Wells Fargo launches native iPhone app

imageTwelve hours ago, Wells Fargo became the last of the “big four” banks to release a native iPhone app in the Apple App Store (see screenshot below; note 1). The bank, which has long been a pioneer online, let Bank of America reap much of the branding benefits of their association with iPhone banking for the past two years.

But we are glad to see Wells Fargo available and enjoyed checking our balance via iPhone for the first time. At just 0.1MB, the application was a quick download and compatible with my first-generation iPhone. There’s no need to first visit the bank’s website, as the app can be immediately used with your normal online banking username/password (see note 2).

While it won’t win any design awards, it’s simple to use with the typical online banking functions: balance inquiry, transaction listings, funds transfer, bill pay and GPS-enabled ATM/branch finder. Only the 12,000 Wells or Wachovia ATMs are listed in its database.

During the initial signon, the app encouraged users to create a short account nickname for easier reading on the small screen. And the bank also prompted me to sign up for text-message banking, something I hadn’t used at Wells before. When I agreed to do so, a six-digit confirmation code was texted to my phone, which I entered back into the app. 

There is no mention of the new app on the Wells Fargo site.

Wells Fargo listing in Apple iTunes App Store (18 May 2009; link)

Wells Fargo app in the iTunes App Store

Notes:
1. Big four U.S. banks: Bank of America, Citibank, Chase/WaMu, Wells/Wachovia.
2. We’d previously registered our mobile number, which may have eased the activation hurdle.  

Where Are the Online Banking Fees?

imageI am rarely at a loss for material when looking for examples to illustrate a point about online finance. Across thousands of financial websites, there’s an almost infinite supply of novel new services, marketing strategies, and promotional efforts. 

However, there’s one area with almost zero innovation. Pricing.

In the United States anyway, nearly every bank and credit union offers online, and now mobile, banking free of charge (see note 1). It’s an appealing price point for sure, but it also hampers the ability of financial institutions to develop novel service offerings. It’s a game of minimizing channel costs rather than maximizing returns.

However, several interesting new services that are at least trying to charge fees have recently shot up in online personal finance. Two debuted their new services at FinovateStartup April 28 (see notes 2 & 3; videos of their demos will be available online shortly):

  • LowerMyAssessment.com is charging $125 to help consumers lower property taxes on their homes
  • Home-Account is charging a $8.75/mo to help users manage their home mortgage

We’ll look at both companies this week starting with LowerMyAssessment.com.  

Notes:
1. We covered online banking pricing in a 2004 Online Banking Report (here). While the report is nearly five years old, sadly little has changed, so it remains relevant to today’s situation in the United States. 
2. In addition, at FinovateStartup we saw several new services that could increase payments-related income for banks, including the alt-payment companies, especially Acculynk and Moneta, offering revenue sharing and interchange fees for banking partners, and MicroNotes, which showed a platform that provided fee income to delivery-targeted advertising within the bill-payment function.
3. Also, Wells Fargo should be given credit for rolling out a fee-based storage solution integrated within its online banking services. The vSafe program costs $4.95/mo and up based on storage capacity desired. 

New Online Banking Report Published: Selling Behind the Password

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We just posted our latest Online Banking Report.
It will be mailed to subscribers tomorrow. It’s also available online here. There’s no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately
for US$395.

———————————————————

Selling Behind the Password
Unlocking the marketing potential within
online banking

48 pages (published 21 April, 2009)

In this report (abstract), we go behind the login screen and report on the marketing and cross-selling practices of 15 financial institutions and card issuers.

Even among large banks, there’s a huge disparity in the amount of cross-selling efforts within online banking. Wells Fargo is the most prolific, with nine marketing messages and product placements alone on its main account-management page. The bank also uses login and logoff activities to display promotions (see screenshot below). On the other hand, US Bank has just a single link to an “offers page” buried below the fold. Most FIs fall somewhere in between.

We looked at the opportunities within six different areas:

  • Interstitial pages (splash screen) inserted after performing any online activity, especially after the initial login.
  • Banner and keyword promotions within the secure online banking area
  • Product placement within online banking and bill pay
  • Transactional upgrades
  • Page displayed after an online banking session has concluded (either through logout or inactivity)
  • Product/shopping/discount portals and third-party ads

The following financial companies were analyzed by logging in to actual accounts and documenting their sales and marketing efforts:

  • American Express business gold
  • Bank of America online banking
  • Chase credit card
  • Citibank business card
  • Citibank online banking
  • Discover Card
  • Everbank
  • First Tech Credit Union
  • ING Direct
  • Jwaala (demo only)
  • Mint
  • Netflix (non-financial)
  • PayPal
  • Revolution Money
  • US Bank
  • WaMu
  • Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo promotion displayed after logging out from online banking
(27 March 2009)

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RIM’s New Blackberry App World Includes Wells Fargo, E*Trade, Fidelity, and Bank of America

image_thumb[12]It will be a long time before the new mobile application markets, Google’s Android Market and RIM’s Blackberry App World, get anywhere close to Apple’s App Store in breadth or depth. Currently, there are 162 apps listed across all categories in the Android market and 88 for the Blackberry (North America), compared to more than 25,000 for the iPhone (U.S.).

However, Blackberry already has tied the iPhone in one sub-category, big-name U.S. financial services companies. As of today, each has four. Bank of America is the only one supporting both.    

iPhone App Store Blackberry App World*
Bank of America Bank of America
Chase Wells Fargo
Citibank E*Trade
PNC Bank Fidelity Investments

*Blackberry App World also has an Obopay mobile payments app with ties to Citibank.

Financial institution opportunities: The list of participating financial institutions won’t stay short for long. You must support iPhone and Blackberry users, the sooner you do so, the more free publicity you can garner. For more information, see our latest Online Banking Report, published today, Mobile Banking 2.0: iPhone Edition.

Blackberry App World Finance & Banking section
(9 March 2009, 10 PM Pacific)

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Wells Fargo is Second Online Personal Finance Provider to Join the 1-million Club

imageIn April, we reported on the robust adoption of Bank of America's online personal finance manager, My Portfolio (see note 1), used by 10% of the bank's 25 million online bankers. The results are especially impressive given that it's a full-featured module accessible via online banking, but not particularly well integrated.

imageIn comparison, Wells Fargo offers a completely integrated PFM tool, My Spending Report, that's extremely simple to use, but offers limited functionality. On Oct. 29, the bank made an important improvement, adding a basic budgeting tool, Budget Watch, to what had been essentially a list of transactions divided by category.

The bank told me last week they have 1 million monthly users, making it the second online PFM provider to break the 1-million mark (after BofA). Wells has about 15% of its online banking base (note 2) using the tool, a slightly higher penetration than BofA. Again, not surprising considering how well it is integrated. The budget tools should boost penetration.

Who'll be the next one to join the 1-million club? Mint, with about 500,000 users in its first 15 months in business, is headed that way, possibly as early as late next year.  Chase/WaMu could get there in a few weeks, if they added online personal finance to their feature set. Quicken Online, now that it's free, should get there relatively quickly as well.

Note:
1. BofA's My Portfolio is powered by Yodlee.

2. Excluding Wachovia accounts.

Wells Fargo Uses Splash Screen After Login to Reinforce Safety & Soundness

image The best time to get your customer's attention is right after they log in to look at their account. That's why login-screen marketing should be in your mix (see previous coverage). But, your message is not necessarily welcome at that point, so it's a marketing option best used judiciously.

Wells Fargo makes good use of the technique this month with an open letter from CEO John Stumpf. It's been a while since I logged in to my Wells Fargo account, so I'm not sure it was posted. But it carries an October date, so it was probably later in the month after Wells Fargo prevailed in its bid to buy Wachovia.  

Many financial institutions have posted we-are-still-going-strong messages during the past few months. The Wells Fargo message isn't particularly noteworthy, other than they don't beat around the bush asking, then answering, the question:

What does (the Wachovia acquisition) mean to me as a Wells Fargo customer?

Wells Fargo splash screen displayed immediately after logging in (10 Nov 2008)

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Login, Logoff Marketing Messages from Bank of America, PayPal, US Bank, WaMu and Wells Fargo

image After returning from some R&R in Iowa and Kansas, I logged into my banking and credit card accounts to see what I'd forgotten to attend to before leaving town. Luckily, everything seemed in order this time.

Always on the lookout for online marketing examples, I thought it would be  interesting to compare and contrast the marketing messages presented to users as they logged in and logged out of five major banking sites. 

  • Bank of America (business and personal credit cards): BofA typically has a marketing message at login and logoff.
    Login  The bank's brokerage division is pitching free Morningstar mutual fund research. I haven't seen this one before, and it seems a bit wordy, so it may be the first time for this offer (see screenshot #1 below)
    Logout  A pitch for a cash-back business credit card. It's a good offer, but perplexing, given that I already have a business and personal card with BofA. Not sure why they want me to have three (screenshot #2).
  • PayPal (verified account): PayPal has used log-in splash-screens almost since it began in 1999 with a mix of marketing and service messages. But they don't overuse the technique, so it's noticeable when they have a new splash-screen running.
    Login  No marketing, just direct entry to main screen
    Logout  No marketing, just a landing at the usual PayPal merchant emporium (screenshot #3)
  • US Bank (multiple accounts): I don't think I've ever seen a marketing message from US Bank at login or logoff. I believe I've seen a service message at login a few times over the years, but it's extremely rare.
    Login  No marketing, just dropped on main account page as usual
    Logout  No marketing, just a brief "you've been logged out" message
  • WaMu (business checking): I've had the account only a few months, but WaMu has frequently posted marketing messages at login, and they've been relatively creative, as you'd expect.
    Login  Pitching its WaMu Live concert promotion which provides exclusive access to summer events to WaMu credit and debit card holders (screenshot #4). 
    Logout  No marketing, just a solid recap of security precautions, a good message to leave with online banking users (screenshot #5).
  • Wells Fargo (credit card): Wells uses marketing messages frequently at both login and logout.
    Login  Electronic statement (paper turnoff), something I've not done yet (screenshot #6).
    Logoff  Home equity loans (screenshot #7)

What's Innovative?
There wasn't anything particularly enlightening in these examples. The WaMu Live pitch was the only truly unique message. For the most part, they were typical, well-crafted marketing messages you'd expect from these major players. That's fine now, since most customers don't yet have "banner fatigue" at their online banking site. But going forward, the messages will need to be more targeted and more interesting to get attention and action from jaded online users.

The other issue is frequency. You'll figure this out through testing, but there's a line you don't want to cross where a splash-screen message presented at every login ceases to be effective and is just plain annoying.

Finally, for financial institutions, such as US Bank, still not using this login real estate for sales messages, your customers thank you; however, quick-loading, targeted messaging, used with discretion, should benefit your bottom line.   

1. Bank of America login screen for business-credit-card only account (1 Aug 2008)image

2. Bank of America logoff screen (1 Aug 2008)

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3. PayPal logout (1 Aug 2008)

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4. WaMu login screen (31 July 2008)image 

5. WaMu logout screen (1 August 2008)image

6. Wells Fargo login splash screen (1 Aug 2008)

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7. Wells Fargo logoff screen (1 Aug 2008)

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Snack-Sized Innovation: Safe Deposit Box Content Archives

image I heard from a new company last week that has created a service to help life insurance and bank-account holders to notify beneficiaries periodically that they are named on the account. According to FindYourPolicy.com (see screenshot below), $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.

However, as a consumer-direct service, I don’t think FindYourPolicy.com will get a lot of traction. The list price of $29.95 plus $3.95 per month is a lot for twice-yearly postcards (see note 1) to your beneficiaries. But the company is likely more interested in setting a high retail “value” on the service so they can wholesale it to financial institutions for pennies on the dollar.

Using the same concept for safe deposit boxes
While the beneficiary notification is an idea deserving of a second look, I was more intrigued with another of its features, safe deposit documentation and notification service. I just spent 30 minutes last Friday making a trip to the bank to look in my safe deposit to see if my son’s social security card was there (note 2). Of course, it wasn’t. I could have saved the trip if I’d had good records on its contents. I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere, but it would likely take much longer than 30 minutes to find it.

Ideas to help memory-challenged customers like myself:

  • Simplest: It would be great if my bank had a simple email-like software app available near the safe-deposit area where I could list the contents of the box and then email the info to myself AND store a record of that communication within online banking so I could access it years from now when the email is long lost.
  • Harder: In addition to manually entering info, have a scanner available so that I can scan copies of the documents in the safe deposit box for a digital record.
  • Hardest: Extend the service to the home/office and allow me either to store items virtually, using my home/office scanner, or by uploading/emailing documents into the virtual safe-deposit box. This is the core idea behind vSafe from Wells Fargo.

However, as Tripp Johnson at Gonzobanker so eloquently laid out in this article, there are  serious questions regarding overall demand for virtual safe-deposit services, not to mention pesky compliance issues that cannot be ignored.  

FindYourPolicy.com homepage (29 May 2008; see note 3)

FindYourPolicy.com homepage

Note:

1. Why TWICE yearly? Once per year seems like plenty. Or how about one postcard and one email message each year? (Update 1 June: The reason for mailing 2x per year is that the U.S. Postal Service forwards mail only for six months, so with this frequency the company ensures it gets the forwarding address. (See comment #2 from Michael Hartmann of FindYourPolicy.com

2. My bank is requiring a faxed copy of my 18-year-old son’s social security card in order to add him to my account. I’m all for good authentication (who isn’t?), but that seems extreme. More on that in a future post. 

3. Sometime during the past 10 days, FindYourPolicy.com added the “member of American Bankers Association” seal. It’s a reasonable touch, but it only means they’ve paid at least $1,250 for a service membership to the ABA.

Wells Fargo Supports "Retire Secure" Radio Buy with Search Engine Marketing

image I don't know if Wells Fargo has saturated the entire Seattle market, or just the radio station I listen to, but I've heard its ad for a web-based retirement tool a dozen times in the past week or so.

I like the radio spot. It takes a complicated subject and creates interest by asking, "What is your RSI score?" Then, sending listeners to the Web to take the bank's Retire Secure Index test. It's interactive, it's timely and it makes good use of a multi-media approach. 

And Wells Fargo uses search engine marketing masterfully to ensure that interested prospects find their way to the bank's retirement landing page. The bank has purchased Google AdWords for various retirement terms (see first screenshot below) and created a unique landing page (second screenshot) and URL <wellsfargo.retiresecureindex.com> that has quickly moved to the top of the organic search results (see note 1).

Retirement tool
The tool itself is good. It's not easy to make a retirement savings worksheet compelling, but the bank does about as good a job as you can expect. After a 60-second intro by the friendly virtual spokeswomen (see second screenshot), the user completes a short form that takes about two minutes. The on-screen spokesperson talks you through it, but I tuned her out since it's relatively straightforward stuff (note 2). 

After a few seconds of calculation, and a clever drum roll, Wells delivers an RSI number (see third screenshot), which is the number of years you can maintain your desired income level after retiring. It's a good way to present the results, focusing on the positive. Users can go back and change the inputs or go into advanced mode to add home equity, business equity and/or part-time employment.

At the end, users are encouraged to contact the bank through a branch or toll-free telephone number to talk to an investment rep. There is also a link to open an IRA online. All in all, it's a good effort to engage users with a difficult topic.

Overall scores:

  • Radio advertising: A+
  • Search engine marketing: A
  • Retirement tool: B+
    Provide an option to continue without the virtual spokesperson (see note 3)

1. Google results for "wells fargo retire secure" (10 March 2008, noon)

Google results for "Wells Fargo retire secure"

 2. Wells Fargo Retire Secure Index Landing page

Wells Fargo Retire Secure index landing page

3. Call to action

Wells Fargo RSI score and call to action

Notes:
1. For more information on search engine marketing for financial institutions, see our latest Online Banking Report (here). 

2. The audio can be turned off, but the spokesperson cannot be made to sit down or go away (see note 3).

3. The first option on the original landing page is to choose "dial-up" or "high speed" versions of the tool. The dial-up version does away with the audio/video track and just presents the static form.

Scrooge Runs Bank Marketing at Most Large U.S. Banks


In our annual Christmas/New Years survey of bank websites (note 1), we once again find little use of holiday themes, especially among the very largest. Scrooge would be pleased with the homepages of the top four: Citi, BofA, Wachovia, and Chase which have no holiday images or messages.

Wells Fargo is the only top-5 bank with a holiday message. The bank wishes its customers Happy Holidays (see below) in a top-of-the-page banner rotating with two other messages: a savings promotion that also uses holiday imagery (below) and an investments banner (not shown). 

However, this year there is one top-20 bank fully embracing the holiday spirit. ING Direct homepage (screenshot above, download flash in note 2, below) features a full-screen animation that first strings Happy Holidays across the page followed by the ING Direct orange ball rolling across the screen, bumping into the tree trunk, and dumping a load of snow on top. It's very well done.   

Also, honorable mentions to:

  • Fifth Third and its $10,000 holiday sweeps
  • Regions Bank, which is running a Toys for Tots banner across the top
  • PNC with its annual tongue-in-cheek Christmas Price Index

Additionally, WaMu and Key Bank use winter imagery. And HSBC, US Bank, SunTrust, BB&T and Citizens are all running small banners for prepaid gift cards.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo homepage banner

Fifth Third

Regions

PNC                                                              WaMu

 

Key Bank

HSBC                          SunTrust            US Bank

      

Citizens Bank

BB&T


Note
:

1. Websites observed at 9 AM Pacific Time, Dec. 24, from a Seattle IP address.

2. View the ING Direct holiday animation (here)