PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet Offers Three Ways to Put Your Savings on Autopilot

imageIf PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet, launched in July 2008 (previous post), worked with any bank account instead of just PNC’s, it would have hundreds of thousands of users instead of the 60,000 or so estimated by Compete.

From the outside it’s hard to know whether the strategy has paid off for PNC. It depends on the profitability of these customers, how many were new to the bank, and how much was invested in the effort. 

imageThe Virtual Wallet contains several superb products wrapped in an inviting user interface.  No wonder it’s won so many awards, including an OBR Best of the Web from us. The eight awards are shown in a scrollbar at the bottom of the homepage (see inset).

One thing the wallet does better than most is try to make savings less painful or even fun (see last week’s post about making banking fun). There are three ways users can boost their savings rate (see inset from PNC’s demo):

  • imageEstablish automated savings transfers at various times of the month
  • Set up a savings amount to be transferred every time a bill is paid (same concept as Bank of America’s Keep the Change)
  • And my favorite, Punch the Pig. Every time you hit the animated pig, a certain amount of cash is transferred to the Growth (savings) account.


Note
: For more information on the PFM space, see our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features (new report available in April). For more on deposits, see Online Banking Report: Growing Your Deposits in the Digital Age (Dec. 2008).

Banking the Holidays: 2009 Edition

imageIt’s a bit of a holiday tradition at Netbanker (note 1), checking out the top-20 banks to see if they’ve upped their retail game during the year-end holiday period. Or at least pushed out a holiday greeting to visitors, such as Google’s greeting to Gmail users yesterday (inset). 

It was pretty much business as usual at most large bank sites. The only top-10 bank with any major holiday message this week was PNC Bank, with its clever Christmas Price Index, which values the items listed in the 12 Days of Christmas song. The total this year: $21,500, up 1.8% over 2008 (press release).

PNC has calculated the price index for 26 years and displays a bar graph at their CPI microsite (below). It’s been online for a number of years; we first blogged about it in 2004.

This year, we surfed the 20 largest U.S. banks on Dec. 22 and Dec. 24 (screenshots are in the next post; note 2). On the first visit, we found six top-20 banks with a holiday mention on the homepage (rank in parenthesis). We took a tour again this morning expecting to find a few more holiday messages. There was only one newcomer, ING Direct, and surprisingly, three of the original six had pulled down their holiday ads already. In all only four top-20 banks have a holiday message today (24 Dec., 9 AM Pacific time). 

December 22 December 24
5. PNC Bank 5. PNC Bank
13. TD Bank 15. Regions Bank
14. Citizens (RBS) 16. Fifth Third
15. Regions 17. ING Direct
16. Fifth Third  
20. Harris Bank (BMO)  

Luckily, an astute reader emailed yesterday to let us know that their bank was decked out in the holiday spirit, $2 billion (deposits) Union Bank and Trust (below) headquartered in Bowling Green, Virginia.

Union Bank & Trust (24 Dec. 2009)

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Note:
1. Previous Netbanker December holiday-marketing posts (2007, 2006, 2006, 2004)
2. Rankings based on deposits on 31 Dec. 2008 (list here)

Screenshots of Holiday Promotions at Top-20 US Banks

Here are the screenshots that support our previous blog entry.

Holiday Promotions and Themes from Top-20 Banks

5. PNC Bank (22 Dec. 2009)

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Landing page <pncchristmaspriceindex.com>
Note: According to Compete, received 25,000 unique visitors in Dec. 2008

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 13. TDBank (22 Dec.)
Note: The promotion was gone when we checked back today (24 Dec.)

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Landing page

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14. Citizens (RBS) (22 Dec.)
Note: The gift ad was gone when we checked back today (24 Dec.), but the free electronic calendar (to the left of the gift ad) was still running.

image13_thumb

Landing page

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15. Regions (22 Dec.)

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16. Fifth Third Bank (22 Dec.)

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17. ING Direct (24 Dec.)

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20. Harris Bank (BMO)
Note: The points ad had been pulled down when we checked back this morning (24 Dec.)

image25_thumb

Note:
1. Previous Netbanker December holiday-marketing posts (2007, 2006, 2006, 2004)
2. Rankings based on deposit on 31 Dec. 2008 (list here)

How Many iPhone Banking Apps Will There Be?

image Are you tired of hearing “there’s an app for that” yet? Well, get used to it, we are still at the beginning of the great app rollout

Even as recently as our iPhone Banking Report published in March, I assumed most financial institutions would have a single iPhone app. One bank. One app. It’s how the Web worked, for the most part.  

But when Starbucks unveiled a dedicated app just for its stored-value card (separate from the main Starbucks brand app), I realized that I wasn’t thinking big enough.

For example, in August PNC Bank become the first U.S. financial institution to offer multiple apps when it released an app for its Gen-Y-focused Virtual Wallet. That was followed last week by Wells Fargo when it unveiled its cash-management app for larger businesses, CEO Mobile (screenshot below; press release).

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image Now, I believe that each major bank will roll out dozens of apps, perhaps hundreds, to support their business lines, major products and large segments. There will be an app for each major affinity credit/debit card, one for students, one for small businesses, one for large business, one for senior checking, one for home equity lines, and so on.

And, if that’s not enough, there could be a dedicated app for each stock broker, loan officer and mortgage broker. There could be one app for every branch, neighborhood, or region. Right now the search-and-discovery tools at Apple would implode under the weight of all these apps. But they’ll figure that out. It’s worth billions to them. 

Today, more than 100,000 apps are available for the iPhone. But fewer than 20 are for U.S. financial institutions. It’s conceivable that in the banking vertical itself, well over 10,000 apps could be developed, possibly many tens of thousands (see notes 1, 2). 

Wells Fargo is first U.S. bank with a cash management iPhone app (12 Nov 2009)

image          image

Notes:
1. They won’t all be iPhone apps. The mobile market is too big to have it all consolidated at one player. 
2. It’s also conceivable that we’ll move away from the dedicated app framework, and users will be able to configure their phones with hundreds of info feeds without needing to install an app for each one. More like the iGoogle portal model.  It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

PNC Bank Does a Great Job Packaging Business Banking Benefits into its CFO Account, but Misses Mobile

imageToo often we don’t give online business banking the coverage it deserves, both here and in Online Banking Report (note 1). Online services can be far more valuable for a business customer than for the average consumer. But consumer services, with bigger advertising budgets and much more press coverage, tend to be more visible when we search for examples of financial innovations.  

image That’s why I was especially intrigued with the PNC Bank ad in the Aug/Sep issue of BusinessWeek SmallBiz magazine. Not only had PNC Bank shelled out for a full-page ad (p. 20, see inset; note 2), the creative was interesting and included a tease for the CFO product combined with easy-to-recall URL <pnc.com/cfo>.  

The new account, cleverly dubbed PNC|CFO, an acronym for Cash Flow Options, covers all the major headaches of business owners:

  • Accelerate accounts receivable
  • Improve your outgoing payments
  • Invest your cash wisely
  • Access information online
  • Ensure access to cash (note 3)

Analysis
Naturally, I was most interested in the second-to-last bullet, online information. The audio-visual online banking demo is thorough, but surprisingly neglects mobile banking services. The only mention of mobile banking is at the end of the last paragraph on the online banking landing page. With business owners increasingly tethered to their businesses via Blackberry or iPhone, mobile capabilities should be front-and-center. 

The other thing missing from the web-based marketing: a human connection. The main call-to-action is the big orange Contact Request button (see screenshot below). Presumably a biz banker will quickly get on the horn and make that connection. However, the bank should make it clear that they have a bevy of qualified bankers available to usher new clients into the CFO account.

Simply changing the button to Contact a Business Banker would be an improvement. But I’d also like to see a bullet point that talks about customer  service. The only thing I saw was a few generic screenshots in the online demo which talked about responding to most questions “within 24 hours.” That doesn’t make the reader feel particularly special.

Finally, a small rant about the bank’s contact form. I received error messages the first three times I attempted to submit it. Evidently, commas are not allowed in the company name or address fields. That not good programming and creates a needless poor first impression. There’s is also no space in the form for comments from prospective customers. PNC Bank has been on the web for 14 years, it should have flawless forms (note 4).

Grade: Overall, I really like what PNC is doing so I’ll give the marketing site an A for design and B- for execution.

Landing page for PNC’s Cash Flow Options service (link, 19 Aug 2009)

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PNC new account “contact me” form with error message

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Notes:
1. Our last report on Online Small Business Banking is available here (June 2004).
2. Key Bank (p. 9) and Bank of America (p. 29) also bought full pagers.
3. The bank is referring to credit lines and loans; I’m not sure why they didn’t state that more clearly. Access to cash sounds more like a checking account feature.
4. While I’m at it, here are a few more minor flaws: (a) Even though I made two errors in the form, the error message only identified the first one; (b) When an error is made, the form automatically clears the checks in the bottom column of boxes; (c) The bank has neglected to turn off auto-fill (at least in Firefox 3.0) in the “confirm your email” field. 

PNC Bank Launches iPhone Mobile Banking in Apple App Store

image You’d think that seven months after Apple launched the App Store for the iPhone, it would no longer be news when a U.S. bank adds an application to the store.

It’s not like a cost-prohibitive slotting fee is involved. Developers pay Apple exactly zero dollars to be listed in the store (note 1). Apple’s revenue is from the 30% share of any fees charged for an app. All the bank apps are free, so that’s not an issue.

But it is news since the addition of PNC Bank two weeks age (app here) brings the grand total of bank-specific apps to four, five if you count PayPal. Even if you include the several dozen banks supported by Firethorn’s multi-bank app, there are still no more than 40 banks supported (note 2). And there’s not a single credit union, yet. 

Here are the five App Store participants in order of their appearance:

Wells Fargo has an iPhone app, but it’s not yet shown up in the official App Store.

PNC mobile banking app
PNC’s entry is a full-featured app powered by mFoundry. Along with balance and transaction activity, it includes bill pay, funds transfer, and an ATM finder with location-based capabilities. Users must enable mobile banking from within online banking in order to use the app.

The app has risen from number 17 in the Finance category a week ago to 13 today (note 3). However, the app has not yet made it to the PNC website (note 4).

PNC iPhone App screenshots (11 Feb 2009)

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Notes:
1. The app does need to be approved by Apple, a process that can take weeks or longer.
2. Users can also track thousands of financial institutions through Mint or PageOnce.
3. Bank of America is #1, Chase is #4, PayPal is #5, Mint is #6, Firethorn is #9.
4. A PNC.com site search for “iphone” yielded just one result, an iphone listed in a mobile banking compatibility table. (Off topic: Note to PNC Bank, your site search doesn’t function in Firefox 3.0).
5. For more information on the market, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking and the latest forecast in last month’s Online Banking Report Online & Mobile Forecast.

PNC Mobile Banking Offered through Verizon’s Website

Verizon Wireless mobile phone users can now download PNC Bank mobile banking directly from the Verizon Wireless site (here). The free service, powered by mFoundry, is housed in the Features & Downloads area (see first screenshot below).

However, unlike Firethorn's mobile banking app which carries a "recommended" endorsement from the wireless carrier (see second screenshot), the PNC Bank app is found only via site search (see last screenshot). The PNC app is currently not available via browsing the business apps.

Users may click on the Send to Phone button, a shortcut that sends an application directly to their mobile phone for easy downloading. Both mobile banking applications are free.

PNC Mobile Banking app on Verizon Wireless site (3 Nov 2008)

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Search results for "banking" at Verizon's Tools & Applications area
(3 Nov 2008)

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Firethorn's mobile banking app is recommended at the Verizon site
(3 Nov 2008)

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Note:
1. For more information on the market, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking.

Online Personal Finance Traffic More than Doubles; PNC Virtual Wallet Grabs Second Place

image As I was drilling into the latest Compete traffic numbers for the annual Online Banking Report planning issue, I noticed a significant uptick in traffic to online personal finance specialists, almost across the board.

Sept. traffic revealed a total of 1.2 million unique visitors (note 1) compared to less than 400,000 a year ago. Not surprisingly, consumers appear to be taking a closer look at their finances. 

The big three newcomers last year: Mint, Wesabe, and Geezeo saw combined traffic increase by 450,000 users, a nearly three-fold increase from 2007. Geezeo was the star percentage-wise, growing more than six-fold. But Mint accounted for three-fourths of the net gain across the existing players with 330,000 more visitors (see Table 1 below):

Also, two newcomers made a big splash last month:

  • PNC Virtual Wallet launched in July (coverage here) by PNC Bank, which trailed only Mint last month with nearly 140,000 unique visitors (see 2 below).
  • Rudder (a relaunch of Spendview) drew 50,000 visitors last month after its launch at DEMOfall in early Sept.

Granted, the PNC Virtual Wallet benefits enormously from the 2 million monthly visitors to parent PNC.com and PNCBank.com. Yet, it’s still an impressive total and is encouraging for banks and credit unions considering similar efforts.

Table 1: Online PFMs launched more than 1 year ago

  Sep 2008 Sep 2007 Gain ’08 vs. ’07 Multiple
Mint 530,000 200,000 330,000 2.7 x
Geezeo 72,000 11,000 61,000 6.5 x
Wesabe 89,000 33,000 56,000 2.7 x
Yodlee 97,000 50,000 47,000 1.9 x
Finicity/Mvelopes 91,000 73,000 18,000 1.2 x
Buxfer 9,000 3,500 5,500 2.5 x
PearBudget 6,300 2,100 4,200 3.0 x
ClearCheckbook 6,200 2,800 3,400 2.2 x
BudgetTracker 12,000 12,000 0 Flat
  Total 910,000 380,000 530,000 2.4x

Table 2: The online PFM class of 2008

  Sep 2008 Sep 2007 Gain
PNC Virtual Wallet 140,000 0 140,000
Rudder 50,000 2,000 (1) 48,000
Expensify 9,600 0 9,600
GreenSherpa 6,300 0 6,300
RateSurfer 4,400 0 4,400
Thrive 3,500 0 3,500
Expensr 2,900 0 2,900
Banzai 2,700 0 2,700
iThryv 2,000 0 2,000
  T
otal
220,000 2,000 220,000
       
Grand Total 1.2 million 380,000 750,000

 Notes:

1. Sum of the monthly unique visitors from all PFM companies, visitors that went to more than one PFM provider are not eliminated from the total, so there is double counting in the totals. Data source is Compete, pulled 21 Oct 2008.

2. Rudder was previously Spendview, but we consider them to be essentially a new company.

PNC Bank Takes on Mint & Quicken with PNC Virtual Wallet

image Just when you thought Mint, Wesabe, and Geezeo had a lock on all the headlines for Gen Y personal finance, along comes a truly inspired effort from a major U.S. retail bank. Furthermore, it’s not from Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, or even ING Direct.

Pittsburgh, PA-based PNC Bank, the 15th-largest U.S. retail bank with $83 billion in deposits (see note 1), today launched a new online combo account called PNC Virtual Wallet.

The account comes with a checking account, bill payment, and two types of savings accounts. It also features several unique personal financial management features with an emphasis on functions most likely to appeal to a 20-something audience:

  • Cash flow: debit card, checking, online bill pay, financial calendar, recent transaction report
  • Savings: two types of savings accounts, automated savings options, wish list, and a random video-game-inspired savings tool called “punch the pig” (see below)

Finally, the account is priced well:

  • No fees (except $0.50 per written check after the first 3 per month and the usual penalty fees)
  • Free overdraft protection among linked accounts
  • 3% APY on the growth savings component
  • ATM-free rebate (but only if there’s a $2000 average monthly balance in the checking account portion)

What’s innovative? (note 2)

  • Package of three deposit accounts: Spend Account (e.g., checking), Reserve Account (e.g., savings) and Growth Account (e.g., high-yield savings or money market deposit account)
  • Ability to move money among the three accounts by moving a slider across the screen, called the Money Bar
  • Automated savings function called Savings Engine that allows users to set up time-triggered (e.g., once per week) or event-triggered (e.g., each debit card use) automatic savings transfers
  • Savings game called Punch the Pig, a video-game-inspired savings gimmick: Each time the pig appears on screen, users can elect to “punch” it to automatically move money from checking to savings
  • Wish List with savings goals and progress reports

What can be improved?
Four areas that are noticeably absent, or at least not mentioned:

  • Mobile functionality, especially text banking and alerts
  • Online customer support: Customer can apply online through the Andera-powered app; however, there is no link to any online-support options such as chat, IM, text, or even a Web-based input form or old-school email address
  • Social aspects: forums, reviews, blogs, or even testimonials (note 4)
  • Credit: credit cards, line of credit, auto loans, and so on

The website design is impressive and very un-banklike, yet it lacks some basics:

  • No demo: There are several Flash instructional videos that show most of the key features, but there is no all-encompassing demo for users wanting a tryout before buying.
  • Lame homepage videos: Granted, I’m not in the Gen Y target market so I could be wrong, but if I think the videos are lame, what do you think a 22-year-old will make of them? I say lose the “man on the street videos” or reshoot them in a less-scripted manner. 
  • Extensive FAQs: The FAQs need to be expanded tenfold. Currently, only 16 questions and answers are up, but with so many unique features, that number doesn’t come close to answering many basic questions, such as “Are there account alerts?” or “What’s the rate of interest on the reserve account” (note 3), or “How long are transactions stored?”

PNC Bank virtual wallet homepage (14 July 2008)

PNC Bank Virtual Wallet home 14 July 2008

Explanation of “Punch the Pig” savings feature

PNC Bank Punch the Pig feature in VirtualWallet 14 July 2008

Notes:
1. Deposits as of 31 Dec 2007; deposits were up 25% compared to $66 billion as of year-end 2006.

2. PNC has applied for a patent on the account and tools.

3. Eventually, I did find a link to interest rates and fees on the “how to apply” page

4. See Online Banking Report on Social Personal Finance for more info