Add Wells Fargo to list of banks testing predictive budgeting tools

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Imagine you open your mobile bank app up and it asks you if you want to make a travel plan for your upcoming trip to Myanmar or suggests you can afford to move money into your savings account this month.

For Wells Fargo’s mobile customers, such suggestions — of which there are more than 50 different kinds of messages — could soon be available.

The San Francisco bank is testing the predictive features with employees and some customers. The bank said it plans to make the features available to all mobile customers later in the summer.

Katherine McGee, head of digital product management for Wells Fargo virtual channels, sees the expected mobile update as a way to help someone avoid a negative outcome or make a change before something is too late.

“We want this to be part of how customers lead financially healthy lives,” McGee said.

For years, bankers have discussed the need to make predictive recommendations in a similar way to how Amazon does for shoppers or Business Insider does for readers. Rather than suggest shoes like a retailer or a sex scandal story like a media outlet, the idea is to crunch financial data — something the bank already has — to suggest financial next steps.

To date, however, the execution of the idea remains in its infancy. While startups, like Dave or Digit, make financial forecasts, most mobile banking apps only spit out historical data rather than crunch it to make a prediction of what someone may need or want.

PFM tools, from the predictive to those that focus primarily on spending alerts, have gained traction recently on mobile. Wells’ motivations are no different.

“We really want to be where our customers are,” McGee said. “Customers are on the phone a lot. We recognize they lead busy lives. Wells is just a part of that life.”

To that end, Wells integrated the insights into something its customers are already doing: looking at their checking account details’ screen. A blue bulb icon located within the screen is clickable, should someone want to dig into the guidance. “We are trying to make it as easy as possible,” McGee said.

In this, Wells Fargo is not alone.

In recent months, banks have been revamping their bank apps with new money management features in an attempt to help customers develop better financial habits. Bank of America is also promising similar insights through erica, it is digital assistant which is set to launch later this year.

Wells’ new tools also coincide with its recently launched stand-alone app, called Daily Change, which is meant to inspire users to save.

As part of the pilot, the bank is on the lookout for which kinds of insights resonate with customers, including how the info is packaged.

Wells declined to disclose what vendors it is using for its predictive banking features. However, it said it analyzes the customer transaction data in-house.

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