On a sunny autumn day in Manhattan, I, a former fashion reporter, stayed indoors so I could listen to The New Yorker talk with Christian Louboutin, the French designer famed for his luxurious shoes with red-lacquered soles.
Beyond learning lovely gems like the fact that suede boots can be made to look new if you hold them over a boiling pot of water, a comment made during the Q&A resonated with me: A lady from the audience took to a microphone to share how she justifies the cost of a pair of his shoes, easily upwards of $900, when her husband asks about the Louboutin transactions.
"I tell them it's for my gynecologist," she gushed.
Aha! The perfect response for women questioned about purchases by dudes who are too skittish to interrogate health-related expenses, I thought. Immediately, I made a mental note to steal her line if ever a similar situation presented itself to me. Then I wondered: I bet there's an app for resolving transaction questions like that.
In the last few weeks, I resolved to explore my hypothesis as Valentine's Day neared. Here's what I've found: There are collaboration tools designed for when one person is out shopping, while the other partner remains at home (to make sure that new living room chair is bought in the right shade, for example) and newer apps for couples who want to send private messages in different ways (there's an interesting blog on TechCrunch about this IT trend here). But financial collaboration tools, such as transaction sharing, are still being developed within many players' pipelines. They are on their way.
Mark Schwanhausser, director of multichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research, kindly pointed me to a few consumer-facing tools, including HomeBudget with Sync, which lets a group of devices within the household exchange expense and income information. Another, Deskescape, allows transaction sharing among iPhones.
In the banking world, however, transaction collaboration services aren't widely available unless couples share the same account, with some exceptions. There are indicators that messaging about specific transactions will be available in future digital banking apps, to improve the customer experience.
Take MoneyDesktop, for example.
The PFM vendor, of Provo, Utah, updated its software last autumn to include a feature that lets a user send an email about a transaction to someone else through its app. A real-world case would look something like this: A spouse spots an unknown transaction. He clicks on the item to message a screenshot of it over to his wife, along with a question attached such as, "What is this about?"
Nate Gardner, vice president of client services at MoneyDesktop, says he uses the feature to communicate with his wife. "We can quickly resolve [an issue]," Gardner says.
"It's not rocket science. It's like, 'Duh, nice feature.'"
Gardner expects the capability to have utility beyond communicating with partners and to also include messaging with the likes of accountants, for example.
"We think our members might like that [feature]," says Maurice Smith, president of Local Government Federal Credit Union. The credit union, of Raleigh, N.C. has been a MoneyDesktop client for about a year.