Simple’s Twitter Feed Teems with Customer Problems

A month ago, our favorite discerning-technologist-masquerading-as-a-banker Bradley Leimer penned a fascinating post that looked deep into (bank) Simple’s Twitter feed. He drew a dozen conclusions parsing the startup’s back-and-forth with customers over Twitter. Here are a few more thoughts on Simple’s approach.

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imageSimple is the first (virtual) bank to go “open” by entertaining customers’ wants, needs, problems, and various crazy requests on its Twitter feed. The chatter exposes the ugly underbelly of transaction processing, points out the startup’s painful process of scaling up, eats up way too much staff time, and is just a royal pain in the you-know-where.

And I love it.

With every Tweet, the startup shows that it cares, that it is technically savvy, and most importantly, that it has a devoted following.

Bottom line: Customers have many detailed questions that go unasked, and unresolved, because there is no convenient or timely way to get answers. Answering questions in public via Twitter, user forum, blog, Facebook page, etc., can be an effective way to solve them (note 1).

Simple has a unique positioning that is unlikely to be copied by existing banks and credit unions. But everyone can learn from its experiment in openness, frank talk, and use of humor.

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Simple’s Twitter page (link)

Simple's Twitter page

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Note:
1. We’ve covered various social media outlets in our Online Banking Report during the past few years, including: Banking on Facebook (Feb 2012), Connecting to Customers with Twitter (May 2009), and Bank 2.0 (Nov. 2006). Subscription required.

Social Media Design: HelloWallet Integrates New Blog with its Twitter Feed

imageHelloWallet, an online personal financial management (OFM/PFM) provider that launched in March, sent customers an email today (second screenshot below) announcing several product enhancements including:

  • To-Do List: Added to the dashboard to help you keep track of upcoming bills, goal progress, new savings ideas and so on. Users can manually add any item and receive email reminders. 
  • Progress Charts: Helps monitor progress on savings and debt-reduction goals.
  • Split Transactions: Ability to split transactions into two or more budget categories.
  • More Deals: My Deals database expanded to more than 130,000 financial products.

These are solid enhancements and signal that HelloWallet will be a viable competitor in the OFM/PFM space (see previous post; note 1). I especially like the To-Do list, a relatively simple enhancement that helps increase the utility of the application. The company has attracted a steady flow of visitors, averaging about 25,000 unique visitors per month in May and June (see Compete chart below).

HelloWallet.com traffic estimates (U.S. only)

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Source: Compete (link)

But the main reason for today’s post is to highlight the design of HelloWallet’s new blog at <hellowallet.com/blog>. The layout is visually appealing, incorporates social media sharing tools (Facebook, Twitter, RSS), and does a great job showcasing the company’s Twitter updates in the right-hand column (see first screenshot). This gives the whole blog a vibrant, up-to-the-minute feel, without burdening readers (and staff writers) with too many blog entries.

So far in July, HelloWallet posted four blog entries and tweeted 53 times (2x per day), a good pace. Both the blog posts and Tweets contain a good mix of personal finance material, general info, and company news. 

HelloWallet blog front page (link; 26 July 2010)

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Email message announcing new features (26 July 2010)

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Note:
1. For more on the OFM/PFM market, see our recent Online Banking Report

Launches: Piggymojo Taps Twitter and SMS to Track Everyday Savings Success

image Who hasn’t played this game? “If I give up x, I can justify buying y.” At our house, after two decades the game is mostly now limited to big-ticket items. For example, “If we don’t replace our 11-year old Toyota, we can take a summer trip to the U.S. Open.”

The basic premise is that the extra three grand you DON’T spend on the new car essentially pays for the vacation, making it seemingly “free” and more guilt-free. It’s a common and powerful principal of consumer behavior.     

Piggymojo’s just-launched service taps into this psychology and gives it a mobile twist. The startup uses text/Tweet-based data input so it’s easy to track all the expenses you’ve avoided during the day. And because it takes just a few seconds to tap out a message, the principal can be used to track even trivial daily savings that can add up over time.

For example, if you decide to start brown bagging lunch instead of hitting your normal lunch spots, you can track the savings by Tweeting/texting to your Piggy Mojo account:

Packed own lunch, saved $5 (or on Twitter, “d piggymojo 5 lunch not out”)

Drank free office coffee, saved $2.75

Read office newspaper, saved $1

The service collects all these messages and tracks the total amount “saved.” The totals can be applied to various savings goals to measure progress. The site uses a unique photo mosaic to visually represent goal progress. You can choose from dozens of exisiting photos or upload your own. As you build your savings, the photo gradually fills in until it’s complete (see screenshot below).

You can add your spouse/partner to the account so both of you can contribute towards the savings. There’s also a way to set up “recurring savings” so you don’t have to constantly text repetitive items. For example, if you cancelled your cable TV, you can input the amount saved once at the Piggymojo site and it will automatically credit your account each month (see second screenshot).

There’s also a social piece, allowing you to bring friends and family into the fold. Piggy Mojo will automatically send them a weekly progress report on your goal, providing that all-important peer pressure to your spending discipline.

Relevance for netbankers
Currently, the site is not hooked to an actual bank/CU savings account. The user is responsible for actually moving these fictitious savings amounts to a real savings account for later use. But this concept would be much more powerful if every time you texted “saved $6 at lunch” that six bucks were actually transferred from checking to savings.

Piggy mojo goal-tracking via completing picture of your goal (1 June 2010)
Note: The arrows point to the color sections that have been completed, visually demonstrating that I’m about 7% of the way to the goal

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Recurring savings input form

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Notes:
1. HT: Credit Karma blog
2. For more info, see our Online Banking Report, where we wrote about various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits in late 2008 (here).

What is Bank Simple?

image There’s a new “banking entity” in formation, Brooklyn, NY-based Bank Simple operating (temporarily I assume) at the .net version of its name <banksimple.net>. I chatted with the founders, Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal earlier this year and am anxiously awaiting more info on the launch.

From reading its trademark application, website, and blog, I have a feeling Bank Simple will launch as a banking front-end (eg. Mint, Obopay), and not as an actual bank. Given the market’s (and Washington’s) appetite for startup banks right now, they may have little choice. But who knows where they go from there. It sounds like they want tight control over the user experience, so they may eventually need to be a bank.

But from their FAQs and a few tidbits found through deep Googling, it sounds like Bank Simple will be much more than web-based software. Initially, it is launching a card-based service with combined debit/credit and rewards built in (de-coupled debit again?). Here’s what they say in the About section:

We will launch later this year with a simple card with in built checking, savings, rewards and a line of credit. As we add more competitive banking services, you can personalize your features as your needs change.

Bank Simple talks about customer service (answering the phone), taking deposits by mail (and this is a rumor, by mobile remote deposit) and other traditional banking activities. So that is much more than an online PFM (can we agree to call that OFM?).

They made the tech press this week when they added a new co-founder, Alex Payne, one of early engineers at Twitter. So expect streaming information, ala Blippy and Swipely, and social networking to be a crucial part of the mix.

The startup is looking for summer marketing interns, but there are no permanent jobs posted, another reason to believe they will not be operating a full-blown bank in the near term.

It sounds like a good plan. Marry the utility of PayPal with user experience of ING Direct. Throw in a little Mint-like design and some Twitter hype, and it’s a VC’s dream. 

Bank Simple’s pre-launch placeholder homepage (18 May 2010)
Note: Site is in closed beta, request an invitation through the “join” button

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Note: In Online Banking Report, we have written about creating a virtual bank, sans the charter, several times in the past 15 years. The most recent full report was in Oct. 2000, Creating the Amazon.com of Financial Services. But we updated the tables (now called Creating the Facebook of Financial Services) last year in our 2010 Planning Guide.

Twittering Vantage Credit Union Taps Geezeo for Online PFM

imageLast October, Vantage Credit Union launched one of the most novel banking services of 2009 (or ever for that matter), transactional banking through Twitter direct messaging (see note 1). The CU earned our OBR Best of the Web designation for its creativity.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the service has gained much traction yet. The 103,000-member St. Louis, MO-based CU has 322 Twitter followers on its public feed and about 200 on its protected TweetMyMoney feed where the t-banking takes place (Note: Updated per comment). The majority of public feed followers are analysts, bloggers, and other credit unions.

But Vantage’s Twitter move isn’t about number of users. It’s about keeping its brand relevant with its social networking members. And splashing Twitter across your homepage is a great way to do that (see screenshot below).

Now Vantage is back at it, partnering with Finovate-alum, Geezeo to offer state-of-the-art online personal financial management (press release). It will be fun to see what VCU EVP Eric Acree, a Filene i3 member, does with the Geezeo platform. I think it’s safe to say that they will put a novel spin on PFM.   

VCU is Geezeo’s fourth white-label credit union client; the other three are Stanford Federal Credit Union (previous post, note 1), Alliant Credit Union, and 1st Advantage FCU. The company is also working with 1st Mariner Bank (updated March 1 per comments).

Vantage CU continues to promote its Twitter features on its homepage
(26 Feb. 2010)

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Notes:
1. Stanford FCU’s website still says Geezeo-powered MyMo is “coming soon” (link to the Oct. 31, 2009, dated announcement), but the link to the new service has been pulled from the SFCU homepage. 
2. For more info, see our Online Banking Report: Leveraging Twitter (May 2009)

Blippy Demonstrates the Power of Real-Time Streaming of Financial Transaction Data

image Blippy has been one of the more controversial financial entrants in the past few years. Observers have called it the “end of privacy as we know it,” a way to take “oversharing to a dizzying new level,” and a “great tool for phishers.” And those are just the people who like it.

Blippy, a kind of Twitter meets Yodlee service, allows users to stream their purchase activity to the startup’s website. Users can choose to publish data from credit and debit cards, bank accounts, and/or directly from purchase activity at ecommerce-partners sites (see list below). It’s the ecommerce transaction stream that provides the richest data describing the actual product purchased or rented rather than just a dollar total.

For example, here’s an entry from @Julia who’s connected her Amazon account directly to Blippy (note 1)  As you can see the Amazon purchases are shown in detail and one of the items, a giraffe teether, has elicited a question/comment from a friend (highlighting ours):

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In comparison, credit card transactions list only the merchant name and not what was purchased. However, Blippy allows users to annotate their transactions to add that detail, as you can see in the following entry. 

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One of the most common ways Blippy is used is to stream media consumption via iTunes and Netflix. Here are the three Netflix movies on their way to @crobertsjr:

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The Palo Alto-based startup received a $1.6 million angel round in January 2010 from Ron Conway, Jason Calacanis, Twitter’s Evan Williams, Sequoia Capital, Charles River Ventures, and others. 

How it works
I got my first taste of Blippy after it opened to the public on Jan. 14. It’s simple to get started, calling for just an email address, screenname and password. You also have the option of finding friends using your email address book or choosing from a list of 13 suggested people including Blippy founder Philip Kaplan (@PUD) and interstar Jason Calacanis (@jason).

But you don’t even need to register for Blippy to see it in action. There’s a live stream on the homepage that anyone can watch (see screenshot below). If Blippy follows the Twitter/Facebook model, they will soon have an API available that will let outside developers tap the data stream.

Usage stats

  • Number of beta users: More than 5,000 who streamed $4.5 million worth of transactions
  • Most-streamed merchant: Netflix with 54,000 entries
  • Most prolific spender (that I ran across): Foo Bar (@foo), who does not identify himself other than CEO at a gaming startup, has linked his business credit card and streamed more than 350 purchases worth more than $300,000 (he’s a big online advertiser at Google, MySpace, Facebook).
  • Most-followed user: Leo Laporte (@leolaporte), from the Premiere Radio Network, with more than 2,600 followers

Features/benefits

Data sharing within workgroups:

  • Ability to share financial transactions within a family, a workgroup, or small business. It would be a great way for financial gatekeepers, e.g., the bookkeeper, CFO, or even board members/investors to keep tabs on company spending (see @foo above).
  • Ability to annotate expense streams. Users can add short descriptions to expense items so their followers can see the specifics.
  • Ability to discuss/comment on expense items. For example, CFO can ask “why did our Google AdWords expense spike yesterday?” and anyone in the group can comment back with an answer or speculation. We use Yammer in our company for this type of back and forth. 

Product research/social networking:

  • Ability to find other customers of the same store
  • Ability to discuss product or media purchases with friends or strangers
  • Ability to post positive/negative info about purchases (yours or others)
  • Ability to find previous purchasers of a product you are considering (currently not supported through search)
  • Ability to compare how much people paid for a certain item (not currently supported through search)

Personal financial management:

  • Ability to annotate expenses for future reporting (e.g., marking taxable items)
  • Store transactions free for as long as Blippy keeps the servers running
  • Ability to search own transactions

Financial institution opportunities
1. Card companies and banks should create similar sharing functionality for alerts; especially for small business clients. While public posting of purchase data may never have mass appeal, there are many private uses for real-time transaction data.

2. PFM’s should be building this functionality now to get out in front of Mint/Intuit who could simply acquire Blippy and incorporate real-time data flow within weeks. 

3. Once the Blippy API becomes available, banks should tap it to allow their customers to use it directly from within online banking.

Analysis
Whether Blippy lives on as a standalone service is difficult to predict. It depends on whether these capabilities are incorporated into other social networks, particularly, Facebook (note 2) and Twitter. And how fast card issuers move to make real-time transaction info easily available to their own customers.

image But regardless of where the company nets out, Blippy should be credited with pioneering real-time financial transaction flow, something every financial institution and ecommerce company will support in the coming years. As a result, we are awarding Blippy an OBR Best of the Web award, our first of 2010 and just the third in the past 14 months (note 3, previous winners).   

Blippy Homepage (14 Jan. 2010 7 PM Pacific)

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 Optional sign-in to Gmail, Yahoo or AOL to locate friends on Blippy 

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Purchases/activity at these merchants can be automatically tracked
Note: 13 ecommerce merchants currently participate (Amazon, Apple iTunes, Audible, Blockbuster, GoDaddy, GroupOn, Netflix, SeamlessWeb, Stubhub, Threadless, Wine Library, Woot, Zappos)

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The Blippy real-time transaction stream
Note: You can choose to watch all activity or just that of the people you are following

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Notes:
1. If she hadn’t given Blippy her Amazon login info and linked only her credit card, there would be no product detail. It would just show as $80.95 spent at Amazon.
2. Blippy is similar to Facebook’s ill-fated Beacon service launched in Nov. 2007. The service was quickly toned down, then eventually dismantled, due to the privacy brouhaha that ensued. Blippy is very different because its users are signing up specifically to share purchase info. 
3. OBR Best of the Web awards, from Online Banking Report, are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online and mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important development. Blippy is the 76th recipient since we began awarding it in 1997. There were just two winners in 2009.

A Look at Mint’s Twitter Aggregation Site: Money Tweets

image Leave it to Mint to make 140 characters of personal finance chatter sexy. Yesterday, I noticed a link to a new feature called Money Tweets tucked away at the bottom of an account-alert (see inset below; note 1). The site launched in November (press release), but I was all wrapped up in P2P payments at the time (note 2) and never looked at it.

imageMint’s effort is the best use I’ve seen of Twitter as a content-creation tool (see screenshot #1, below; note 3). And once established, the site basically runs on autopilot, making it a cost-effective way to bring fresh, real-time content to your customers. 

Money Tweets has five content areas:

  • Aggregated tweets from 20+ writers on five subject areas: savings, investing, budgeting, loans, and retirement
  • Tweets about Mint using Twitter search
  • Tweets from Mint using its Twitter stream
  • Tweets from anyone answering the company’s Question of the Day such as today’s topic, “Is now the time to buy a house?” (upper right in screenshot below)
  • Tweets from anyone using keywords taken from personal finance trending topics

Bottom line: Aggregation of the tweets from personal finance experts (with extra credit for adding your own voice to the stream) is a promising tactic for your online marketing plan. But most (all?) financial institutions will want to steer clear of streaming unmoderated tweets from anyone mentioning your company’s name. That’s going to cause way too many internal headaches as it attracts spam and customer complaints. 

Main page at Mint’s Money Tweets (link, 8 Jan. 2010)

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Notes:
1. As an aside, Mint’s superb graphic design extends even to its email alerts, which look like a sticky note on the screen.
2. For more on the P2P payments market, see our latest Online Banking Report, published earlier this week, Making the Case for Person-to-Person Payments
3. For more on using Twitter, see our May report, Connecting to Customers with Twitter.

Blippy: Do We Really Want to Automatically Tweet our Purchase Transactions?

image I love startups. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, along comes someone doing something that no one would have ever thought of five years ago, or in this case one year ago.

image The latest inspiration: Blippy. The service allows you to automatically broadcast your credit or debit card purchases using the Twitter/Facebook model (see screenshot below; note 1).

The first question everyone asks is why? (see comments at TechCrunch) But really, it’s not much different than broadcasting personal details via Twitter or your whereabouts via Foursquare, especially if you limit viewing to friends. The founder, serial entrepreneur, Philip Kaplan explains in the TechCrunch interview, that he has one credit card for “social purchases” broadcast on Blippy and another for purchases he prefers to keep private.

Blippy will contain privacy controls that allow users to share everything or keep it within a closed loop of friends. The company also envisions many other privacy controls to turn the service off and on, allow users to approve transactions before publishing, suppress certain merchants, or merchant categories, and so on.

The use cases shown so far are centered around media purchases, for example using it to automatically tweet (blip?) what song or movie you bought on iTunes or social “check ins” where the service lets people know you just bought coffee at Starbucks. But I can see where it would be helpful for spouses to “broadcast” purchases only to each other. Or for a salesperson to broadcast their purchases to their assistant to build expense reports on the fly. 

The service is in closed alpha (only in use by a handful of friends and family, note 2) as the three-person company gears up for a launch. You can follow Kaplan on Twitter (@pud) for more info.

My take: I like the idea of easily sharing purchases with joint-account holders or a bookkeeper. But many (most?) online banking systems and PFMs already allow this through the alerts system. You may want to boost education efforts on this capability.

imageAs for Tweeting about songs downloaded via iTunes, wouldn’t most users prefer to maintain more control over that by simply using Twitter or Facebook to directly type a short note? But we know from experience, if there’s a way to do something with less effort, it stands a good chance of succeeding.  

I’m not expecting widespread adoption any time soon, but I think there is a market for sharing spending transactions.

Here’s something for innovative FIs to consider: Add a “share this” button next to credit/debit card transaction and let users send the info via email, Twitter or Facebook with a couple keystrokes (see inset from FiLife).

I know it sounds far-fetched, but it might be just the thing to make your card stand out with heavy users of social media.

Blippy homepage showing spending stream (16 Dec. 2009)

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Note:
1. For more info in Twitter, see our Online Banking Report on the technology published in May.
2. Twitter’s Evan Williams is using Blippy as shown in screenshot taken by CNET’s Rafe Needleman in his article earlier this week.

The Financial Service that Made Ad Age’s 40 Hottest Brands

image The latest Advertising Age profiles the 40 hottest brands in the United States. In the current climate, I wasn’t expecting to see a financial brand. But there was a one financial tech company that made the list.

Intuit’s TurboTax. It even made the cover photo montage (see inset), although you have to look carefully to see the box laying flat in front (note 1).

Who would have thought tax prep software could be cool? Part of the reason: TurboTax’s marketing VP, Andy Young, has been pushing the envelope looking for novel ways to market tax prep services. For example, last year TurboTax was the first company to use a Google program that displayed an Intuit tweet stream on AdSense partner sites such as Facebook, MySpace and VentureBeat (see screenshot below from our previous post). Clickthroughs went to Intuit’s Twitter page, rather than its main website (note 2).

And things were clicking last year for TurboTax with 11% growth to 18 million units, despite an 11% decline in boxed-unit sales. The growth driver? Online of course, up 36% year over year.  

image Implications for FIs: Banks have driven users to TurboTax for years earning a slice of revenue under affiliate deals. But the potential to provide TurboTax services is set to grow exponentially.   As announced in September’s Finovate, tax prep/TurboTax will soon be integrated directly (e.g single signon) in Digital Insight’s FinanceWorks

VentureBeat home page (9 April 2009)

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Note:
1. I might have missed the TurboTax box, because I was too fixated on the Five Guys cup on the left, which is coming to Seattle very soon.
2. For more info on leveraging Twitter, see our report published in May, Online Banking Report: Connecting to Customers with Twitter.

Out of the Inbox: Upbeat Customer Email Message from Umpqua Bank

image I recently opted in to the Umpqua Bank email list. And even though I’m not a customer, I received an upbeat message this morning from bank president Ray Davis (screenshot below).

This email appears to be geared towards businesses (see the closing line below). And that makes sense because I’d recently been looking into its business social network (note 1). But the message is on-target for consumers as well.

The well-written 185-word letter covers three main topics:

  • A cautiously optimistic message about the overall economy
  • Some tangible evidence (new banking division, new lending teams, new capital, and 20,000 hours of community service) that the bank is a forward-moving survivor
  • Reassurances to customers that they were well-capitalized and moving closer to repaying TARP money

The tone was completely soft sell. There is a link to its online switch kit at the bottom and links to its LocalSpace business social network and Twitter feed (note 2) on the right. It’s more “we’re in this together” than sales pitch and closes with this wonderful line:

As we wrap up 2009 and look ahead, I encourage you to commit to the spirit of recovery and take action that positions you for the future.

We recommend that every other well-capitalized bank and credit union send a similar message before the holidays. We are about to move into the annual “year in review” exercise in the media, and this year’s 100+ U.S. bank failures will be high on the list. Remind your customers, members, employees that you are still a vital member of the community. And that for every financial institution that went under, there were a 100 like yourself that did not. 

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Notes:
1. For more info on the small-business market, see our latest Online Banking Report: Small Business Online & Mobile Banking.
2. Umpqua dreamed up one of the most compelling reasons we’ve seen to follow a bank, or any company for that matter, on Twitter (with the possible exception of the tweeting bakery): updates on its truck handing out free ice cream (Umpqua Twitter page).