KeyBank Takes Second Stab at Money-Management App

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It's back.

MyControl Banking, an innovative mobile money management tool originally rolled out by KeyBank in November 2012 and taken down shortly after to be retooled, returned in late February to the app stores for iOS and Android devices. The mobile app comes with a feature that most financial institutions and tech startups don't yet offer: the ability to forecast financial transactions.

The myControl app, which is separate from KeyBank's regular mobile banking app, is open to checking account customers and is meant to be used to visualize what customers' bank balances will look like until their next paycheck. The myControl app is, for now, in the test-and-learn stage to help the Cleveland bank observe what customers want in financial guidance tools.

KeyBank is early to the market in a bid to gain insights into what type of guidance works best in mobile. Right now the app is in the pilot phase, but the bank's ultimate goal of its investment in myControl is to help increase wallet share of customers by providing a service that adds value to the banking relationship.

Some of myControl's features are reminiscent of those offered by Simple, the mobile banking site that recently announced it was selling itself to BBVA Compass. Moven, GoBank and software from PFM vendors such as Banno and Numbrs, also have features that help people better understand what they can spend.

KeyBank says it refined the myControl user experience in a bid to make the app more intuitive and compatible with updated operating systems. "We wanted to ensure the experience is as good as it can be," says Matt Lehman, KeyBank's senior vice president and head of online and mobile banking.

"We believe that is a fundamental part of the broader set of services to help clients manage their money," says Lehman. "It's not the entire set but it's a core set. …Mobile is the natural channel to instill that kind of confidence."

Cash flow forecasting has some precedent in online banking, with a number of banks offering it to their business customers.

KeyBank has made myControl tools available to checking account customers that bank online for about six months, while Wells Fargo and PNC Financial Services Group (which also includes forecasting in its Virtual Wallet mobile app) have introduced short-term forecasts into online banking. Wells Fargo's forecasting feature is in the pilot stage.

The initial target audience for myControl is individuals who are closely looking at their day-to-day spending, Lehman says.

That could be a large audience; a June 2013 Bankrate.com survey found that 76% of consumers are living paycheck to paycheck.

Drawing from upcoming bill payments, paychecks, longer-term goals and other data sources, myControl is designed to eliminate the mental math a person must do when deciding to buy, say, a Rebecca Minkoff skirt. The myControl app also lets users make bill payments and money transfers as well as locate bank branches and, notably, define savings goals that feed into the forecast. Customers who hit their goals will receive a congratulatory text from the bank.

"To me this is absolutely 'online banking 2.0,'" says Jim Breune, editor and founder of The Finovate Group and who blogged on the app's initial debut. "[It's] moving away from a dumb data dump to in-context real-time help with your finances."

The budget case for myControl is built around several scenarios: first, it is designed to help the bank's clients feel more confident about money in a channel that's gaining usage, and in turn, the bank could gain data and potentially get people to open savings accounts, or eventually, lines of credit — when it's relevant.

"Ultimately, we want to enhance the relationship," Lehman says.

Investing in digital is part of the broader strategy to do that, he says.

In the newer crop of PFM tools, the modeling lexicon varies by company — "Safe to Spend," "Ask the Fortune Teller," "Help Me Decide," and "What If," are just some examples. The logic, however, is similar: providing a glimpse of the future to consumers and helping them avoid overspending and overdrawing their accounts. Such apps are cropping up at a time when software developers are simplifying the ways to buy something through a smartphone and consumers are increasingly swiping or tapping their discretionary money away.

KeyBank's app works something like this: After a customer downloads the app and signs in, myControl will pull in 90 days of bank data to model out the person's cash flow. To use, customers must be existing online banking customers; however, they can use their same online banking login credentials to access myControl. Ultimately, KeyBank's apps could come together but that will depend on the current pilot, says Lehman.

Forecasts, of course, are only as good as the data feeding the model. The myControl user can manually enter data, such as when he writes a physical check, in a bid to make the forecast more accurate.

The bank — like all financial institutions should — plans to improve the app on an ongoing basis.

"We are doing a lot of internal testing on the user experience to remove friction," says Lehman.

The bank also gathers feedback through reviews in the app stores, on the Web, and via surveys.

In dreaming up mobile apps, he says KeyBank draws inspiration from outside the industry to help design something that provides value in exchange for usage. The popular music site Pandora, for example, serves as a muse in the way it provides users value.

"Design in of itself is always challenging," Lehman says. "The important thing is meeting the broader vision: in this case, we succeeded but it's not a static situation. We need to continually refine the design."

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