SmartyPig Sells Banks Its Social Media Secrets

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As banks struggle with social media, SmartyPig LLC is set to offer its tried-and-true approach to any bank that wants it.

The Des Moines, Iowa, company, which since 2008 has allowed consumers to publicly share their savings account balances and goals, says it is going to start doing business under the name Social Money Systems and is taking its focus off its direct-to-consumer online saving model to instead place its savings technology at the heart of retail banks' websites.

SmartyPig has begun selling its system to third parties under the brand Goal Saver. It is working with at least six domestic banks with more than $30 billion of assets, three overseas banks with more than $100 billion of assets each and three nonfinancial institutions involved in the prepaid card space. It was expected to announce its name change and Goal Saver product Wednesday.

SmartyPig's strengths at social media allowed it to sustain its business without paying for advertising. It relies on its users to promote it through social media channels. For example, every time users transact or reach a savings goal, SmartyPig prompts them to boast about it on their Twitter or Facebook accounts. When they do, SmartyPig's technology can add a bank's name to the user's message.

SmartyPig also has regular Twitter contests, encouraging its customers to send answers as public messages, which further promote the SmartyPig brand and product to each user's friends and followers.

"Social media as a whole isn't a luxury," says SmartyPig's president, Scott McCormack, in an interview with American Banker. "It's a necessity, which is why banks are turning to us."

All of SmartyPig's social media capabilities will be included in the Goal Saver product.

"We are taking the essence of SmartyPig and we are putting it into an application that can live inside of an existing banking website," says SmartyPig co-founder Mike Ferrari.

Banks will control their relationships with Goal Saver users, though the service is hosted by SmartyPig.

The Goal Saver platform, Ferrari says, will better help bankers keep track of their customers' savings.

Users will be able to set goals, such as the amount needed to make a down payment on a home or car. Banks can also allow users to redeem their savings for discounted gift cards at major retailers.

Banks, in turn, will have the opportunity to cross-sell financial products to customers.

The gift card feature "speaks to the correlation between banking, saving and shopping," says Jacob Jegher, a Celent senior analyst.

"You create these savings goals, you take them out on a gift card that comes from one of SmartyPig's partners and that brings in a whole new banking, savings, shopping trifecta," he says. "It brings them front and center in a financial solution."

The road from providing a consumer-focused financial site to being a banking vendor is not always smooth.

Wesabe Inc., which was founded in 2005 as a free consumer personal financial management site, changed its business model in 2009 to sell its software to banks and credit unions. Though it seemed to have some early success, Wesabe did not bring in enough business to sustain itself and the company shut down a year later.

There are, however, success stories such as Geezeo Inc., another PFM provider that became a bank vendor in 2009. Geezeo survived that transition and continues to sign bank and credit union customers.

"It's a very crowded space, and I think part of the challenge for SmartyPig in trying to do what it's doing is to not position itself as kind of the only, or sole, PFM platform that a bank has," says Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "What SmartyPig needs to do to make this transition is really align itself more with the other PFM providers, more than sell itself to the banks."

SmartyPig is not abandoning its original business in this shift. Consumers that want to create savings goals directly with SmartyPig can still do so at smartypig.com. Their deposits are held at BBVA Compass Bank, the U.S. unit of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, which began taking U.S. deposits for SmartyPig in 2010 (before that, deposits were held with West Bancorp Inc. of West Des Moines).

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