New financial management and advice tools help Wells Fargo keep its online banking app a step ahead.

Jim Smith
Wells Fargo
Executive vice president-head of Internet Services Group
Latest breakthrough: Specialized areas of Wells online banking site provide help to customers with specific needs.

In January 2011, $1.3 trillion-asset Wells Fargo launched My Money Map, an interactive tool that helps customers track expenses, follow a budget and grow savings. It provides a dashboard view of the customer's personal financial-management picture, using data from their Wells Fargo accounts, including credit card, debit card, checking and savings accounts, and bill pay purchases. Bar charts track monthly spending by category, as well as current savings and monthly spending versus budget goals.

"For banks in the past, the model was to let customers do self-service on individual accounts," says Jim Smith, executive vice president-head of the Internet Services Group for the San Francisco-based bank. "My Money Map has changed the paradigm and focused more on allowing customers to manage finances across accounts instead of within individual accounts."

There are tools to automatically help generate a budget based on past statement activity, and customers can set alerts letting them know if they're significantly missing a budget or savings goal. Wells auto-categorizes transactions, but also lets customers modify and create their own spending categories.

These features are available on the bank's online banking sites, which can be accessed on tablets as well as PCs, but not on smart phones.

"Early on, when we talked about things like budgeting and planning, we didn't think customers would be interested in doing that on a mobile device," Smith says. "That's something we continue to monitor and if there's demand and interest from customers on the mobile platform, that's easy for us to do. From a tablet perspective, we find that most of our iPad users are using the full site anyway."

A Wells Fargo Assist portion of the online banking site helps customers who are facing financial hardship or payment challenges. "We find that there are a lot of customers for whom a credit card bill might have slipped their mind," Smith says. "By integrating a reminder of that right into online banking, that has helped customers make sure they stay on top of their finances. It's to help customers manage those accounts quickly; it's great to have a way to do it right there where they're managing their accounts. Most customers want to maintain good credit standing, they want to manage their accounts in the right way. Giving them tools that help remind them how to do that and options of the best way to do it is a great thing." Those in more serious financial trouble need to meet with a specialist.

The Home Lending Site provides information and tools for choosing a mortgage or home equity loan or line of credit. "It's a complicated financial decision, so creating a place where customers get answers to their questions, research all the aspects of the loan, and contact experts is useful," Smith says.

One area of online banking in which Wells Fargo was a very early adopter was its vSafe digital archiving service, which it debuted in 2008. The service let people scan and upload documents in to a digital vault hosted by the bank. What the bank found in practice, however, was that people were mostly using vSafe to store their Wells Fargo documents, which is already a feature of online banking. So vSafe is being discontinued, but the free digital archiving service will go on.

Wells Fargo also released an Android app to add to its stable of mobile apps for iOS, Kindle Fire, BlackBerry, and Palm devices. "Devices have a relatively short shelf life of a couple of years," Smith observes. "But as long as the platform is still operational, there's no additional overhead to maintain that for customers." Smith notes that he has "only" about three dozen developers working on mobile applications, while more than 200 work on online banking apps. "It's a bit of a fuzzy line between online and mobile development," he says.

To determine what new mobile projects should be, Smith says the bank spends a lot of time listening to customers, understanding what they like and where they feel there are gaps. "We also are looking broadly at other industries and places for ideas of how we make it easier for customers to access accounts," he says. "We may come up with some ideas that are new and different from what our customers are saying, then we bring those back to our customers."

To test these ideas, Wells Fargo has a lab environment that customers sign up for. "The people that go there are the ones who are willing to give feedback on how things are working, tolerate frequent changes, and are more classic early adopters," Smith says. "By the time you roll a new idea out to a larger population, you've worked out a lot of those kinks."

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Gallery: The 2011 Innovators of the Year

Articles on honorees:
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Jose Olalla: Pioneer in the Public Cloud
Jeff Dennes: A Granting of Grace
Robert Frohwein: The 10-Minute Small Business Loan
Howie Wu: Getting New Members Quickly on Board
Susan Andrews: Drawing the Best Ideas Out of 263,000 People
Shekar Pannala: Aware of the Context
Frank Eliason: Taking Social Media to a Chattier Level
Harry Gunsallus: Speeding Apps to Market

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