I’ve been reading the FiLife blog and monitoring its URL since I heard about the intriguing concept last summer. After a couple false starts, the site went live yesterday.
The unique joint effort between News Corp’s Dow Jones and IAC is a cross between a personal finance tool like those powered by LeadFusion, a finance forum like FatWallet, a voting site such as Digg, and a full-blown magazine such as Money. It’s dripping with Web 2.0 touches from the trendy design to blogging with attitude and harnessing the collective intelligence of the user base.
The core FI Deals area shown below allows users to self-assess their financial situations. In FiLife-speak, it shows how you stack up, in key areas such as income, home value, credit score, debt and even the value of your car. The people pyramid (in the screenshot below) shows an orange stick figure representing where you stand against the rest of the country.
Following a few ideas on how to improve your standing, FiLife presents financial deals in descending order of how valuable the FiLife community deems them. In this case, a mortgage offer from Citibank is listed first due to its top-of-the-line 5-point score. In this case, since it’s the first day the site’s been live, the score comes from a single review by a FiLife staffer. As the site gains users, this score would reflect the average across all reviewers.
The other key area is the FiDeals (screenshot below). Here users can search the top deals across all categories as voted on by the community. Some deals have been placed in the site via sponsorship dollars. Those are indicated by the gold pyramid. Blue pyramid offers have been added by staff members. In either case, the score shown within the colored pyramid reflects the vote of the community, which includes staff member votes.
The deep-pocketed owners have the resources to build traffic and establish the FiLife brand, if they find it profitable. Assuming it gets significant visitor traction, this could be the place to find financial and banking deals online, at least in the United States.
The business model is clearly ad-supported. There’s nothing on the site at this point that would command subscription fees. And so far, the advertising is less intrusive than many other financial portals. And the bright look and good organization, not to mention professional personal finance content, add up to a potential winner.
But FiLife faces the same problem all ad-supported personal finance sites have: how to walk the fine line between the needs of users who want to find the best price vs. that of the advertisers that do not want to compete solely on price. FiLife sponsors may bolt if the community consistently posts poor reviews on their price-value. On the other hand, Google is dong just fine with AdWords, by ensuring that advertising is relevant. It will be interesting to see how FiLife strikes the proper balance.
And it’s no sure thing that FiLife ends up as the winner in the space. FiLife faces competition not only from startups such as SmartHippo, Wesabe, and Mint, but also from entrenched sites such as BankRate and TheStreet.com. And don’t count out the incumbent personal finance magazines, including Dow Jones’s own SmartMoney. These properties have enormous brand recognition and have already built substantial websites.