

This includes costs to consumers by financial service providers for provision of services such as account maintenance and transaction fees.

 

To complement the data analysis, we also encouraged a public dialogue on consumer protection through the creation of a Twitter handle, @pesastory, which provoked discussions on consumer protection and consumer experience with financial services in Kenya. The @pesastory experience is discussed in a forthcoming blog.

 

What Kenyans tweet about on consumer protection

Our three-month pilot demonstrated the value that social media data can have for financial consumer protection monitoring and enforcement. First, we were able to sort and measure the volume and type of consumer protection issues (Figure 1). Analysis of tweets sent to 29 different financial service providers demonstrated that most consumer concerns related to customer service or how products were working. However some providers do see disproportionate percentages of tweets on other consumer protection categories—such as “Charges” for the MNOs, or “Loans” for the digital lenders, in our sample.

An early warning system for serious consumer protection concerns?

Beyond measuring how many tweets were directed to which providers, we wanted to use Twitter to identify problems as they arise. We developed a daily and weekly alert system to make it easier for the research team to identify spikes in consumer protection issues with providers. The daily alerts would be sent when they matched two criteria:

  • The number of tweets in a category today must be at least 10% higher than the average number of tweets in that category for the last 30 days for that provider.
  • There must also be a minimum of 10 tweets in the category, to protect against small increases in very small sample sized (e.g. 3 tweets in a day when the average is 1 per day.)

The daily alert system would send an email to the research team whenever there was an increase in Tweets to a provider about a particular topic. This alert tool allowed us to flag larger than normal volumes of complaints relative to each provider’s normal chat levels—helping to control for relative size of firms’ Twitter presence. For example, we received an alert of a spike on the Customer Service topic on the 2nd day of November 2018 with Equity Bank. Using the CitiBeats platform, we can see the spike on November 2 in Equity Bank’s daily tweet records (Figure 2.) By selecting the date and topic, we then are told there were 65 tweets sent to Equity Bank on November 2nd regarding customer service issues. Finally, we can then read these Tweets (Figure 3) to investigate the issues consumers raised, and determine if this needs follow-up with either the customers or the bank. In this case, we see from the Tweets there are recurring issues with deposits and transfers on mobile banking.

Some of the other noteworthy daily alerts for November are summarized in Table 2.

Topic

Provider

Relevance

Customer Service

NIC Bank

An influential Twitter account raised complaint about long waiting time at branches, prompting other customers to share their experiences with this issue.

Charges

Safaricom

A new feature on Lipa na M-Pesa was introduced that eliminates the need to share phone number with merchants, improving data privacy and received significant coverage and praise.

Charges

Airtel

Complaints regarding disappearing data and the need for a data manager function to manage use of bundles.

Loans

Safaricom

Customers complaining about loan balances that belong to another person being deducted when they send that person airtime via M-Pesa. (2 alerts generated on this topic)

Charges

Equity

An influential Twitter account shared that Equity Bank refunds not just the transaction amount, but also the transaction fee, for wrong transactions in their mobile banking. This was praised as it differs from practices of other providers.

Agents

Safaricom

Consumer raising concerns about a till number being used by police in Nairobi to solicit bribes.

Customer service

Cooperative Bank

Several customers raising unresolved problems that have not been fixed yet.

Functionality

Commercial Bank of Africa

Poor customer care response on their app and double debiting on the app that was not reversed.

Resolution / Scams

Imperial Bank

Customers raising issues related to the resolution of the failed bank

Functionality

Diamond Trust Bank

Charges related to a multi-currency card

The weekly alert system would share the five provider/consumer protection categories that had the most significant increase in traffic over the past week, so that even when there were not 10%+ triggers on daily levels, we could still see what the most active conversations were for that week.

Testing the alert system required some modifications during our month-long trial. For example, we learned quickly to filter out all Tweet threads originating with the provider, as they were usually marketing messages, and would lead to false alerts. We also experimented with different threshold levels for triggering an alert before deciding on a 10% increase in volume as the trigger for a daily alert. There will always be a need to balance between comprehensiveness in reporting and efficiency of the filter in this system, and so the settings should be periodically tested.

Manually reviewing and making sense of the tens of thousands of relevant tweets by Kenyans would have taken weeks of researcher time. But the testing of the email alerts in November, 2018, demonstrates how thousands of tweets can be effectively flagged and investigated in just a few hours with a platform like CitiBeats.

As our second blog in this series will demonstrate, there are latent problems that financial consumers bring to Twitter because they are not resolved to their satisfaction via other channels. By using artificial intelligence such as CitiBeats, we can make sense of these conversations and prioritize the more serious and recurring consumer protection issues to efficiently allocate the time of customer care staff. For financial service providers and regulators in Kenya, social media monitoring can help make complaints handling more efficient, and improve the customer care experience in financial services to weed out some of the abusive practices we have seen occur far too often in Kenya.

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