Equinox Consulting

Innovation corner – Emoti-Bank: Time to embark on new banking relationships with Emoji?

Jean Bouvier at 2015-10-05 in Le coin des innovations

Emojis, multi-coloured pictograms also known as emoticons, first came about in 1982 in the boorish guise of a Smiley. After dominating the world of personal chats and SMS of young digital natives, Emojis are fast swarming the corporate world.

Spotlight on 5 new spheres of these fun emoticons, and what change they could bring for my somewhat uptight banker.


As a way of supporting the process of change, banks are performing outstanding efforts to ramp up the skills of their branch relationship managers in how to effectively – albeit ordinarily – use emails and phone in their interactions with customers. Some of the challenging issues: how to motivate advisers to just pick up the phone and connect to their customers for a sales event or opportunity? How to ensure the quality of emails sent to customers, not just in terms of syntax, but also forms of address, signature and relevance of responses? Why do financial advisers find it so difficult to dedicate some time from their working week to multi-channel operations?

Meanwhile, more and more brands, artists and communication agencies are using emoticons as a tool for closer and more emphatic brand communication with new generation customers, and in a way stirring up even more trouble in terms of boundaries between communication and language, and between useless and useful.

According to several studies conducted by linguistic experts, these smallish symbols – with around 6 billion smileys exchanged every day! – do not represent a secondary phenomenon; on the contrary, their use is gradually increasing in all age groups and all situations. In May 2015, Instagram published spectacular results of a study conducted on emoji trends: more than one message out of two contain smileys. For instance, in France, 64% of individuals in the 15-35 age group regularly use emojis in their communications(1). In the UK, 80% of individuals in the 18-25 age group have adopted emojis for communication. 72% of individuals find it easier to communicate with these symbols than words (2). It should also be noted that individuals over 40 years of age feel less comfortable with this mode of expression: 31% admit they avoid using emoticons because they fear they might be misinterpreted (double meaning or opposite meaning); 54% of individuals find it confusing to interpret the true meaning of the emoticon received.


Use of emojis by organisations for communication and sales boost

Communicating with emojis enables to convey emotions without words. That is why, from a business perspective, advertising campaigns represent the first area of application for making use of emojis. We are told that advertisements must catch attention, use offbeat messages, generate excitement, and be multichannel.

Here are a few examples of some concrete, creative and all-new applications:

Offline Coca Cola advertisement in Porto Rico, referring to the internet site


Online advertisement on Twitter of Domino’s Pizza using simple emoticons to encourage internet users to order online


Second area of application: using emoticons in business emails exchanged between colleagues. Based on several studies conducted by sociologists and linguists, emojis can change the meaning conveyed by written words, just like facial expressions or tone of voice. Emojis can help in clearing up misunderstandings, toning town statements, and conveying a sense of considerateness beyond forms of address; nevertheless with a limit: the meaning of these emoticons can vary from culture to culture, which can cause confusion!

                        emotibank4 emotibank5 emotibank6Source: BFMTV June 7, 2015, image credit: Pierre Vécile – Nextinteractive

“Emoticising” between friends has been possible for quite some time through instant messaging or Twitter. A THIRD AREA of application now comes into play with the use of emojis in customer and after-sales service, introducing into their digital interactions empathy, closeness, humour – in short, real life – decorated with smileys galore…

emotibank7Source: Les Inrocks, October 2012, « jai-teste-le-SAV-des-marques-sur-twitter »

So much so that with some brands, smileys have become meaningless fillers without brightening up the tone…

Hence bringing confusion!


emotibank8Source : Twitter 2015, SAV BNP Paribas (lien @BNPParibas_SAV)

emotibank9Source : Twitter 2015, SAV SFR (lien @SFR_SAV)

The FOURTH area of application for using emoticons in communication and expression is that of relationship marketing. Direct dialogue approach with targeted customers is much more powerful and individualised, offering real-time and granular-level tracking means for optimising prospect nurturing and customer retention. The use of emoticons is gaining ground to attract and create brand loyalty, improve message content of social networks, get buy-in for brand communications, create interactions through elements of surprise or affinity-based seduction, convert communications into sales by customised offers reserved for brand followers.

Chevrolet press release, to launch its new model Chevy Cruze, challenges social networks to decrypt the message (source: Twitter: #ChevyGoesEmoji)


More « serious » uses, such as: Online payment authentication

Areas of application of emoticons proliferate, from the formal banking world to individual authentication. In fact, Intelligent Environments, British vendor of secure access to e-banking and m-banking, forges ahead into a FIFTH AREA of application with its strong authentication solution based on … emoticons: « We wish to develop passwords which will work only with emoticons, and not with digits or alphabets: the first exclusively emoji password in the world » (David Webber, CEO).

This new technology is offered to banks as a Proof-of-Concept – a banking application, « Emoji Passcode » is already available on Androïd – with several decisive benefits:

  • While a four-digit PIN code made up of non-consecutive digits from 0 to 9 offers 7,290 different combinations, a code made up out of 44 emoticons offers 3,498,308 possible combinations:



  • The risk of hacking an emoticon password is substantially less than that of a mnemonic numeric code (based on date of birth, etc.)
  • An image sequence is easier to memorise than digits.
  • With generation Y, the gamification of customer paths is a major strength.

 To summarize: Already, one out of two SMS exchanges between individuals contain emoticons; soon, emoticons could become the best means of authentication for online banking; in future, emoticons may become a communication tool for interacting with banking advisers. So, the question comes up: when would bank branch advisers be authorised and equipped to open a SIXTH area of application, that of uninhibited email exchanges with their customers?

1) Source: a study of 92,000 SMS published in 2011 by Paul Valéry University, Montpellier 3 (author: Rachel Panckhurst, computational linguistics specialist)

2) Source: « Emoji IQ » study published in 2015 by Bangor University with Talk Talk Mobile




Jean Bouvier  Jean


Digital, Retail Banking and SFS

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