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Strands Seeks to Stand Out in Crowded Financial Management Space

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To stay relevant in the hypercompetitive personal financial management space, tech companies like Strands Inc. are trying to distance themselves from the PFM standard of a one-size-fits-all approach to online budgeting.

PFM tools, which allow users to track their cash flow visually through charts and calendars rather than just a plain ledger, were developed as a way to improve the appeal of account aggregation, which simply gathered transactions from multiple accounts on one screen. In recent years the PFM space has gotten very crowded, leading some players to hunt for underserved audiences.

In the case of Strands, a PFM provider that counts Bank of Montreal, Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria S.A. and ING Group NV among clients, "we find that some users have a gap between retail banking and online banking; and what they have in investments," says Edward Chang, CEO of Strands, who discussed the company's future plans in an interview with Bank Technology News.

"We want to provide a holistic picture of all of that in one place, so users can manually aggregate all of their assets and liabilities in one location," Chang says.

Strands plans to use its aggregation engine to include more information on the performance and mix of the user's wealth management products, along with the spending and budgeting information that it provides to bank clients with its flagship PFM product. The investment management tool will be available to consumers and bank staff, and Chang sees a particular use for advisors. The information advisors access can be incorporated into a dashboard that informs adjustments in investments or an overall budget. "The advisor will have a full financial picture when the consumer walks into the office," he says.

Strands faces a number of a number of PFM rivals targeting U.S. consumers and bank clients, such as Geezeo Inc. and Intuit Inc.'s Mint.

The strategies of these companies are starting to diverge, with some banks and PFM services  linking the tools to demographic-specific editorial content, while others design proactive marketing tools to get people to use the bank site more often.

Strands has had success luring large bank clients overseas. The San Francisco-based company is in discussion on bringing its PFM solution to the U.S.

Strands is also developing a product that places bills and payments into a calendar. Similar to a new Bill.com product that helps businesses schedule outgoing payments based on an expected incoming payment, the Strands product will have a consumer bent, enabling users to spot trends in incoming and outgoing cash flow that can help organize their bills

"You can see what's due each month at which time," Chang says. Strands also targets businesses with its technology.

Chang says Strands is developing its services to give people the choice of what kinds of tools they need based on their goals or concerns — all functions are available to all users, but the design of the PFM site will be tailored to different groups.

"For people who are nearing retirement, we definitely see that as different," Chang says.

Strands' new features are in development and will be made available to financial services clients in the coming months.

PFM providers will be challenged to tailor their services to users based on their specific needs, Celent analyst Jacob Jegher told BTN in an earlier interview.

Not everyone needs help with investments, while at the same time not everyone needs to know exactly what they are spending each month on groceries to avoid going to far into debt.

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Comments (1)
Not long ago PFM was being pitched as a differentiator for online banking. And now it seems the differentiator needs differentiation. --Daniel Wolfe, Risk/Technology Editor, American Banker
Posted by dwolfe | Wednesday, March 14 2012 at 11:16AM ET
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