Just in time for the holiday shopping frenzy, two startups have rolled out mobile apps designed to help consumers choose which credit card to use at checkout.
Wallaby Financial released a free app that helps iPhone users determine which card will yield the most perks. Wallaby supports more than 300 cards.
"The app allows users to get a real-time recommendation of the right credit card while shopping on the go to maximize their rewards," says Matthew Goldman, Wallaby's founder and chief executive.
Which card Wallaby determines is ideal for the cardholder depends on data points such as limited-time offers and type of transaction. After a consumer tells the app which type of cards he has, Wallaby will recommend which card to use at nearby shops or restaurants.
Wallaby, of Los Angeles, also offers a cloud-based digital wallet that houses all of a consumer's credit cards and links that payment data with a physical Wallaby Card.
As the wait list for those wanting the physical card is long, Goldman says "the app lets us give access to everyone right away while we continue to ramp up."
The new app also gives people the ability to decide whether or not to take Wallaby's advice. "We tell them what the deal is so they can make an individual decision," Goldman says. "Just because it's the best deal, it's not necessarily a card" the customer wants to use.
Wallaby is also developing an Android app that Goldman expects to launch by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Glyph launched an iPhone app that aims to guide consumers into picking the best plastic while they're out shopping.
Glyph is targeting what it sees as a gap in the market: a source of information and recommendations for consumers who are faced with an increasing array of payment options while shopping.
"The consumer needs - we believe - a financial advocate on the go," says Mike Vichich, the Detroit-based startup's chief executive. "There's no real advocate for the consumer at the point of purchase."
On that note, he points out two primary benefits of his company's inaugural product, which lets consumers view the annual percentage rates, annual fees and reward details on more than 250 credit cards.
First, like Wallaby, Glyph's app recommends which cards to use at nearby stores in order to maximize the credit card rewards when users tap on button labeled Guru.
Second, the app's dashboard shows a user what portfolio of cards they should have to avoid leaving any money on the table. In other words, the mobile app feature helps consumers find out about credit cards that would earn a consumer more rewards on their purchases, such as 6% cash back on groceries.
As with Wallaby, Glyph users do not have to provide their sensitive credit card data. Instead, consumers tell the startup which type of cards they have.
Vichich foresees a user sweet spot with business travelers, small businesses and people who are in the habit of pulling out their phones to do things while out.
Glyph is working with Yodlee to synchronize credit card account information into its offerings. It also has plans to offer bill pay to users.
The startup is speaking with financial services players to see how they may work with one another.
A possible scenario: Say a consumer has two credit cards in his wallet, with one offering more cash back for his swipe.
Perhaps the issuer can make a counterbid so its plastic remains top of wallet, Vichich says. Or an airline credit card could give a valued cardholder a free drink during his flight.
Vichich plans to release a freemium model (a model in which a free basic service includes charges for higher levels of service) that allows consumers to pay for valuable features in the future. Glyph gets a lead-generation fee from its current partnership with Discover and is pursuing partnerships with other key issuers, Vichich says.
The idea of helping people assess a payment type before they buy something has caught the attention of a number of financial services players, and at least one government agency. The Treasury Department held a contest this fall to help develop new ideas aimed at helping Americans gain better control of their finance through the mobile channel.
The financial technology vendor Banno announced a Help Me Decide feature for its mobile app, Grip, at FinovateFall in New York. Banno sells Grip to banks.
Rather than focusing on which credit card gives the best rewards, Grip's Help Me Decide feature takes into account more consumer data sources, such as the average payment made to a credit card, to help a user see what effect buying an item has on his finance before he buys it. Simply put: the interest rate could cost the consumer more than the reward.
"That's how we select the best," Wade Arnold, Banno's chief executive, tells Bank Technology News.
"Overall," Arnold says, "consumers don't think about the total cost of ownership when they put something on their credit cards. ... The traditional banks can do a lot by showing these insights to their consumers."
The consumer would scan an item with his smartphone, so Grip can offer him advice before he buys a discretionary item. Arnold says he thinks consumers would first use his service for pricier discretionary items, such as electronics.
"It's more of a large-ticket item that could disrupt the cash flow," he says.
The startups' offerings reflect trends in card-user rewards.
Rewards "have become more complex" in the last five years, says Andrew Davidson, senior vice president at Mintel Comperemedia, which tracks the amount of promotional direct mail credit card companies send.
Davidson says that such mobile apps could encourage consumers to favor certain cards over others.
"The bigger shift," he says, concerns the ways in which these types of apps affect consumer attitudes about rewards and the implications for the "ongoing battle for share of wallet."
Consumers are getting advice on which credit cards offer the best deals. Banks would be wise to participate.