3 Reasons Why Pinterest, the Fastest Growing Site EVER, Could Be Huge for Banking

  • JJ Hornblass
  • February 13, 2012
  • 4

This is part of a two-part exploration of the banking implications of Pinterest, the fastest-growing independent website in history. See Mary’s take here.


Only one site has smoked them all. Facebook? Smoked. Google? Beaten. Yahoo? Faggetaboutit!

Pinterest beats them all. Last May, Pinterest had 418,000 unique visitors. Last month, 11.7 million. That ranks Pinterest as the fastest growth ever for a standalone website. One word: WOW.

Now, let’s get down to the “me” of it: what does Pinterest’s massive rocket-growth mean to banking?

I’ve spent the last week or so playing on Pinterest, and I can report that it does have implications for banking — but the greatest implications for Pinterest will come if the site metamorphosizes somewhat.

Let’s start with the basics. Pinterest is a picture posting service. Find a picture online or have a picture on your computer and you can “pin it” up on Pinterest. The “pin” is viewable by every Pinterest member, but particularly by your followers. People who see the picture can “re-pin” the picture on their “board,” which are usually classified with words or phrases like “Architecture” or “Great Graphic Design.” Viewers can also comment on the pins, as well as push the pins up to Twitter or Facebook. Try the Pinterest page of Evan Sharp, one of the founders of Pinterest, to see how a fully evolved Pinterest account looks like.

Usually, the pictures will link back to a URL. In some cases, those pictures of, say, women’s black shoes, link back to a site selling the very shoes. This is why the demographic on Pinterest is highly skewed to women: there’s a lot of selling and fashion on the site. (Not that men don’t like that stuff, but you get what I mean.)

Obviously, people don’t have to post pictures of black pumps with six-inch-high heels. Last week, I named the 10 coolest brands in banking, and I “pin-ed” my associated blog up to Pinterest. As you can see here, Pinterest pinned the first image from my blog. However, when I tried to pin, say, the Bank Innovationwebsite, I got an error message explaining that Pinterest could not identify the main photo to pin. It was a bit annoying.

That was the only annoying part of the site. Pinterest is more than elegantly designed. One of its slickest features is also one of its most subtle. There is no link to the homepage from any pin. If you think about it — and you will after you use the site for a while — Pinterest users are constantly checking out pins. And yet, no link to the homepage — or at least no obvious one. It turns out you can click anywhereoutside the pin and you are returned to the homepage. It’s a really nice navigational innovation.

Now what does this all mean to banking? Currently, most of the relevance to banking right now remains in its pins of banking design and graphics. Here‘s a pin board I made of banking designs on Pinterest and of banking architecture. I also made a more generic pin board of banking-related flotsam and jetsam on the site here, so you can see the banking stuff currently on the site. But there is not much there — yet.

1. Advertising

What I realized about Pinterest is that it is a wonderful showcase for the visual, and banking certainly offers visual opportunities. More than that, however, I have little doubt that the non-visual — namely offers and deals and discounts and whatever — will be available on the site. So Pinterest will certainly morph into a major advertising channel. If women are buying wedding shoes through Pinterest, I don’t see why people will not eventually buy banking services for those weddings through Pinterest. (Just remember to attach a delightful image with the offer.)

3. The Network Effect

Like the other major social networking venues, Pinterest plays on the social graph. So it is not just ads that banks might run on Pinterest or in pins, but it is Pinterest’s social graph that banks will have to contend with, just as banks contend with the messy brand sandbox of Twitter. Like Twitter, Pinterest will be both curse and blessing. The rush to start Pinterest pages or boards has only just begun, with Wells Fargo taking the lead. 

2. Payments

How are Pinterest users buying things right now? Well, not through Pinterest, that’s for sure. I expect that Pinterest will eventually take a more active role in the transactions the site is facilitating. To date, it is wholly unclear how Pinterest plans to monetize its 11.7 million unique visitors per month. Payments must be an option it is considering.  And that has a bearing on banking, just as Facebook Credits have banking implications.

These three reasons could be profound for banking — the only problem is scant ventures use Pinterest today for advertising products well beyond fashion or art; only a handful of banks are playing on Pinterest today; and there is no e-commerce mechanism to speak of on Pinterest right now. (It appears as though Pinterest is starting to extract revenue from e-commerce referrals, but there is no confirmation of this from Pinterest to date.) When it comes to banking, Pinterest today is about potential. And web traffic. Lots and lots of web traffic.

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JJ started the first iteration of Bank Innovation back in 2007, and has been working on it ever since. He also serves as President & Chief Executive Officer of Royal Media, Bank Innovation’s parent. He founded Royal in 1995 and oversees all aspects of the New York-based diversified media company. Prior to forming Royal, JJ was on the editorial staff of American Banker, the daily newspaper, and worked as an editor of a business magazine in Hong Kong. As a reporter and editor, he has won journalism awards from the National Press Foundation, Newsletter & Electronic Publishers Foundation, and the Reader’s Digest Foundation. He has a BS in Economics from Yeshiva University and a Master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was also a Fellow at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graduate School of Banking. He lives in New York City with his wife, two daughters, and son. He counts among his accomplishments one New York City Marathon, two New York City Triathlons and the 2010 Father’s Day 5K, the first race he ever ran with his daughters. He can be reached at hornblass@gmail.com or 212-564-8972.

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4 thoughts on “3 Reasons Why Pinterest, the Fastest Growing Site EVER, Could Be Huge for Banking

  1. Jeff, but what would you say if not acting — not bailing out the eight-figure executives — endangered many, many banks, which were explicitly not engaged in radical degrees of leverage and undisciplined credit underwriting? This is the quandary.

    To my mind, I am not convinced that the plan will absolutely protect such banking institutions — and then you are left with a bailout of “the very people who are the root cause of the problem.” And that’s not good.

    (Anyone want to even venture to discuss moral hazard, because that has just gone by the wayside at this point.)

  2. Yes, we just reserved our name to prevent Brand Jacking. We’re talking about how we might participate, but our resources are thin!  Will the flood of new social sites cease?  I do think there’s a history/museums play. We have a dozen history/art museums across the country, and those works/artifacts could be something consumers want to engage in.

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