Amplify FCU’s MoneyTracker Features Personal RSS Feeds

When researching new mobile banking launches (see our earlier post here), we ran across one of the more innovative financial institutions in the country: Austin, TX-based Amplify Federal Credit Union <goamplify.com>, a $400 million asset institution with 40,000 members. The CU's tagline, Bank less. Live more. is right on target for the majority of financial consumers. 

It's possible that Amplify uses more of the ideas we've featured in Online Banking Report and NetBanker than any financial institution we've come across. For example, cafe branches with free WiFi, mobile banking (WAP), Web 2.0 look and feel, high-yield checking (up to 5.1% APY), online chat, fee-based ($5.95/mo) value-add checking account (Amplified checking) loaded with online and mainstream features, and a host of other services from college planning to eBay bidding (see menu here). One surprising omission: no blog.  

OBR Best of the Web
Link to Online Banking Report But our favorite feature, and winner of our fourth OBR Best of the Web 2007,* is Amplify's new personal finance management program, MoneyTracker. MoneyTracker uses natural language search so members used to Googling there way through the day will feel right at home. Instead of using slower drop-down search, a customer wanting to review recent Costco purchases simply enters "costco this year" in the search box.

The program was developed by Austin startup, Jwaala, which announced it in November. Amplify, which went live March 5 (press release here), is Jwaala's first installation.

MoneyTracker also includes an account aggregation engine so accounts at any financial institution can be tracked. And like eBay, it allows users to turn any search into an automatic alert with the option of receiving the information via email, SMS, or an RSS feed (see inset). As far as we know, Amplify is the first financial institution in the U.S., if not the world, to institute personal RSS feeds for its customers, and it is the basis for the Best of the Web designation.

Amplify posted a series of six videos (here) that do a great job explaining Money Tracker, an important part of gaining trial. The style, copywriting, on-screen talent, and staging, are among the best we've seen online.  

Amplify's Main MoneyTracker page (link here):

Amplify FCU landing page for Jwaala's MoneyTracker    

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*OBR Best of the Web awards are given out occasionally for features that raise the bar in online financial services. It is NOT necessarily and endorsement of the company or its full product.

billQ Uses Account-Specific RSS Feeds for Bill Payment notices

For the past few months, I've been more or less obsessed with RSS feeds (see our latest full report on the subject here). All of a sudden every information-delivery problem seems solvable with a feed.

And there is enormous potential for feeds in everyday banking which primarily involves simple information queries: What's my balance? Did my check clear? Was my mortgage paid? 

The first account-specific financial feed
I've been on the lookout for the first financial institution with account-specific feeds. That search continues, but a non-bank has been using feeds for bill-payment-status updates: previous OBR Best of the Web winner billQ <mybillq.com> (see previous coverage here).

The company has an "RSS Feed" option on its list of automated bill-payment-tracking mechanisms which also include an iCalendar subscription, an Apple OS X widget, or a toolbar applet (see screenshot below for billQ subscription options).

billQ bill subscription options CLICK TO ENLARGE

When using the RSS feed option, bills automatically appear in the user's newsreader software. Below is an example using the Newsgator Web-based reader:

billQ Bill Payment Mac Widget Released

Billq_widgetOur most recent OBR Best of the Web winner (NB Sep 1), Seen Creative's billQ, has achieved another industry first, a bill payment-tracking widget for Apple Mac users (here's where you can download it from Apple's site).

The widget allows Mac users to drop a small billQ screen right onto their desktop (see NB 2 May 2005). It allows users to see what bills are due and mark them as paid without ever leaving their desktop.

The widget can also be downloaded at billQ's website <mybillq.com>.

billQ Named Best of the Web by Online Banking Report

Bestofweblogo_2In the latest from Online Banking Report, "Personal Finance Features for Online Banking," we've awarded an OBR Best of the Web 2006 to a new Web-based bill management service. It's the third winner of the year,* and 53rd since the first recipient in 1997 (here's the list).

And the winner is, drum roll please, billQ <mybillq.com> a new Web 2.0-inspired bill manager from Seen Creative Group <weareseencreative.com>, a relatively new website-design firm based in Rochester, NY. The company was chosen for raising the bar in three areas:

  • User-interface design (click on screenshot below for closeup; see more screenshots by clicking the continuation link at the bottom of this article)
  • "Add this bill" browser-toolbar button
  • Publishing bills through RSS and iCalendar feeds

Billq_billsdue

Read the entire review, along with a look at a dozen other online personal finance applications, in this month's Online Banking Report (#131/132).

JB

*Previous 2006 winners include E*Trade Bank for its Mileage Maximizer airline card mile aggregator (NB 7 Dec 2005) and Prosper for its person-to-person lending platform (NB Feb. 5 and others).

Appendix

Welcome screen prior to setting up bills (see above for main screen after bills have been enabled)

Billq_welcome_1

Set-up reminders

Billq_reminders

Set-up feeds

Billq_feeds

Set-up feeds

P2P Lending Rates a NYT Article

Prosper_logoWhile person-to-person (P2P) lending will never create the buzz or user base of eBay’s PayPal or Google’s GBuy, it passed a milestone yesterday with a favorable article in The New York Times. The short article looked at UK-based Zopa <zopa.com>, a recent OBR Best of the Web winner (NetBanker Dec. 1) and a similar service being hatched in Silicon Valley, Prosper <prosper.com> (formerly CircleOne).

Prosper_homepageProsper, like many Internet startups before it, bears watching not only because of its relatively minuscule user basecurrently, just 12 transactions are pendingbut also because of its VC backers, Benchmark Capital, Accel Partners, Benchmark Capital, Fidelity Ventures, and Omidyar Network, along with its famous founder Chris Larsen, who launched E-Loan nearly a decade ago. The company has raised $20 million according to its website. Click on the screenshot, right, for a closeup of its homepage.

We’ll look at both companies in more detail in the next Online Banking Report (Number 127), due out at the end of the month.

JB

Online Balance Poaching: E*Trade’s Mileage Maximizer

Credit card companies have been poaching revolving balances from each other for years primarily through direct mail. It helped boost the share of early movers, such as Capital One. But once the tactic was widely copied, it dragged margins down for all.

The same technique has been used online with dedicated balance-transfer microsites posted by Bank of America and others beginning in 2003. The online balance transfer is better than paper because it can be interactive, prompting the user to make additional transfers, or to correct errors in the information input. However, it still requires the user to make a trip to the website to make the transfer.

Etrade_mileagemaximizerEnter E*Trade’s new Mileage Maximizer program, launched with a page-dominating color ad in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal. With the Mileage Maximizer, the bank encourages users to make purchases on their existing non-E*Trade rewards card, then have the balances AUTOMATICALLY swept to an E*Trade 8.9% APR line of credit each month. The bank’s website is used to initiate and maintain the transfer process. But like recurring bill payments, once the sweep is established, it will occur each month with no interaction by the user.

E*Trade may well be the most innovative online financial services company. Here are some of the industry firsts they’ve logged over the years:

  • 2001: MyLoanTeam from E*Trade Mortgage (OBR 73)
  • 2003: Real-time funds transfers (OBR 96/97)
  • 2005: 7-year online transacation archives (OBR 118)
  • 2005 (March): First U.S. bank offering security tokens for online access (NetBanker 2 March 2005)
  • 2005 (December): First virtual rewards card, Mileage Maximizer

JB

Editor’s Note: Mileage Mazimizer was awarded an "OBR Best of the Web" in our report on online lending published Jan. 31, 2006 (OBR 126).

Citibank Fights Fraud with Personalized Emails

Citi_secure_email_closeupIt’s fitting that the financial company most targeted in phishing attacks, Citibank, would be the first to introduce a new email format that goes a long way towards helping users identify legitimate email messages.

Citi_secure_email_message The personalized emails (click on inset to enlarge) include not only the name of the recipient, but also the last 4 digits of the user’s ATM card. While simple personalization with the customer name would help many users identify legitimate emails, it’s far from fool-proof.

First, there’s the relatively common practice of including first name and/or last names in email addresses. Also, some phishers are using direct marketing tactics and first running email addresses through various databases to append actual names and other info to the email record in order to develop a personalized pitch (see ZD-Net article).

Citibank’s new email format was announced to customers through a short message on the top of the online banking screen in early May. It is also now mentioned in the bank’s main FAQ page.

Analysis
This is a great first step in winning back the confidence of users. Eventually email standards will evolve so that the email client will be able to readily identify legitimate emails, but that could be years in the future.

If you are considering a similar approach, you might want to let users choose the name and identifying information that appears in the personalization box. In February, we reported on a UK security initiative that took that approach.

For more information:

JB

Editor’s Note: Citibank received an OBR Best of the Web award for this and other security features in Online Banking Report #119, "Marketing Security."

Bank of America Unveils Multi-Factor Security for Consumer Accounts

Obr_bestofwebBank of America wins the race to be the first with a viable plan to secure consumer online banking accounts. In an announcement today, it becomes the first major U.S. bank to endorse multi-factor authentication for consumers at login.*

The system, already in use at Stanford Federal Credit Union, is called SiteKey. The clever approach from Bill Harris’s PassMark Security provides several layers of security to defeat phishing and keylogging attacks. The company calls it two-way two-factor authentication because not only does the end-user authenticate themselves to the bank, the bank authenticates itself to the user to defeat phishing schemes.

Here’s how it works (click on inset below for BofA page):

  1. User provides username
  2. BofA verifies that the login request is coming from the user’s previously registered computer; if NOT, user must successfully answer a challenge question based on previously registered shared secrets
  3. After passing steps 1 and 2, the user is shown their previously selected image, so they know they are logging into the true BofA server
  4. User enters their password

The service launches in mid-June in Tennessee with full roll-out by the end of the year.

Bofa_sitekeyAnalysis
Even though it’s long overdue, we applaud Bank of America for moving the industry forward. While the program won’t be available system-wide until year-end, we’re giving it an Online Banking Report "Best of the Web" now because it’s the biggest development in U.S. online banking for several years.

The BofA/Passmark system is ingenious for several reasons:

  • Unless a user logs in from a new computer, there is little extra work involved; just a two-step login with username, followed by the password
  • Requires no hardware or out-of-channel coordination by the end-user; shouldn’t cause a major increase in customer service expense
  • Defeats phishing by displaying a personal image prior to asking for password
  • Defeats keylogging with the rotating challenge question

If you are at one of the other 15,000 financial institutions in the United States, the clock is now ticking. As your customers find out they are not among the 13+ million consumers (BofA’s current online base) receiving extra protection, they will be demanding the same from you. And if you thought BofA was aggressive in its free bill pay promotion, wait until you see the marketing blitz on this one. Extra authentication simply MUST BE in your 2006 plans.

JB

*For several years, ING Direct has asked for a third bit of info at login, but the necessary info is relatively easy to obtain (for example, zip code). Also, earlier this year, E*Trade launched security tokens for its high-rollers. But BofA is the first with a broad, secure, and non-hardware-based approach.

Bill Payment Toolbar from Billeo

Billeo_click_to_enlarge Just when you thought the banks were gaining an upper hand in the electronic bill payment battle, up pops a newcomer with a fresh approach. Take a moment to check out Billeo. An odd name, but so is iPod, and it seems to be working pretty well.

We haven’t used it yet, so these comments are preliminary, but "on paper" this company and its approach appear to be winners. (One caveat: the business model is unknown, and the privacy policy is a bit ambiguous when it comes to the issue of adware. We’ll keep you posted on what we find out.)

Billeo is a free toolbar-resident application that plays "virtual assistant," enabling more convenient and controlled direct bill payment at vendor sites. The toolbar also serves as an e-wallet simplifying online point-of-sale transactions.

Analysis
The toolbar contains several unique features, one of which is extremely impressive, the ability to save screen captures of transaction receipts. The application also includes payment reminders, a payment register, and a personal "bill payment" email address for users.

There are several familiar names associated with the startup. Nancy Langer, a former exec at Metavante, is the president. The advisory board includes Eric Dunn, formerly with Intuit, Shankar Srinivasan co-founder of Cyberbills, and Scott Loftesness of Glenbrook Partners.

We’ll dissect the new service in Part 2 of our upcoming Electronic Payments Report in Online Banking Report.

JB

Editor’s Note: Billeo was named "OBR Best of the Web" in the second part of its series on E-Payments (OBR 119) published in June 2005.