Internet-enabling every service and device on the planet creates fascinating new business opportunities. And we are seeing our share of them in the fintech space (note 1). Knowing how to deliver the proper blend of personal service and automation is an area of extreme importance to financial institutions: The optimal solution varies by customer, by product, and even by time of day.
One relatively neglected area involves premium services that offer state-of-the-art tech married to specialized human service, for a fee. Large banks have private banking departments that handle the bills and day-to-day finances of households with millions in assets. But those that fall outside the private banking threshold are generally offered free, self-service tools available to everyone.
Back when only 10% to 20% of households were online, that distinction was necessary. But now that 60% to 70% or even more of a bank’s households use the Internet, there are enough customers to slice and dice financial management services into a variety of offerings and price points. There’s a lot of revenue available for service offerings in the wide range between free and private banking.
Enter the newest player in high-end bill payment: Balance Financial, an angel-funded company based in Seattle that launched its new service this week. CEO Devin Miller was also involved in the launch of one of our favorites new services of 2010, Finsphere’s PinPoint mobile location-aware fraud-alert service (previous post).
How it works
Balance is a unique mixture of automatic bill pay and human bookkeeper, with an online PFM thrown in to help keep track of it all. The company has built a rich PFM, added billpay powered by Online Resources, and given each customer their very own actual person who oversees the account.
Unlike previous generations of billpay and the scan-and-pay offerings from PayTrust and others, Balance Financial does everything for you. It receives the printed or electronic billing statement, it uploads the docs to its website, and then the most important piece, it pays the bills automatically based on your prior instructions, just like the private banking officer. The end user is only contacted if the bill falls outside the preexisting parameters.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe, if it were free, but it’s far from it. The company tested a variety of pricing options and settled on a price that’s borderline ridiculous for the retail banking mindset: $75 per month.
Are they crazy? Maybe, but probably not. The company has been delivering personal bookkeeping services for seven years, and has paid more than 100,000 bills for its clients (note 3). It knows from experience there are affluent households and small businesses that are happy to offload this task for much more than $75 per month. When paying larger bills, the late fees alone can easily be in this range (note 2).
Balance admits the audience for $75/mo is tiny. But as its technology gets better, and its bookkeepers can take on bigger client loads, it believes it can push this price down, maybe even way down. So if you are interested in finding a new way to serve your mass affluents with something they can’t get anywhere else, take a look at Balance.
Balance Financial integrates the human side throughout the Web-based app (3 March 2011)
1. From the look of the applications for the upcoming FinovateSpring, the number of startups is growing at an even faster pace.
2. Our record penalty for paying a bill late at our business is $1,100. We’d just made a huge charge and by being that one day late, our APR was bounced to 25%, and we went into revolving mode over two cycles. Even though we paid the balance off within 7 days of making the charge, it still cost $700 one month and $400 the next. Anyway, that one incident alone would pay for Balance for 1.25 years, not to mention avoiding the huge frustration of making a thousand-dollar blunder.
3. The original bookkeeping service was founded in 2004, by Devin’s wife, Rebecca Miller.
4. For more on online personal financial management (OFM/PFM), see our Online Banking Report.