Fee-Based Features: Document Registration and Storage Services

image Consumers hate fees, of course. But that doesn’t stop them from paying $1,000 per year for their iPhones. It’s all about perceived value. 

No one will ever confuse a bank with Apple. But there are hundreds of value-added services that financial institutions could offer customers for a fee (note 1).

For example, document registration. There couldn’t be a more mundane service than document registration. Yet, it fills a real need for the constantly unorganized, and their heirs.

Four years ago (see May 2008 post), we wrote about FindYourPolicy.com, a startup that had created a service to help people keep better track of their life insurance and beneficiaries. According to the company $1 billion in insurance policies go unclaimed each year due to unknown or lost beneficiaries. Although it sounds simple, tracking down beneficiaries can be a timely and expensive process. Outsourcing some or all of that is an appealing idea.

In 2008, the company was trying to get consumers to pay $25 to $50/year for the service. We didn’t expect that fee to stick and later that year the company abandoned that model. Now they allow users to register life insurance policies free of charge, then assess heirs $9.95 to search the database for potential policies. It would be a good business if it gained a critical mass of users, but that won’t be easy.

However, life insurance recording would be an excellent value-add for online banking. It’s a bit of a stretch to think you’d be able to get a fee for just that. However, if you expand the service to include more document types such as wills, titles, and contracts, it begins to have more potential for fee income.

imageBut to really bring value to the service, you’ll likely want a storage piece as well. Although Wells Fargo shuttered its vSafe service in March (post), several large credit unions are moving into the storage space, including Northwest Federal Credit Union which is providing its 68,000 e-statement users with 100MB of free storage space powered by DigitalMailer (note 2, 3, 4).


Northwest FCU showcases its new My Virtual Strongbox storage service in a homepage ad (15 July 2012)



1. For info on fee-based financial services, see the Online Banking Report (subscription) on fee-based online services (May 2011); paperless banking and online storage (late 2010); and lifetime statement archives (2005).
2. We looked at DigitalMailer’s new My Virtual StrongBox in our April report (subscription).
3. Members using e-statements get 100 MB free storage and can pay a fee for additional space.
4. DigitalMailer will be demoing VirtualStrongbox at FinovateFall 2012.

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 Box.net 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.