While financial services firms face mounting pressure to adopt social media tools to their businesses, one Citigroup executive already questions whether Facebook will exist five years from now.

“What is Facebook’s true value proposition?” Frank Eliason, Citigroup’s senior vice president of social media asked during an afternoon panel during the Finextra Social Media Day conference in New York on Wednesday.

Social media use might actually decline in the next year, especially as Americans question the wisdom of sharing so much personal information in porous, online environments. Although Facebook is valued at around $50 billion, thanks in part to a $500 million investment from Goldman Sachs, Eliason still questions whether that value can be realized and is sustainable.

He also raised concerns about another digital corporate phenomenon, Google. Eliason noted that Google generates a vast majority of its revenues, about 80%, from selling advertising. “They have tried to go into social media several times, and have always failed,” Eliason said.

There are other potential outcomes for the industry, according to the panelists. In five years, banks might expand the traditional uses of branches, and video meetings might allow users to connect the way they do face-to-face. 

Video conferencing will have an enormous impact on the way financial services executives interact with each other, said Daniel Markowitz, a managing director who heads product management for Global Transaction Banking at Deutsche Bank.

“I think this is a massively big deal,” Markowitz said. “With video, you can see the other person look away or get uncomfortable.” Advances will make the video experience even more personal and interactive, especially as firms adopt high-definition technology and layer chat functions over video, he said.

Corporate cultures, however, will ultimately define how far social media tools go in helping banks and financial services firms deliver services to customers. Sometimes companies miss out on important dynamics when groups cannot convene face to face, said Adam Erlebacher, vice president of marketing at BankSimple, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based firm that offers online personal banking.

“You end up with something that is functional, but dysfunctional under the veneer,” Erlebacher said.

Even so, a company’s culture stems from its core function, according to Eliason.

Although digital companies like BankSimple suggest major changes are afoot for the industry, traditional bank branches will not go away, the panelists said.

“They need to look at branches as not just as banking centers, but relationship centers,” Eliason said. He recalled last week’s Road to Recovery Atlanta Homeowner Assistance Series, an event designed to help homeowners in distress. Similarly, banks might consider using the spaces to stage more educational events for customers, or actively get distressed customers into the branches to discuss ways to manage their situations.

“It could be a tremendous piece to the puzzle,” Eliason said.

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