Email Design: Discover Card’s “Statement Available” Message

image There are a number of financial startups and trail-blazing FIs bringing modern user interfaces to banking. We see dozens of great examples at every Finovate (note 1). And we expect a slew of remodels in the new year as responsive design and other techniques take hold.

But I continue to call out Discover’s design work (previous posts). Partly because I have an account there and see it often and partly because it’s instructive to see how a large full-service bank handles design tradeoffs.

Yesterday’s email from DIscover, reminding me that my monthly statement was ready, shows how the card giant marries good design with useful information.

Most statement alerts are simple one liners asking the user to do all the work: login, find the right tab, click on the correct button, and so on. Discover, on the other hand, positions key summary information right within the body of the email (see screenshot below):

  • Statement end date
  • Statement balance
  • Credit available
  • Minimum payment due
  • Due date

The company includes a button to view the statement at the top, but somewhat buries the payment link near the bottom. 

Analysis: This is one of the better (maybe best) statement-available message I get from the major brands (note 2). But it could still be improved: 

  • Include a Pay Now button.
  • Remind me that I’m on autopay and when to expect the payment in full to be deducted from my bank account.
  • Reword and fix the bottom link. Currently it says “Late and Minimum Payment Warning.” That sounds like there must be a problem with my account. But there isn’t, so I assume that is supposed to link to the alerts maintenance area. However, that link wasn’t working, so I just was dumped onto the main secure account page. It was very confusing.
  • Add a link to customer service, both self-serve and human powered.
  • Add the amount of rewards earned this period. It’s always nice to be reminded of free money received. 


1. For example, a recent crowd favorites was from Poland’s mBank which demoed alongside Accenture at FinovateFall in September (demo video).
2. We dug deep into this area a few years ago in our reports (subscription):
Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel (August 2010)
Alerts & Streaming (July 2010)
Paperless Billing & Banking (Nov. 2010)

Discover Card Gives Away an iPad per Day to Paperless Cardholders

image After adding my Discover Card to Google’s mobile wallet, I was automatically logged off after a period of inactivity (or what I prefer to call blogging). On the resulting page, the card issuer explained what happened on the left side and told me about their current estatement incentive program on the right (see first screenshot below).

Discover is giving away an iPad every day to its paperless customers (landing page) from June 1 to Nov 30. That’s a total of 183 iPads (official rules). Both new enrollees and existing ones are eligible.

Since I’m a sucker for online sweepstakes, I pressed the button, only to find out that I was already enrolled (see second screenshot). Not only is this annoying and somewhat confusing (am I still in the running for the iPad?), it could be counterproductive. Users are given the option on this page to turn paper statements back on. So customers might mistakenly turn the paper back on thinking that’s how you enter the sweeps. To prevent that, Discover needs to reinforce the sweeps on this page. 

Bottom line: Periodic paperless incentives are a win-win. You show gratitude to existing paperless customers while pushing a few more paper holdouts over the edge. However, be careful how you handle already-enrolled users.


Discover Card logoff screen publicizing its iPad giveaway to paperless customers (17 Aug 2012


After clicking on the "Go Paperless" button I was sent to this screen
Note: Discover should remind me that I’m still eligible for the prizes


Discover publicizes the winners (link)



Note: For more ideas, see our report on paperless billing and banking (Nov. 2010, subscription).

Wells Fargo Shutters its Fee-Based Document Storage Service vSafe

Wells Fargo vSafe service closure message

Another innovation bites the dust.

I was a fan of Wells Fargo’s virtual safe-deposit service vSafe. Or at least the idea of it. The service launched in late 2008, before “the cloud” became an everyday term and companies such as Dropbox, Evernote, and made file storage a competitive business.

The bank was gutsy enough not only to launch a unique service, but also charge for it. I applauded the $4.95 (1 GB) to $14.95 (6 GB) monthly fee at the time, although I personally didn’t use it enough and let the service lapse after the free trial period.

But alas, the bank has apparently given up on vSafe. It’s still listed on the main online banking toolbar (see below), but the tab now leads to a terse statement saying that the bank is no longer enrolling customers (see above). And the product has been purged from the public website.

Wells Fargo vSafe last days on the online banking toolbar?

According to storage startup AboutOne, which is marketing a replacement service for vSafe users, all stored files in vSafe will be deleted on March 28.  


Although Wells Fargo stuck with it for more than three years, even marketing it from the homepage, vSafe must have had little traction. That’s not a huge surprise. Even before Dropbox, fee-based secure file storage was a niche offering. And with the onslaught of better known, cheaper (note 1), and more comprehensive cloud-storage services, it was an uphill battle.

However, we still believe the virtual file cabinet is a good idea for financial institutions, especially as a way to speed estatement adoption.

Instead of charging a fee for basic online storage, make it a free place where bank customers can store their electronic bank statements (from you) for the life of their account. Then, consider upselling additional storage features for a monthly fee. Or bundle file storage with other value-adds into a premium online banking account.   


1. Dropbox provides 2 GB free of charge, with 50 GB costing $9.99/mo.
2. In our Online Banking Report publication, we wrote about fee-based online services in May 2011; paperless banking and online storage in late 2010; and lifetime statement archives in 2005.

Can Savings Accounts Be Social?

image I glanced at my ING Direct eStatement alert today (screenshot below) to see what they had to say in the new year. The soon-to-be-Capital-One direct bank is usually pretty creative in its copywriting. And I was not disappointed today. Here’s the pitch inside the alert:


I love the idea of a “Social Network…of Savers,” a Facebook-like place where friends help each other keep spending in check and achieve politically correct savings goals such as the down payment on a home, the college fund, or a rainy day reserve.

But I don’t think the Facebook model works in the real world (note 1). Even though it might be interesting to follow your friends’ drunk spending (note 2), most users want this info to be kept VERY private (note 3). And in most circles, money accumulation is never openly discussed. Who wants to read about someone’s “trip to Tahiti” savings goal when you are trying to get off unemployment?

In its recent email, ING Direct is NOT looking to create the Facebook of savings in any way. While the bank celebrates savings throughout its marketing (e.g.,, this email offer isn’t about sharing with your network, it’s about selling to your network to earn a $10 referral fee per new account, up to $500. And that’s OK, because everyone loves to share “found money.”   

ING Direct email (4 Jan 2012, 9 AM Pacific)

ING Direct estatement email alert 

Referral landing page (link)
Note: There’s even a Flash demo of the referral split for the math challenged.

ING Direct referral landing page

1. I’m not saying that all sharing is a dead end. For example, sharing savings/spending goals can work very well within tight-knit groups such as extended families. And compiled/masked data about peer spending/savings is very promising (see Citi’s Bundle joint venture). Finally, there are numerous opportunities for “social investing” (our 2008 Online Banking Report on the subject), because it’s much more complicated and often openly discussed.  
2. There is room for “social savings” in the context of sharing discounts, money-savings tips, and so on. But that’s not what ING Direct is talking about in this message.
3. Hence the pivots by the two “class of 2010” startups, Blippy and Swipely, which were founded on a “transaction-sharing” model.
4. And the bank makes its win-win. The new customer gets the biggest share, $25 for a savings account, a 70/30 split of the $35 up for grabs. New checking customers get $50, from an 85/15 split of $60.
5. For info on family banking, deposit gathering, transaction sharing, social investing, and much more, see our subscription newsletter, Online Banking Report.

Launching: Hearst’s Manilla Wants to be Your Online Hub for Bills, Statements, Rewards and Subscriptions

image Manilla, a new account aggregation service from Hearst Corporation, launched today at Demo. Here’s the official announcement and its demo video is embedded below.

Manilla currently aggregates accounts in four categories (more are on the way):

  • Household for keeping track of bills
  • Finance for keeping track of bank accounts and credit cards
  • Subscriptions for keeping track of magazine subscriptions
  • Travel for tracking mileage programs

In the first screenshot below, I’ve added an account in the finance category (American Express, which is shown as pending) and one in the travel section (American Airlines, which displayed the account balance immediately). I have yet to add a household bill or a magazine subscription.

In the second screenshot, you can see what it will look like after the account has been populated with many accounts (this is an example directly from the Manilla website).

The service will not show third-party advertising. Like Doxo, it will display marketing messages only from participating billers. And also like Doxo, billers will pay the freight, sending the company a small fee for each electronic bill it sends through Manilla (more on its business model here).

As I’ve mentioned in several posts about Doxo, there is a huge need for a secure, easy-to-use hub to help households organize their bills and statements. While Doxo is currently focused on delivering bills only from participating billers, Manilla allows users to aggregate bills and statements from virtually anyone supported by its Yodlee-powered aggregation engine.

So, if you are willing to sit down and enter usernames and passwords, the service can begin delivering value immediately. Consumers have been reluctant to do that unless they trust the company. But with Hearst Corp. backing it and with the credibility of two major billing partners, Comcast and Citibank, Manilla may be able to get over the trust hurdle.   

1. Initial Manilla homepage prompts new users to add accounts in four categories (28 Feb. 2011)

Hearst's Manilla aggregates accounts in four categories (28 Feb 2011)

2. Manilla homepage after the user has set up accounts
Note: The icons are for bills, statements, notices and offers

Manilla homepage

3. Reminders area

Manilla reminder

Demo video (link)


For more info, see our recent reports: Paperless Billing and Banking and Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel.

Cardlytics Partners with ClairMail to Take Merchant-Funded Rewards Mobile

image One of the best innovations to come out of this recession is in-statement, merchant-funded rewards. First-mover Cardlytics launched at last year’s BAI Retail Delivery (see post).

A year later, it was already reaching 30 million consumers  imagethrough relationships with more than 100 card-issuing banks and 100 merchants (see notes 1, 2). That’s unheard of growth in financial services. If just one-third of the 30 million customers look at their statements each month, Cardlytics would have more unique visitors than Groupon (note 3), which has been called the “fastest growing company ever.” 

We’re not saying Cardlytics has anywhere near the $60-70 million in monthly revenues attributed to Groupon, nor the $6 billion valuation. But enough similarities can be seen in their business models that I’d be very, very happy if I were an early Cardlytics investor (note 3). For example:

  • Both earn revenue directly from merchants who pay only when sales are made
  • Both leverage online channels to deliver significant discounts to targeted users
  • Both are first movers with aggressive growth tactics

And Cardlytics is different too:

  • Cardlytics focus (for now) is national merchants, whereas Groupon is closely associated with local merchants (but is adding national merchants)image
  • Cardlytics can target much more precisely and keep offers out of the hands of the merchant’s existing customers, a huge and unique benefit
  • Cardlytics does not need to market its own site to consumers; it rides on the coattails, and leverages the trust, of its banking partners

Mobile opportunity
Cardlytics operates at the intersection of payments and advertising. And while the online card statement is the place to be in 2010 (see screenshot below), clearly the future for any shopping-related service is mobile.

Although no specific products or partners were revealed, the startup signaled its intention to go mobile with its ClairMail partnership announced today (press release).

Cardlytics example: in-statement McDonald’s offer made to Burger King customers

cardlytics in-statement merchant-funded offer for McDonalds


1. Cardlytics will be demoing the latest innovations in its service at our Finovate Europe conference on Feb. 1, 2011.
2. BillShrink won a Best of Show award at Finovate Fall for its take on the concept (video).
3. On the strength of its early growth, Cardlytics landed a huge $18 million C-round in August.
4. According to Compete, Groupon had more than 8 million unique U.S. visitors in October.

New Online Banking Report Published: Paperless Finance, Banking & Billing

imageWhen I first began writing about online banking in 1995, there were many unknowns. But by the late 1990s, most people were pretty sure of three things:

  • Online would trump the ATM, call center, and branch for routine information queries and simple transactions.
  • Alerts would keep users informed of account activity and status.
  • Bills would be paid online and delivered the same way.

Most of this vision has come to pass. The only holdout is bill/statement delivery, which has remained stubbornly paper-based, despite a decade of trying to coerce consumers to do without the paper security blanket.

imagePaper bills and statements are an enormous waste of resources, costing $40 billion or more annually in paper and postage. Plus, there’s all the time customers spend storing, sorting, and rummaging through paper statements. And there’s the tens of thousands of calls to customer service that could have been avoided with better organization.

But consumers will continue to cling to the paper until there are:

A.) Clearly better alternatives
B.) Tangible incentives to turn off the paper

Both of these themes are addressed in the latest Online Banking Report (link). Financial institutions, situated at the intersection of the bill and the payment, are in a great position to drive paper out of the system. But so far, it’s not happening as fast as it should.

Doxo, which launched an ebilling hub last month, could be the catalyst for change, at least on the billing side. It’s encouraging to see two billing innovators, Sprint and Kansas City Power & Light teaming with the startup, even before the service gets out of private beta (see previous posts).

So what can you do to take part in the inevitable movement away from paper? Read our latest report for 34 ways to convince customers to part ways with paper.

About the report:

Paperless Banking & Billing (link)
Cloud computing combined with mobile capture mark
the beginning of the end of paper statements

Author: Jim Bruene, editor & founder

Published: 26 Nov. 2010

Length: 40 pages

Cost: No extra charge for OBR subscribers, $495 for others here


Don’t Forget to Give Thanks

image I’ve critiqued hundreds (thousands?) of financial websites, emails, and other marketing messages. And one area that continues to be overlooked is the simple thank-you after your customer completes a transaction. I was reminded again today when testing Bank of America’s paperless statement process (see note).

After following the simple one-click form to go paperless (see first screenshot), I received a confirmation screen (second screenshot). While it was relatively well designed, the bank neglected to thank me for saving them $10+ annually by going green.

Bottom line: The overall experience was good, so the lack of a final thanks isn’t a big deal. However, all these little things add up into an overall brand impression.  

Bank of America’s simple process for switching to paperless credit card account management (24 Nov. 2010)


Confirmation screen neglects to thank customer


Note: In the next few days, we’ll have a new Online Banking Report available dealing with paperless banking: electronic statements and ebilling.

Ebilling Startup Doxo Launches First Client: Sprint

image A few weeks ago, I wrote about Doxo, a newly launched startup, building what Microsoft, Checkfree, and others were unable to achieve a decade ago: an ebilling hub that consumers actually used. A number of the comments, and private emails I received, were skeptical given that history.

But today the startup put itself on the map with the launch of its first biller, Sprint, with nearly 50 million customers (press release). Interestingly, Sprint has been relatively successful in converting customers to paperless billing with 23% adoption (note 1). But that still means the company generates around a half-billion bills annually.

Because Doxo charges Sprint a fraction of what it saves when its customers turn off the paper statement (a requirement to use the system), the telecom giant has little risk in partnering with Doxo.

Co-branded landing page for Sprint customers (link; 9 Nov. 2010)


1. Many billers have found it difficult to drive paperless adoption beyond the 20% to 30% mark.

Launching: Will Ebilling Startup Doxo Become a Household Word?

image The Internet has already yielded some great solutions for a number of modern-day consumer problems.

  • Finding info: Google
  • Purchasing and organizing music: Apple iTunes + iPod
  • Keeping track of your friends: Facebook
  • Booking travel: Expedia and others
  • Getting rid of stuff: eBay and Craigslist
  • Paying for it: PayPal
  • Tracking your money: Online banking

But despite all these advances, does anyone feel like they are more organized today than they were 10 or 15 years ago? Most of us still deal with stacks of paper bills, receipts, statements, privacy notices, along with emails, alerts, and the occasional voice message from our service providers. And if we forget to pay someone, the financial consequences can be huge. So, it’s no wonder we decide to keep the paper statements coming to help us remember to pay each bill. 

The company that solves the paper-based “organizational mess” could be the next big thing online. While it’s way too early to project a winner, a Seattle-based startup launching this week has as good a chance of taming the paper beast as anyone I’ve ever seen. The company is Doxo, which I wrote about briefly this summer (see note 1 for invites). The company’s DNA is Qpass, an early billing and payments company sold to Amdocs in 2006 for $275 mil. Co-founders Steve Shivers, Mark Goris and Roger Parks all worked at Qpass.

Here’s Doxo’s service in a nutshell, using the Facebook metaphor:  

  • Create a secure place online where bills can be stored; let’s call it
  • Allow authorized biller “friends” to communicate directly to their customers via, this includes sending the bill itself, plus customer service and marketing communications
  • Once the biller and end-user are friends, turn off the pesky paper statements and store everything forever, for free, on the platform

The business model:

  • Consumers pay nothing
  • No advertising (other than marketing message from biller “friends”)
  • Billers pay for the entire platform since it costs them a fraction of what they pay today sending paper bills and processing payments

Why would billers pay for it?

  • It’s a fraction of the cost of paper + postage
  • Adoption of estatements has stalled at 10% to 15% of consumers even for billers who’ve worked relentlessly to get rid of paper; and the easy way to get adoption, charging for paper statements, gets both consumers and politicians all worked up
  • The Doxo platform provides a direct, secure communications path to end users, including marketing messages
  • No advertising from competitors makes Doxo more desirable than other third-party systems where billing info might end up residing (e.g., Google/Gmail, Mint, etc.)
  • The network effect; managing multiple bills in one place is the carrot to get consumers to give up the paper

What’s missing?

  • Billers are not yet on the system in this private-beta release (note 1). Users can set up pages for each biller and populate it with their account info and uploaded statements. This is a temporary limitation; I’ve been assured that some big-name billers are on the way.
  • It’s currently a read-only system, meaning there’s no way to pay the bill. Eventually, it makes much more sense to allow customers not only to receive the bill, but also to pay it from within Doxo.

Why it could be huge: This is a classic “network” play. The more billers on the system, the more the consumer benefits and vice versa. Whoever gets this system to scale first will enjoy an enormous “eBay” network effect which will be difficult to dislodge. CheckFree/Fiserv and others have been down this road but have not achieved critical mass, leaving the door open for an aggressive startup to fill the void.

I like what I see at Doxo. And not just its slick UI. I’ve interviewed company execs several times and they have this thing nailed, at least in theory. The user-experience is great, assuming the startup brings in the billers. And the biller’s business case is a no-brainer, if Doxo scores the end-users. We’ll know it has a good shot when a half-dozen big-name billers come on board.   

Why it could lose: Consumers are absolutely not looking for another place to manage their bills. And very few care enough about it to do a lot of work populating a website with account info. Finally, until the portal develops a recognized brand, users won’t trust it. It’s critical that a few big billers endorse Doxo to get it jump-started. Even then, end-users may simply not be willing to spend the few minutes it takes to get set up on Doxo. 

Bottom line: I love it and want all my bills to go here now. So here’s to being able to “doxo” statements to me sometime very soon.    


Electronic biller page at Doxo for fictional Goliath Bank (21 Oct 2010)
Note: The “To Do” tab is where account statements are delivered

Electronic biller page at Doxo for fictional Goliath Bank

Doxo inbox for receiving statements and other communications

Doxo in-box for receiving statements and other communications

Doxo storage area for filed statements
Note: Users can upload their own electronic documents to supplement (or in lieu of) those received through the Doxo platform

Doxo storage area for filed statements

1. The company has tweeted that it will hand out invites to its followers on Update: Doxo sent us some invite codes, use “netbanker” as your access code. 

Gmail’s New Priority Inbox Should Inspire Banks to Do the Same with Electronic Statements

image I’ve been on a bit of a campaign this summer (writing in Online Banking Report here and here), about the need to move beyond the static online “data dump” model to a more measured approach in delivering precise financial info when and where the customer needs it. 

We mostly looked at outbound messaging and streaming systems: email, text, RSS and third-parties such as Blippy and Swipely. But the same logic can be used to improve the financial home base, the online statement.

Google’s new email option, Priority Inbox (aka Magic Inbox), introduced to Gmail users this week (note 1), is a great example of how this could work. Instead of always displaying email (or transactions) in chronologic or reverse-chronologic order, use algorithms to show items in order of importance (see screenshot below).

The bank-transaction importance-ranking would obviously include the size of the item. But it would also position unusual payments of any size at the top of the list so that users could more quickly identify fraud or errors. And, as with Gmail, users should be able to label and flag transactions for future reference (note 2).

A service like this would have saved me hundreds of dollars this year, by alerting me immediately that my cell phone bill had mushroomed, and that I needed to switch to an unlimited-minutes plan.

Gmail Priority Inbox (1 Sep 2010)
Note: There are no messages in the top priority area called “Important and unread” because I’d read them all. Google provides a little note of congratulations for clearing out that portion of the inbox.

Gmail priority inbox is a good model for online banking and credit card statements

1. Google has offered similar algorithm-based ordering in its RSS reader for some time. I’ve been using it for almost a year and am a big fan. It really helps lift the best posts to the top of the 600 or so I get each day. I will use Twitter a lot more when it offers the same type of functionality (Does anyone know of a Twitter client that arranges tweets by importance?)  
2. And like Google, banking users should be able to store their transactions for as long as they are customers. See our Online Banking Report on Lifetime Statements for more info.

New Online Banking Report Published: Email Banking – Revitalizing the Channel

image Each day, the typical consumer household completes several banking and credit/debit card transactions. And 99% of the time, the transactions require little extra attention other than mentally checking them off to ensure you aren’t a victim of fraud, or more likely, human error.

But to stay on top of that routine activity, Americans collectively make hundreds of millions of visits to banking websites each month. This, my friends, is not an efficient use of time.

And it’s mostly unnecessary. There’s really no reason to log in every week to manage my accounts. All the info I really need could be sent to me via email.

That would eliminate the need for most website visits. And if I could initiate transactions right from the email, I’d only need to visit the website every few months to tweak my settings (even that could potentially be done through email interactions).

But as pervasive as email (and text) alerts have become, they are often cryptic messages that make you feel less certain of your finances, creating more anxiety and more website visits (see note 1). This is not what you want from financial providers.

What’s missing is a rich email experience, where a balance summary message can be expanded into a full statement with the click of a link. Where key supporting actions, such as paying a bill, are imbedded in the message. And where it’s easy to resolve issues immediately while you are thinking about them, rather than moving to another channel later on.

That’s the promise of Email Banking that we explore in the current report (see below). We also look at a new Israeli startup, ActivePath, that is delivering much of this vision with its new email banking service launching in the U.S. later this year (note 2). The screenshot below shows how a password-protected daily account-summary email can become a full-featured account-management tool with numerous links to act on the information presented. 

Finally, in an addendum to last month’s report on email/text alerts, we look at the alert-control panels at five major banks: Bank of America, Capital One, Chase, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.

About the report:


Email banking: revitalizing the channel (link)
New technologies and more thoughtful design could elevate email
to a central role in account management

Author: Jim Bruene, Editor & Founder

Published: 19 Aug 2010

Length: 40 pages

Cost: No extra charge to OBR subscribers, $395 for others here


Daily account summary email from ActivePath
Note: Embedded buttons to a.) view transactions, b.) role money into a CD,
c.) transfer funds, d.) view transaction detail, e.) chat with customer service


1. For more on email alerts, see last month’s Online Banking Report: Email Alerts & Transaction Streaming.
2. See ActivePath, along with 55 other innovators, at FinovateFall, Oct. 4/5 in NYC.