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Serbia: Banking Group Turns Well-Intentioned Suggestion Into PR Disaster

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Western Europe, Italy, Serbia, Digital Activism, Economics & Business, Law, Technology

The lack of understanding that major corporations still have for what's being said online may not come as a shock. Intesa SanPaolo [1] [ENG, ITA], Italy's largest banking group and one of the largest players in Eurozone, however, has in recent days demonstrated plain poor business sense and a complete disregard for basic public relations in a breaking story on the Serbian market.

Over the past day, a blog post titled Catastrophic PR for Banca Intesa Beograd [2] [SRP] by Istok Pavlovic, one of the country's more influential bloggers and a former Internet marketing university teaching assistant, has been spreading like wildfire through the regional online community:

A current issue these days is the scandalous action by Banca Intesa Beograd toward a common citizen who, entirely well intentioned, sent them a business proposal. Whoever wishes to, can read the somewhat long text on ekriminal.com [3] [SRP]…

Upon reaching the destination provided in Mr. Pavlovic's post, one finds a seemingly common story. Vlada Cuckovic, the author of the blog, which is described as “an open platform for discussing e-crime,” recounts the recent events that led to a shocking reaction from Intesa SanPaolo Group:

Since I have an idea on how to enable the progress of applying electronic commerce, I looked for a link to electronic payment. Searching the Internet, I came to the conclusion that only Banca Intesa has processing of Internet debit cards in Serbia. The first thing I noticed when visiting their site http://www.bancaintesabeograd.com/ was the length of the domain name. I came upon an idea, purchased the domain eIntesa.com, created a proposal for the site, new logo and sent Banca Intesa the following e-mail:

Dear Sirs/Madams,

To arrive to your bank's site one types the following address: bancaintesabeograd.com. 22 characters are necessary and, if one adds ‘www.’ it takes 26 characters, while the general trend is the shortening of domain names. The word ‘banca’ is in Italian, while ‘beograd’ is in Serbian, having the name of the bank ‘Intesa’ in between…

We propose that the address www.eIntesa.com be the landing page for the new site that will offer electronic banking services.

How much does the domain cost?

We wish to collaborate with you and are prepared to offer the domain www.eIntesa.com as a gift.

Our wish is only that you view the attached proposal for increasing the competitiveness of your MSP sector.

Attached are the logo and proposal for Intesa.

Sounds reasonable, right? In the worst case scenario, a mid-level executive employee of Intesa SaoPaolo Group would waste half an hour reading through the proposal and then decide whether to shape it to Intesa's business plan and policy, then ship it off to a higher executive and turn out to be an innovative employee, or brush the proposal off and go about his daily bank executive routine. At first, Vlada Cuckovic thought he got the latter, a regular corporate brushoff, as Intesa replied:

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your proposal. At this time we do not have plans for the development of such portals for the Bank….

Mr. Cuckovic let matters be and had almost forgotten about the proposal when he was summoned for a police interview by the Inspector for High Technology Crime in Belgrade on July 12. He immediately accepted the summons and reported to the SIV [Federal Executive Assembly] building for an interview, where he was first informed that Intesa SanPaolo Group had filed a case against him with the World Intellectual Property Organization [4][ENG] of the U.N., based in Geneva. He also emphasized in his blog post that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and inspectors deserved praise and called the interview a “pleasant and sensible conversation with an inspector who has a PhD next to his name”.

Pleasant conversation aside, SanPaolo Group's claim has been filed and WIPO's site confirms that the case is active [5] [ENG], probably meaning it is currently being investigated. The very notion that a serious global business would invest at least USD $1,500 for arbitration, added to whatever they will have to pay attorneys and other expenses regarding this claim, instead of contacting the owner of this Web domain, whose name, contact information and proposal they already possess is more than enough to baffle anyone living in the civilized world. Mr. Cuckovic and the vast majority of those now following the story wonder why no attempt was made by Banca Intesa Beograd or Intesa SanPaolo Group to contact him and resolve this matter internally, or at least quietly. For this purpose, Mr. Cuckovic has left his telephone number on his blog post, should anyone from Banca Intesa decide to discuss the matter directly with him.

Intesa SaoPaolo may be among those corporations that do not take citizen journalism or opinions spread through the Internet seriously, but the reality is that the story being spread on the local blogosphere as this article is being written may bring a massive blow to Banca Intesa's reputation and client relations in the country and farther.

Istok Pavlovic, who just last month received a gift from a mobile provider due to an unsolicited positive text on his blog about their network, concludes his blog post on the Intesa matter with a suggestion of his own:

If Banca Intesa wishes to wash its hands of this situation, my suggestion is that they not even consider coming out with a statement to the effect of “we wanted to protect the interests and intellectual property of the Bank…” because this will only infuriate their potential clients and drive them to other bloodsuckers.

I suggest that they make a public statement that the person from the bank responsible for this has been fired (even if they haven't really) and to offer a public apology to this man for the impropriety.

However, I believe they won't even be heard of. Because, for God's sake, who reads blogs on the Internet anyway.

For example, my site has some 10,000 visits per month and mostly by people who have no interest at all in business or entrepreneurship, but have come here to read about fishing. Plus all the other blogs and forums writing on this subject. That's not much. So, Banca Intesa, you don't need to do anything. Just relax.

Mr. Pavlovic's clear sarcasm here is a perfect reflection of the general opinion of the local online community on this matter and on the general disregard of major corporations for public opinion expressed on the Web in Serbia. Whether Intesa SanPaolo stand a chance of winning their case before the WIPO and whether public opinion and common sense will prevail remain to be seen. The irony of it all seems to lie embedded in the domain name www.eIntesa.com, proposed by Vlada Cuckovic: translated from Italian, it means “eUnderstanding.”