BankSeeds: HomeSlice is an Expense & Chore Management App for Roommates

seed_invest_logoEditor’s note: We are starting a new series showcasing very early-stage
startups of interest to banks and other financial institutions considering
Strategic Seed Investing. We have no financial relationship
with the companies mentioned, but we hope to see them at Finovate soon.

—————

homeslice_appHomeSlice is targeting the 15 million college students currently sharing their lives with one or more roommates. The San Luis Obispo, California, company has created a “micro social network” for a single household where roommates can track chores, supplies, bills due, and payments made. HomeSlice’s “whiteboard function” captures all activity in a social network-like news feed (see inset).

In March, the company reported 6,000 active users across 2,000 households. In total, they’ve tracked 26,000 bills and 80,000 household supply items. The app is currently has no transactional integration so you can’t actually buy items or pay bills, but presumably that is on the way. The startup was recently visiting PayPal’s Venmo unit, a logical partner.

Fundraising: According to its Angel List profile, the company is currently raising a small round. The first investor is MatchFire (23 April 2015 press release), a data supplier to the app.

homeslice_billsWhy it’s a good strategic bet for financial institutions: Students and young adults are an attractive, albeit difficult, segment to win over. Yet, they are the future, and could be customers for 70+ years. So helping them with early money-management problems could pay huge dividends over time, assuming you are able to upsell profitable financial products. Furthermore, if a “parent view” could be added to the functionality, the app could be appealing to the income-producing part of the family.

And why it might not work: Young adults, students especially, are generally not big spenders for financial management and/or productivity apps. Nor are they interested, so it won’t be an easy sell.

Finally, remember this is a seed stage opportunity. The HomeSlice app is an MVP (minimal viable product) relying on manual data entry with no financial integration. There is a ways to go before you are sharing with your customers (or board).

 

Is "Family Security" a Product Opportunity for Online Banks?

image In the digital era where teenagers might keep their bank accounts for the next 80 years, it’s important to offer services that encourage kids to sign up for a bank account. There are some cool ideas around financial education, money management, and gamification which we explored in our Online Banking Report earlier this year (note 3).  

But what’s the one issue that really drives parents’ behavior towards their kids? Fear. Fear for their physical safety on the way to school, fear of bad influences at school, and fear of the idiots kids will encounter online. The list goes on and on. 

You may not be able to protect kids from Facebook bullies, but you can help on the money side. Financial institutions can offer services that help protect children from online scams, ID thieves, and so on. You can offer prepaid cards with controlled access. You can keep parents apprised of their child’s spending so they can recognize early-warning signs of dangerous behavior.

It’s win-win product development. Parents will pay for it through fees and/or loyalty. You’ll lock in more youth accounts, and everyone will get a bit more peace of mind.

Bottom line: While family financial security is a promising area, it’s no small project. Most banks will need partners to provide at least some of the services (credit-reporting specialists, account-aggregation providers, data analytics, and so on). But once the data feeds are available, they can be bundled together into different packages for various segments. 

And mobile delivery will be crucial. For inspiration, look at Life360, a fast-growing mobile service whose core offering is GPS tracking for family members (see screenshot below, note 2). Life360 is free, but offers an optional identity-theft protection family-plan at $14.95/$19.95 per month. Since going free, the company has mushroomed to 6 million families.

——————————

Life360 is a fast-growing startup offering “mobile family safety” (13 Dec 2011)

Life360 is a fast-growing startup offering "mobile family safety"

——-

Notes:
1. Graphic: From the FTC-sponsored one-day seminar on childhood identity theft this summer (link).
2. For more info on Life360, read the series of Techcrunch posts on the company.
3. For more on family/youth banking, see our recent Online Banking Report (subscription).

BillMyParents.com Traffic Spikes to 600,000 Unique Visitors

image If you want to attract customers between the ages of 12 to 21+, you could not have a better name than BillMyParents. But living up to that promise, not to mention appealing to parents, is a little trickier.

San Diego-based BillMyParents is a public company (OTCBB: BMPI) currently valued at $40 million. When we first looked at the company (March 2009), it was building an alternative payment mark similar to PayPal or BillMeLater. But the company appears to have pivoted into a more achievable prepaid card product.

Today, its core offering is a $3.95/mo prepaid MasterCard debit card (see full fee schedule below) that offers mobile alerts and basic parental controls (lock, unlock, reload). 

Fresh off a $7 million infusion of new funding (Nov. 2010, note 1), the company has ramped up its advertising with its first national TV commercial (on ESPN; link) and a mention in MTV’s Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory (which apparently has something to do with skateboarding). It is also working with Street League Skateboarding.

Evidently, those efforts are bearing fruit as website traffic is up 20-fold since December, to 600,000 unique visitors in May according to Compete estimates (see below). More importantly, traffic to the secure site (e.g., account holders) is up to 17,000 visitors in May compared to 7,000 in December (note 2).

Relevance for Netbankers: Teens want to spend. Parents want transparency and control. And banks want to attract teens and tweens that could be customers for the next 80 years. And if that’s not enough, in the United States, prepaid looks to be favored in the post-Durbin world (previous post).

So expect prepaid cards to be a hotbed of activity from both banks and non-banks (note 3). 

—————————————

BillMyParents.com unique monthly visitors

image

Source: Compete, 28 June 2011


Parent section of BillMyParent’s website
(28 June 2011)

Parent section of BillMyParent's website (27 June 2011)

Fee schedule

image

——–

Notes:
1. Source:http://www.marketwire.com/press-release/socialwise-changes-corporate-name-to-billmyparents-inc-otcqb-sclw-1525359.htm
2. Source: http://siteanalytics.compete.com/account.billmyparents.com/
3. For example, BankSimple http://www.netbanker.com/bank_simple/

USAA Promotes Teen Checking Accounts

image

In doing some initial research for a report we are planning for Q1 on “family bank accounts,” I started where I usually do, on Google. The only financial institution advertising specifically on the term “teen banking” was USAA (see note 1).

The top-of-the-page ad led to a well-designed landing page devoted to Teen Checking (see screenshots below) with a clever call to action: 

We won’t take any of your teen’s allowance.
Teen checking without hidden fees.

USAA even has a dedicated site with its own URL to support its youth-banking efforts: https://my.usaa.com

Relevance for NetBankers: Teenagers may be one of the most lucrative segments to attract to your financial institution. They not only spend billions themselves, but also could literally stick with you for a lifetime.

The thinking goes something like this:

  1. Attracting the children of your customers helps you retain the parents
  2. Retaining the parents helps you retain the kids as they become young adults
  3. Young adults become parents
  4. Repeat

This didn’t work so well in the old branch-based world because one of the first things the kids did when they moved away was open a checking account at the closest branch to their new apartment or dorm room. In an online/mobile-centric world, that no longer has to happen. 

Google search for “teen banking” (see note 1; search conducted at 5:00 PM on 11 Jan. 2011 from Seattle IP address)

Google search for "teen banking"

USAA’s “Teen Checking” landing page

USAA's "Teen Checking" landing page

Notes:
1. First-page organic results included (note, search was limited to items posted in past month) 
— Fremont FCU
— North Shore Bank
— Coast Hills FCU
— U.S. Bank (Visa Buxx)
— S.T.A.R Community Credit Union
— American Riviera Bank (my new favorite bank name)
2. If anyone wants to point out great examples of teen/youth/family banking efforts, please drop me an email jim@netbanker.com or leave it in the comments. Thanks.

Can Banking Be Fun?

image You don’t often see banking and fun in the same sentence. According to Google site search, I’ve used the word fun 58 times in six years of blogging here. It usually appears in a negative sense, for example, when this or that task is “no fun” (see note 1).

guest post in TechCrunch this weekend got me thinking about it. The author, Gabe Zichermann, who’s literally written the book on the subject, led with the provocative statement:

What if everything we did was a little more fun?

He even cited Chase as a large brand trying to add more fun to their offerings. And though he provided no specifics on Chase’s efforts, he did detail his thoughts on how FedEx could use game mechanics to make tracking shipments more enjoyable.

According to Merriam-Webster, fun is:

what provides amusement or enjoyment

By that definition, there is hope that the online and mobile channels are at least making banking tasks relatively more enjoyable than they were pre-Internet.

So how do we make banking more fun?

1. Reduce money worries: Financial stress hits every demographic segment. Is my money safe? Have I paid my bills on time? Do I have enough in my account to last until the next paycheck?

Ideas: Real-time alerts, mobile apps, dashboard controls, red/yellow/green indicators, location-based check-in to authorize a card transaction before you’ve even reached the counter

2. Create mobile magic: The best way to get someone excited about a new channel is to prove that it has new benefits, and it’s mobile’s time to shine.

Ideas: Deposit checks or capture receipts via mobile phone camera, 4-digit login, shake to logout, scan barcode to comparison shop, bump to pay

3. Make it a game: Make financial chores into a game you can win by making good choices (see last week’s post on In and Out Cash).

Ideas: Allow users to keep score against themselves and peers; earn points, honors, badges and discounts for credit-score improvements, savings gains, debt reductions and other measures of financial fitness and goal achievement

4. Keep score: Utility companies provide valuable score-keeping metrics on their monthly statements where at minimum you can see how your energy/water consumption compares to the same period a year ago.

Ideas: It should be easy to see how spending patterns compare to the previous year (a basic PFM function), as well as where your savings stand, how many times you’ve been late with a bill, how your credit score has changed and so on.

Note: There really is a Funbank.com. It’s a kid’s banking/shopping portal that says “patent pending” and “copyright 2003,” so it may not be operational. Many links, including About Us, were broken (29 March 2010)

image

Straight out of Twitter: BillMyParents Launches

image I’ve mostly just observed the Twitter phenomenon, following a few people and seeing how banks and credit unions are using it (see my previous post for financial institutions on Twitter). However, I’d not fully embraced Twitter either as a publishing device or research source. The 300 or so RSS feeds, emails and news items that cross my desk each day seemed like plenty of intelligence to sift through.

But now, I’m reconsidering my priorities after learning about an interesting new alt-payment company BillMyParents from Twitter activity (see notes 1, 2).

How it works: BillMyParents is a new service from IdeaEdge’s Socialwise (press release). The service is primarily designed for kids to shop online. They select what they want, then at checkout, redirect the bill to their parents via an email alert to PC or mobile phone. Parents login and complete the payment process at their convenience using MasterCard, Visa, Discover Card (no American Express; see third screenshot below). Card info can be stored for one-click future approvals.

The company charges a $0.50 transaction fee for each purchase. But like PayPal, the real money will be made when the company pushes purchase transactions through the ACH system.  

Currently, BillMyParents is selling prepaid gift cards from its site as a proof-of-concept. I tested it yesterday and everything seemed to work as described (see second screenshot below).

The opportunity: The service reminds me of the unmet need that PayPal filled nine years ago. Purchasing at eBay was a major hassle due to the lack of online payment capabilities. Kids have similar problems when trying to buy things online.

The service could also be adapted to other situations where one party does the shopping but wants someone else to authorize payment such as small businesses, nannies, or even spouses. It could also be used for extra security when the shopping is done in a non-secure environment such as public terminal and payment is redirected to a more secure device, such as your mobile phone.

Like any alternative payment, BillMyParents requires the merchant to add the option to its ecommerce platform and consumers to set up accounts. Both of those are time-consuming and face the chicken-and-egg dilemma, i.e., it’s hard to attract merchants without a substantial user base while its difficult to add users without merchants.

Bottom line: This is a winning idea. The massive discretionary purchasing power of teens and pre-teens is a tempting target in this difficult retail environment. And financial institutions, or their payment partners (e.g. Visa, MasterCard), looking to differentiate themselves with the youth market, could jumpstart the program. Or more likely, PayPal and/or Amazon will dive in, either acquiring BillMyParents outright, or building their own version(s).  

BillMyParents homepage after setting up an account (26 March 2009)
Note: Split login screen for kids (left) and parents (right)

image

Proof-of-concept: Gift card purchase (26 March 2009)

image

Parent’s approval screen (26 March 2009)

image

Notes:
1.  Thanks to Frederic Baud (@fredericbaud) who was the first in my network to Tweet about BillMyParents; and to Glenbrook’s Scott Loftesness (@sjl) who’s retweet is actually what caught my eye.

2. BillMyParents appears to have grabbed its Twitter page name (@billmyparents), but it’s not yet active.

High-Rate Savings for Kids, Patelco’s "gr8 r8"

Earning interest is a great incentive for kids to save. Even a couple bucks in "free" money earned on their deposit is a great motivator. But with many savings rates below 1% annually, it doesn't add up fast enough for lower balance levels. At US Bank's 0.10% rate, my son's $1,700 in savings would only earn him $1.70 per year, or 14 cents a month. There is no incentive there.

But at Patelco Credit Union, with its kid-friendly "gr8 r8" account (see note 1, 2), he would earn 8% on the first $1,000 and the going rate on the rest (1.51%). And the 8% is guaranteed through the end of 2008. So his annual return increases to $81, or almost $7 per month, 50x the US Bank return. Seven bucks extra a month is real money to a pre-teen, and gives him a good taste for the benefits of saving and investing for the long-term. Even more important, it positions the CU as family friendly, impressing the parents and maybe hooking the kids as future members as well.

Granted, the business case is tricky. Does subsidizing junior to the tune of $5/mo really benefit the credit union and its members. If the CU had 20,000 of these accounts, that's an extra $1.2 million per year in interest expense. Might the credit union's other 220,000 members prefer an extra $5 in their accounts at the end of the year? I'm guessing most members would support efforts to instill savings discipline in today's youths. And the marketing and PR benefits are excellent. The CU even features the account on its homepage (see screenshot below).

So, overall I r8 it gr8. Thanks Trey (see note 2).  

Patelco CU homepage (19 Oct. 2007)

Notes:

1. Must be under 21 when account opened. No maximum account balance, but only the first $1,000 earns 8%. The special rate is good through the end of 2008, when the account reverts to a regular savings account.

2. I just realized the account name, gr8 r8, is a double entendre, not only being SMS-speak for "great rate," but also with an eight-percent rate. [My family has to spell these things out for me.]  

3. Thanks to Trabian's Trey Reeme for the tip (here). And I agree with him, gr8 r8 savings absolutely must have an SMS component, at minimum a message each month when the "free money" (interest) is added to the account.