I’ve long been impressed with the work done by Eric Bangerter (Director of Internet Services) and the UW Credit Union in the online channel. Nearly every one of its new features gets starred in my blog reader. And since its early-2008 launch, I’ve cited Eric’s blog, UW SourceCode, as the best example of how to communicate to your power users and online banking fans (see blog feed within the online banking dashboard in the first screenshot).
But the latest innovation might be my favorite. The Madison, WI-based CU has integrated credit scores, powered by TransUnion, directly into the online banking interface (see first screenshot). This is exactly where it should be, so that users can keep tabs of their credit health, without needing to go through the tedious and oftentimes expensive process of authenticating yourself at a third-party site.
Even if that’s all they did, I’d give them an A+. But there’s more. UW CU has become the first financial institution to offer a private-branded version of Credit Karma’s credit report portal. The credit union pays a license fee to Credit Karma in order to offer the private-branded, ad-free version (see second screenshot). Sears also offers a similar service for its store card (see previous post).
UW CU members (120,000 active online bankers, see note 2) appear receptive to the info. In the first few days, more than 5,000 had clicked on the link, with more than 2,800 completing the registration process. That is a huge win for the members, the credit union, and Credit Karma.
Bottomline: Most of the time (98%/99%), end-users need see their credit score only for reassurance that nothing horrible has happened to their credit file. But the problem with posting ONLY the credit score is that those 1% to 2% who want more info often need it fast. And if you don’t offer a deeper dive complete with explanations of what’s going on, you are going to end up with confused and/or irate customers and a bunch of phone calls.
So, there needs to be a mechanism available for drilling down into the full report. And the Credit Karma portal is a relatively low-cost way to do that. Alternatively, you can upsell the full credit report for a fee in the $5 to $10 range or sell an annual subscription for unlimited access (see note 1).
UW Credit Union online banking homepage showing credit score and Credit Karma linkage (16 Sep 2010)
UW Credit Union co-branded credit portal powered by Credit Karma
1. For more information, see our Online Banking Report: Credit Monitoring Services (published in 2007).
2. UW CU has 150,000 members in total; 120,000, or 80%, have used online banking in the past 90 days; 80,000 (53%) used it in the past 30 days.
Finovate alum Credit Karma recently started providing a private-label version of its credit reporting service to Sears cardholders (see note 1). The service includes free credit scores and other data to help put those scores in an understandable context (see FinovateStartup 2009 video here).
The new service, launched Sep. 2009, is delivered through a dedicated site, searscreditscore.com. Since Sears cardholders must make a purchase each year to use the site, it provides an ongoing usage incentive.
The Credit Karma-powered service is clearly branded as a Sears and Kmart offering (note 2, screenshot #1). Interestingly, Sears also takes the opportunity to offer targeted advertising space to financial companies (screenshot #3). It also markets the credit-analysis service on its own credit card site (screenshot #2).
While Credit Karma traditionally derived revenue from advertising on its site, this move into the private-label channel provides additional growth opportunities. The Sears private-label site had nearly 140,000 unique visitors in February, about one-third the total at Credit Karma (see table below). It’s a good deal for Sears, too: Offering credit-score analysis differentiates it from other retail card providers and conveys concern about its customers’ financial well-being.
Website traffic at searscreditscore.com vs. creditkarma.com
Source: Compete.com, March 2010 (link)
1. The Sears credit score site, powered by Credit Karma
2. Sears promotes the credit score service on its website
3. Sample page from Searscreditscore.com
Note ads for Citi and ING Direct
1. Sears cards are issued by Citibank, one of the advertisers in the private-label site.
2. Kmart acquired Sears in 2004.
I get dozens of newsletters and marketing pitches from my various financial accounts every month. While they are interesting to me as an analyst, for the average consumer there’s rarely any actionable information.
However, one financial company consistently drives users to its site month over month with their email missives. And they don’t even have to change the creative.
Free-credit-score provider Credit Karma simply reminds users that it’s been more than two weeks since they last checked their credit score. The company goes on to encourage users to check in every month to to make sure no adverse changes have occurred (see first screenshot below). It’s a simple yet powerful message that drives traffic to the company’s ad-supported site (see second and third screenshots).
I’ve received this message on the 16th of each month this year, except May, when I must have already visited Credit Karma in the two weeks prior. A large yellow button invites the reader to click through to see the latest score (see first screenshot).
And the technique seems to be working. Traffic, measured in unique visitors by Compete, is up six-fold in the past 12 months, to 310,000 visitors in July (see chart below).
Current landing page after clicking “update” button in email (13 Aug 2009)
Note: Virgin Money’s friends-and-family mortgage offering is the lead product placement while The Easy Loan Site has the top banner. Lending Club is also running a banner across the top.
Landing page two months ago (16 June 2009)
Note: Virgin Money’s friends and family was also the lead product placement, while ING Direct’s Sharebuilder had the banner. Virgin Money also has a product offer in the middle of the page.
Note: For more info on the market for credit scores and monitoring see our Online Banking Report on Credit Report Monitoring (published Aug 2007).
During the Christmas holidays, Lending Club and its partners launched a clever new microsite, UNCRUNCH AMERICA at <uncrunch.org>. The site promotes peer-to-peer lending as a way to help increase the availability of credit in the United States (see screenshots below).
Joining the effort are four others:
- Credit Karma, a provider of free credit scores (coverage here)
- Geezeo, an online PFM (coverage here)
- On Deck Capital, a small business finance specialist
- ChangeWave, an investment research and publishing company owned by InvestorPlace Media
The site explains the concept behind peer-to-peer lending and funnels visitors to Lending Club or On Deck Capital to borrow. Lending Club was promoting the site on its homepage (see third screenshot), but it’s no longer mentioned. And none of the other partners mentions it on their sites.
The site consists of just two pages, the homepage and a Learn More page listing the partners. The homepage uses Flash to deliver five different messages. The red action buttons lead to a special landing page to Lending Club (see third screenshot).
According to American Banker, Lending Club hired Tobin Smith, the chairman of ChangeWave Research, to create the campaign.
Overall, I like the UNCRUNCH idea. It’s timely. It has a catchy name. And it resonates with consumers. But companies must be very careful using consumer advocacy as a marketing strategy. While most consumers understand the need for the sponsor to make a buck, they can see right through anything that appears overly self-serving.
In financial services, credit unions have a distinct advantage here. As member-owned cooperatives, their consumer advocacy messages are believable. Shareholder-owned banks have less credibility, but can still pull it off if they back up their words with a record of action.
I think that’s why ING Direct’s We the Savers campaign works (see previous post here). For its entire eight years in the United States, the bank has consistently promoted savings and thrift. So few question its motivations behind the We the Savers petition drive, though clearly it supports the bank’s for-profit savings program.
On the other hand, UNCRUNCH AMERICA was a bit misleading when it first launched (see first screenshot below from Jan 7). But with the recent improvement in disclosing the site’s purpose and primary sponsors, I think it’s acceptable now (see second screenshot below from Jan. 19).
Here are the main improvements:
- It wasn’t clear that the primary sponsors were lenders. But the new site includes Personal Loans and Small Business Loans sections that clearly disclose the Lending Club and On Deck Capital involvement. There is also new fine print at the bottom of the page that further identifies the sponsors.
- The original copy made it sound like a completely altruistic effort with its main pitch, Invest in America. That section has been completely removed and the site no longer solicits investors/lenders. It’s clear now that the site is designed to generate loan leads. The main button on the homepage was changed from Invest in America to I Need a Loan.
I’m relieved that UNCRUNCH.org has stepped up its transparency. At this point in the financial mess, we need lenders and other financial entities to be totally upfront with the public so as not to invite even more regulation than what is already coming. Given its six-month hiatus in 2008 while it revamped to comply with new SEC requirements, Lending Club should understand that better than most.
Other financial institutions should consider similar cooperative efforts in their local areas. The public could use some positive messages from the banking sector.
1. UNCRUNCH AMERICA homepage before improvements (7 Jan. 2009)
2. Homepage after transparency improvements (19 Jan. 2009)
3. Lending Club homepage featured UNCRUNCH button (7 Jan. 2009)
but it has since been removed
1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report on Peer-to-Peer Lending.
As conference host, I haven’t quite recovered from the whirlwind of activity yesterday. I’ll post a final conference wrapup tomorrow, but I wanted to get in a quick update with the Finovate 2008 Best of Show winners.
We had planned to award it to the top three, but there were four companies in a virtual tie at the top (note 1), so we named four winners this year.
In alphabetic order, the winners:
- CheckFree which demonstrated its new online banking platform packed with new features
- Credit Karma which showed several new features including a tool allowing “what-if” calculations with your credit file
- Mint which announced its move out of beta and demo’d several new investment management functions
- Neosaej which showed its unique MoneyAisle real-time, reverse-deposit auction service
Congratulations to these four companies and to everyone else who made the day so interesting.
About the voting
All attendees not affiliated with the presenters rated each demo on a scale of one to six. The ballots were turned in at the end of the final demo session. Approximately 70% of eligible voters turned in complete ballots.
The companies didn’t finish with the same average scores, but rounding to the nearest tenth created a four-way tie.
The next presenter is Kenneth Lin, CEO of Credit Karma and Nichole Mustard.
Credit Karma has developed an ad-supported, free credit-report service that launched earlier this year. The company first showed its service at our Finovate Startup conference in April.
Credit Karma showed credit score trends by Internet service provider, with Gmail users leading the pack.
Credit Karma today is introducing a credit card simulator, which lets you run what-ifs on what would happen to your score if certain things happened. For instance, it shows that if you applied for a new credit card, the example score would drop 15 points. If a late payment occurred, it would drop more than 50.
Providing free credit scores in exchange for viewing a credit card offer seems like a reasonable value exchange (see note 1). That’s why we gave Credit Karma our OBR Best of the Web award in August and why it is on stage next week at Finovate (see previous coverage here, video at Finovate Startup here).
It’s also no surprise that others would try the same model. Credit crisis or not, credit-worthy borrowers are still a valuable commodity. Case in point, Bankaholic’s recent acquisition by BankRate for a reported $15 million, or $50 per unique visitor (Mashable post here).
The latest entry in free-credit-score lead generation is KnowBeforeYouApply (KBYA) from Centrro, a financial-search company founded in 2006 by Ike Eze and Tuyen Vo. Eze was a founder of QSpace, an OBR Best of the Web winner in 1997 when it became the first company to make credit reports available online (archived OBR article here). QSpace was acquired by Experian several years later.
KnowBeforeYouApply launched on Sept. 3, but was put on the map with Mr. Eze’s post today in The Huffington Post entitled, “Stay Away from Me, Credit Card Crisis” (see note 2). The article discusses the value of tracking your credit score and using that knowledge to find the best credit offers. Eze mentions his company along with Credit Karma, Quizzle from Quicken Loans, two other Finovate presenters, Mint and BillShrink.
It would be difficult to make the site any easier to use. Customers type in their name, address, email address, and last four digits of their social security number. Apparently, that’s all that’s needed to access your credit file and return a letter grade of A through F.
The whole process takes about 30 seconds (there is no need to enter an entire social security number), and KBYA steers clear of those pesky out-of-wallet authentication questions. Users can get an update of their credit grade every 90 days. In comparison, Credit Karma, which provides an exact 3-digit credit score, will update it daily if the user so desires.
KBYA also has a simple and intuitive sales platform. Just two offers were highlighted in the main screen, one from Chase and one from American Express (see first screenshot below). However, clicking through to “see all offers” led to 25 pages of credit cards, displayed five to a page (121 total for A-grade credit). A handy index along the sidebar allows users to find various categories that most appeal to them such as “travel rewards” or “0% intro rate” cards (see second screenshot).
KBYA appears to use the API from CardOffers.com to build a portion of its database of card offers. CardOffers.com offers its affiliates up to $20 per application or up to $160 per approved application. KBYA also appears to be an affiliate of Credit.com and Discover Card (see note 3).
The site is focused solely on credit cards for now. But a Home Loan tab is built into the user interface, with a “coming soon” label.
All in all, it’s a good service. The site needs to beef up its FAQs, About Us, and other educational materials so users can better understand who is behind the service and what exactly the credit grade means. But as a month-old beta service, it’s presumably coming.
While I prefer the precision and peace of mind of seeing my actual credit score, a letter grade every 90 days will be sufficient for many users and should help keep costs down. And the speed of the application process and lack of social security number are real benefits.
Financial institution opportunities
Banks, credit unions, and card issuers should consider offering similar functionality both inside online banking, where private info would already be known, and on the outside where prospective loan customers could use it. With info about the customer’s credit grade, lenders could deliver tailored offers that could lead to increased application volume and approval rates. See our recent Online Banking Report for more info on lead generation sites (note 1).
Know Before You Apply main page after login (7 Oct 2008)
KnowBeforeYouApply all-offers page (7 Oct 2008)
1. For a thorough discussion of the topic, see our August 2008 Online Banking Report on New Models for Lead Generation.
2. Strangely, the article doesn’t specifically disclose Mr. Eze’s affiliation with Know Before You Apply, although clicking on his name does show he’s CEO of Centrro. However, it’s left to the reader to discover on their own that Centrro is the parent of Know Before You Apply. Hopefully, that oversight will be corrected.
3. The affiliate relationships
are inferred from the redirects that take place when clicking on the Apply Now arrow.
4. This is one of the ten online finance companies that launched in Sept. (post here).
Our parent publication, Online Banking Report, has published a new report: New Models for Lead Generation: How auctions, community recommendations, product placements, and specialized search provide alternatives to Google AdWords.
Not only is this the longest report title in our history, it’s the first time we’ve looked specifically at lead gen sites (click on the Table of Contents right, to download the abstract).
The report was inspired by MoneyAisle, an auction-based retail deposit market, that debuted June 9. Although a few kinks need to be worked out, we are impressed by its work and are awarding it the second OBR Best of the Web this year (see note 1 and Credit Karma below).
But auctions were not the only new lead-gen model we looked at. Others included:
- Community-based deal finders such as Credit Karma, the winner of our third OBR Best of the Web award for 2008 (see screenshot below, watch Finovate Startup demo here), SmartHippo (demo), and FiLife which also launched in June
- Specialty financial search services such as BancVue/FirstROI’s CheckingFinder (coverage, demo) and Mortgagebot’s Mortgage Marvel (coverage, demo) both Best of Show winners at Finovate
- Product placement in financial tools such as Mint (coverage, demo), Credit.com, FindABetterBank (demo), and Credit Karma
The report, which includes a 10-year forecast for auction and personal finance community involvement, is available as part of an annual Online Banking Report subscription or it can be purchased individually for $495 here.
Next month: New security technologies your customers are going to love, or not.
Screenshot: Credit Karma offer page: Countrywide’s high-yield savings offer is rated positively by 53% of Credit Karma users and earns a composite score of 63% which also factors in clickthrough rates and exclusivity, see box in upper right (9 July 2008)
1. The first winner in 2008 was SmartyPig (here). Best of the Web awards are given for new products/features that “raise the bar” for online banking. It is neither an endorsement of the company, nor the product itself. See previous coverage here.
Here are three updates I've added to the posts from the last week:
- Credit Karma, which we discussed here last week, is in private beta. But they have agreed to give NetBanker readers the invitation code to come in and kick the tires: CKFRND. Let us know what you think.
- Prosper, discussed here yesterday, was named one of the Fast 50 2008, the 50 most innovative companies in the world by Fast Company magazine (here). The list is in the March issue.
- GlobeFunder: I finally caught up with GlobeFunder founder Ben Decio last week. I noted in my NetBanker post a few weeks ago that the company was not yet accepting money from individual lenders. It sounds like that may be permanent. The company's current business plan is to use money from institutional lenders to fund all loan requests. That doesn't alter the value proposition to borrowers, since money is money, but it does move the company out of the P2P lending space.