Enliven Your Website with Streaming Activity, Tickers, or Counters

One thing hard to approximate online is the hubbub of a busy branch, retail outlet, or event. Other than the occasional popup inviting you to chat about whatever financial product you’re viewing, most financial websites are lonely experiences. Sure, Web-based video can personalize the online experience, but that’s still a one-on-one experience. That’s why building an online community is so important in the long run (see note 1).

Zillow mortgage rate quote ticker 18 June 2008

Geezeo public newsfeed 18 June 2008One way to demonstrate just how much activity takes place at your website or through electronic banking, is to show a stream of real-time activity. For example, Zillow’s new mortgage marketplace shows realtime mortgage quotes as they come in from the mortgage brokers using the site (see above).

Geezeo recently added a public news feed to its site, similar to what social media users experience at Facebook.

And ING Direct has counted up the interest in pays customer in a little meter within online banking, as of a few minutes ago it was $4.5 million shy of $9 billion. 

ING Direct interest paid counter 18 June 2008

But the most daring example is Progressive Insurance which displays actual specific rate comparisons to its competitors in the center of its homepage
(see screenshot below). 

Progressive Insurance quote feed on homepage 18 June 2008

Financial institutions could show streams of activity in the following areas:

  • credit/debit card transaction data: $63.42 at JC Penney’s Minneapolis, MN
  • bill payment transaction data (only to major merchants): $124.22 to PGE, LA, CA
  • funds transfers: A.C. transferred $1500 from checking to savings
  • results from online calculators: $15,000 vehicle at 6.5% for 5 years = $432/mo
  • mortgage quotes/locks: $572,000 purchase mortgage locked today at 6.375% with 1% fee
  • insurance quotes: $1,000,000 10-year level term for 42-year-old nonsmoker for A.E. in  Tampa for $1123/yr
  • interest paid on deposits, checks processed, loans funded, website visits, online banking login, bills paid
  • comments in blogs/forums
  • search terms used on-site and possibly the top results
  • questions asked/answered online

Of course, you’ll need to make certain there is absolutely no data streamed that could be traced back to an individual user.

1. See the following Online Banking Reports for more information:

Mint, Prosper, Zillow, and Kiva are Crunchie Finalists

Four online finance companies are finalists in the Crunchies, an awards program sponsored by three major tech blogs: TechCrunch, GigaOM, Read/WriteWeb, and VentureBeat.

  • Mint is one of five finalists in Most Likely to Succeed (here)
  • Prosper is one of five in Best (new) Business Model (here)
  • Zillow is one of five in the Best Consumer Startup (here) and Best Overall (here)
  • Kiva is one of five in Most Likely to Make the World a Better Place (here)

Winners will be determined by a tally of votes at the site between Dec. 21 and Jan 10.

Future Friday: Zillow Powers One-Click Home Values on Your Mobile

WHERE signup for Zillow home values

Technology adoption is often hard to understand. Sure it can move in a straight, relatively predictable lines; think Moore's Law. Other times, consumer behavior defies logic. For instance, 10 years ago could you have imagined that teenagers today would frequently communicate using a tiny 10-key pad; closer to the Morse code of 100 years ago than the Jetson's world of flying cars and automatic doors (note 1).

Then there are times when technology leaps forward faster than even the most optimistic would have predicted. Case in point: Even a year ago, who would have guessed that on most streets in the country, you can now press a button on your cellphone and receive a near- instantaneous text message listing the current values of the three houses closest to where you are standing. 

Link to Zillow Using Zillow's API, uLocate created the ultimate mobile real-estate service for its WHERE suite <where.com>. Currently, it works on just six GPS-enabled phones running on the Sprint or Nextel network. And, you'll need to be in a neighborhood tracked by home-value superstore Zillow.

It does cost $2.99/mo (note 2), but signup is simple (see screenshot above) and even if only half the Realtors in the country subscribed, revenues would be $1.5 million per month. And how much would a nearby mortgage broker or Realtor pay to be listed in the message? Yeah, we wish we would have thought of it too.

But there's no indication that uLocate has an exclusive on this service. Check with Zillow and see if your financial institution could recreate this service in your area using the same API. It could be a great way to create new mortgage leads.

For more info see Zillow's blog entry here.


1. Three days ago, I was in a conference where one of the speakers said his teenage daughter sent 2500 text messages last MONTH, more than 30 per DAY.  

2. The monthly fee includes other WHERE services, see its website for more details.

Zillow Opens “Financing” Area; Lands $25 Million in VC

Zillow_logo_2Seattle-based Zillow (see NB Feb. 8) announced a $25 million second-round investment led by Boston's PAR Capital Management. The home-value and real estate-listing service, founded by Expedia's Rich Barton, received 2.1 million unique visitors in June according to comScore.

Zillow_heatmapWith a total of $57 million raised, the 118-person company can create interesting new products from its database of 67 million homes. The latest twist: residential real estate "heat maps" that show home values, measured in sales price per square feet, across 18 metro areas (click on the inset to see Seattle's heat map, with red being the higher prices).

Zillow also launched a "financing" section last month, complete with its own tab on the homepage (see screenshot below). It's clearly a first effort with a cluttered design. An unattractive LoanWeb banner dominates the page with Google ads running along the right side and LendingTree and Bankrate.com providing interactive tools along the bottom.


Financial institution opportunities
Financial institutions can use Zillow and its competitors (RedFin, HouseValues, HomeGain, PropertyShark, RealEstate.com, Trulia) in several ways:

  1. Advertising medium: With millions of potential home buyers using the sites, it's an ideal place to market mortgage and other bank products, especially with a "new mover" package (see NB April 5).
  2. Prospecting tool: Branch loan officers could use the service to map potential untapped home equity in their neighborhood. Although this information is already available in other prospecting databases, the ease of use and mapping capabilities of the Web-based services could help loan officers hone their pitch.
  3. Consumer education: Although Zillow is well known among the early adopter crowd, it's not exactly a household name. Introducing your customers to Web-based home-value services would make an interesting addition to your consumer education area or monthly newsletter.

Zillow and RedFin Cater to Do-It-Yourself Homebuyers

Zillow_logoIn many urban markets, new tools aimed at homebuyers are about to alter the purchasing paradigm. These tools, which make it much easier to scour home listings, determine market value, and make legally binding purchase offers, are slowly diminishing the role of the real estate agent, especiallyRedfin_logo on the buy side (sellers still need access to the multiple listings). Already, 24 percent of recent homebuyers first learned of the home they eventually bought through their own Internet research (see Note 1 below).

What does this have to do with online finance? Plenty. With 77 percent of home buyers already using the Internet in their home search (see Note 1, below), the online real estate venues will begin to play a much larger role in the process. Financial institutions that get their name in front of homebuyers early in the process have a much higher likelihood of being chosen as the mortgage lender. And with buyers less likely to contact a real estate agent early in the process, traditional agent referrals will become less of a factor in the mortgage-purchase decision.

The Latest Homebuying Resources


Zillow <zillow.com>, the Seattle-based company launched Feb. 8 to much fanfare (so much that it crashed the site) including favorable articles in Walt Mossberg’s Wednesday WSJ column, Seattle Times business section, The New York Times, and many others. Zillow, started by former Expedia founder and CEO, Rich Barton, allows users to research comparable housing market values, both current and historic. Similar services have been around for almost a decade, but none match Zillow’s depth of information and ease of use (click on screenshot right for a closeup). Note: Zillow is using an advertising business model. Currently, it displays Google AdSense ads on the right, banner ads across the top, and other ads scattered throughout the site. Real estate brokers and lenders are expected to be major advertisers. ZipRealty, a buyer’s agent that rebates 20 percent of the commission, is a major sponsor at launch. Other similar services: HouseValues.com, HomeSmartReports.com, and HomePriceCheck.com (from LendingTree).


Redfin <redfin.com> another Seattle-based startup, provides not only home-value data, but also overlays home-for-sale listings and recent sales on a satellite image of the neighborhood (click on inset for closeup; red boxes are homes currently for sale, blue-green indicates a recent sale). And with a business model that includes pocketing 1/3 of the home-sale commission, while rebating 2/3 to the buyer, it offers a potentially disruptive business model to the real estate industry which generated more than $60 billion in commissions in 2005 (reference: Seattle Times, Feb. 5, 2006). Although the site covers only the Seattle metro area at this time (which generated $1 billion in commissions in 2005), its primarily California-bred executive team is planning a San Francisco area launch later this year.

Action Items

  1. Keep abreast of homebuying venues in your market areas. Consider advertising or sponsorship opportunities to drive new buyers to your financing options.
  2. Improve the visibility and benefits of your mortgage preapproval program. Look at what Third Federal has done with its Mortgage Passport, a lifetime mortgage preapproval service (NetBanker Jan. 23, 2006).
  3. Develop a robust real estate marketplace for your website. Use your impartiality as a drawing card, e.g., "Looking for a home? Check out yourbank.com’s Real Estate center, where we show you how to find ALL the homes in the market, not just the ones your agent wants you to see."
  4. For those not currently receiving referrals from real estate agents, consider adopting the Redfin discount real estate agent model, helping buyers earn large commission rebates. You could even take it one step further, allowing the rebate (which could be as high as 3 percent of the purchase price) to pay for all or part of the down payment at closing.

    Run this scenario by your legal department: The bank refers customers to a flat-fee real estate attorney who handles the purchase offer and subsequent negotiations for a pre-set fee; let’s call it $500 (see Note 1). The remainder of the buying agent’s commission is used as down payment for a mortgage from your bank. On a $400,000 home, that potentially makes more than $10,000 available for the down payment.

Big Caution: Anyone helping cut real estate agents out of their full commissions will be extremely unpopular, and will face backlash from the local real estate industry. This strategy (#4) works only for financial institutions with relatively few ties to the existing homebuying power structure.

— JB

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