Alumni News — Week of April 25, 2011

On April 27, Prosper gave 200 new lenders $104 to get started. The company is celebrating the news that prosper lenders are averaging 10.4% returns. http://bit.ly/finovate426111

American Banker on Yodlee and Geezeo growth in the PFM market. Yodlee grows French market, and Geezeo signs more credit unions. http://bit.ly/finovate429111
Author Jean Chatzky opens her Debt Diet Challenge to 5 Credit.com readers who are in debt. http://bit.ly/lDmZ54
Bank Innovations highlights six companies as noteworthy to see at Finovate Spring on May 10th & 11th in San Francisco. http://bit.ly/kqBr39
Bill.com releases site upgrade. The upgrade, made over the Easter weekend, includes improved calendar, a revised mobile application, receivables managements and online payments and more. http://bit.ly/finovate427113
BrightScope featured on TechCrunch. The post highlights BrightScope’s launch of advisor pages. http://tcrn.ch/finovate426113
Capital Access Network awarded prestigious award. The company won the 2011 Monarch Innovation Award from Barlow Research Associates. http://bit.ly/finovate425113
CashEdge’s Small Business Survey finds that small businesses want electronic payment solutions. http://bit.ly/kmC1lM
Consumer Reports integrates BillShrink’s recommendations into reviews. BillShrink has similar affiliate relationships with Walmart.com and T-Mobile. http://tcrn.ch/finovate426112
Credit Karma releases Credit Score Climate Report stating credit scores fell two points in the Q1 2011. http://mwne.ws/lnXZn7
Currensee makes Lead411’s Hottest Boston Tech Companies list second year in a row. See them at Finovate Spring. http://bit.ly/lmrLNK
H&R Block names former eBay exec as new CEO. http://buswk.co/ipszZa
Mengia signs with Icelandic banks, Arion and Landsbanki. Mengia will provide PFM services to both banks, which will provide 90% of Icelandic banking customers with access to an integrated PFM platform. http://bit.ly/finovate427112
Monitise launches Hong Kong mobile service with JETCO, which will help it break into the Asia Pacific market. http://bit.ly/kEEcCP
Stock Twits names Francisc Costello chief operating officer.  http://bit.ly/finovate429114
Tile Financial releases the “Spend Grow Give” app. Now available free in the App Store. http://bit.ly/finovate425111
USA Today covers BrightScope’s new tool for choosing the right financial adviser & informs what attributes to look for. http://usat.ly/msrb7l
Wescom Resources Group offers Geezeo PFM to clients. Wescom will be rolling out Geezeo as a complement to the Credit Union’s existing online banking platform. http://bit.ly/finovate425112
Xero releases Xero Touch, its new app built on HTML5 that will run on iPhone, Android, Windows7 and Blackberry. http://bit.ly/eLPrdA
Yodlee holds a mobile banking webinar on May 3. Attendance is free. Details online at  http://bit.ly/finovate427111

Alumni News — Week of January 2, 2011

To see updates on Finovate alumni companies follow our live feed on Twitter
Finovate alums Blippy and Expensify land on Robert Scoble’s list of 25 startups to watch for 2011. http://scoble.it/finovate13114
Credit Karma now offers free insurance scoring tools in addition to free credit scores. http://bit.ly/finovate13113
Expensify launches iPhone/iPod app version 2.6. – The upgrade includes support for 100 currencies. http://bit.ly/finovate14114
Lending Club mentioned in CNN Living – Borrowing from the family bank? http://bit.ly/finovate13112
Prosper alters the way its loan prices are set, switches to preset loan rates based on risk profile. http://bit.ly/finovate14113

Weekly Updates — Weeks of Oct. 25 and Nov. 1, 2010

From PayPal X Conference: Bill.com uses PayPal business payments to transform how businesses get paid. http://bit.ly/finovate10273 and gets a makeover. http://bit.ly/finovate10255
From PayPal X Conference: Bling Nation launches “FanConnect” platform. FanConnect helps consumers and businesses to connect at checkout via social media platforms like Facebook. http://bit.ly/finovate10272
Blippy and Sephora work together to spread the word about cosmetic products via Twitter. See TechCrunch’s story. http://tcrn.ch/finovate10271
Continuity Control and uMonitor partner for compliance automation. http://bit.ly/finovate11334
Dynamics Inc. is profiled in “the future of credit cards” in the New York Times. http://j.mp/finovate102510
From PayPal X Conference: Expensify announces support for expense reimbursement via PayPal. See a demonstration: http://bit.ly/finovate1142.
How Finsphere is helping to prevent identity theft with geo-location and mobile check-ins. http://rww.to/finovate10281
Ixaris partners with Apigee to create payment application development API platform.  — The new platform will be named Ixaris Opn (pronounced “open”). http://bit.ly/finovate1121
From PayPal X Conference: More on Kabbage’s service to provide working capital for eBay Sellers. http://bit.ly/finovate10276
Lending Club welcomes North Carolina and Kansas. Peer-to-peer personal loans are now available in 42 states. http://bit.ly/finovate1141
Mint.com launches MintData to delve into the spending habits of Mint’s 4 million users. The data is anonymous and provides insight into the pocketbooks of customers in 300 U.S. cities. http://tcrn.ch/finovate1122
From PayPal X Conference: Outright.com launches free accounting app in PayPal apps marketplace. http://bit.ly/finovate10274
Citi takes CashEdge’s Popmoney Service live. FinVentures breaks it down. http://bit.ly/finovate1123
The Receivables Exchange Co-Founder and CEO Justin Brownhill was named one of  Silicon Alley Insider’s “Silicon Alley 100.” The list covers New York’s “Coolest Tech People in 2010.” http://bit.ly/finovate11335
SafetyPay pioneers new ways to provide micropayments in the gaming industry. http://bit.ly/finovate10277

UW Credit Union Adds Free Credit Scores to Online Banking Dashboard and Links to Credit Karma

image 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.

image 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 online banking homepage homepage showing credit score and Credit Karma linkage (16 Sep 2010)

UW Credit Union co-branded credit portal powered by Credit Karma

UW Credit Union co-branded credit portal powered by Credit Karma

Notes:
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.

Credit Karma Provides Free Credit Scores to Sears Cardholders with Private-Label Version

image 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).

image 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  image 
Source: Compete.com, March 2010 (link)

1. The Sears credit score site, powered by Credit Karma

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2. Sears promotes the credit score service on its website

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3. Sample page from Searscreditscore.com
Note ads for Citi and ING Direct

clip_image006

Notes:
1. Sears cards are issued by Citibank, one of the advertisers in the private-label site.
2. Kmart acquired Sears in 2004.

Out of the Inbox: Credit Karma’s Monthly Email is Hard to Ignore

image 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).

image

Credit Karma email (received 16 July 2009; 10:05 AM Pacific)
Subject: Credit Karma update image

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.

image

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.

image

Note: For more info on the market for credit scores and monitoring see our Online Banking Report on Credit Report Monitoring (published Aug 2007).

Lending Club Launches UNCRUNCH AMERICA, a Microsite Advocating Social Lending

image 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:

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.

Analysis
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)

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2. Homepage after transparency improvements (19 Jan. 2009)

image

 

3. Lending Club homepage featured UNCRUNCH button (7 Jan. 2009)
but it has since been removed

image

Note:

1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report on Peer-to-Peer Lending

CheckFree, Credit Karma, Mint and MoneyAisle Win Finovate Best of Show Awards

image 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:

  • image CheckFree which demonstrated its new online banking platform packed with new features
  • image Credit Karma which showed several new features including a tool allowing “what-if” calculations with your credit file
  • imageMint which announced its move out of beta and demo’d several new investment management functions
  • imageNeosaej 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.

Note:
The companies didn’t finish with the same average scores, but rounding to the nearest tenth created a four-way tie.

Finovate 2008 Credit Karma

image 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.

What’s new
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. 

Centrro Launches KnowBeforeYouApply.com

image 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).

imageThe 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.

Using KnowBeforeYouApply.com
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.

Analysis
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)

Know Before You Apply homepage (7 Oct 2008)

KnowBeforeYouApply all-offers page (7 Oct 2008)

Know Before You Apply all offers page (7 Oct 2008)

Notes:
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).

New Online Banking Report: New Models for Lead Generation

imageOur 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).

obr_bestofwebThe 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:

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)

image

Note:
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.

Updates on Credit Karma, Prosper, and GlobeFunder

Here are three updates I've added to the posts from the last week:

  • imageCredit 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_logo 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. 
  • image 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.