Institutions aren't thrilled by the ability of vendors to produce customized online personal financial management tools, and are becoming masters of the workaround to build distinctive apps. "Your Web site should reflect the personality of the organization, and if you go with these cookie-cutter things you really sort of hand that over to somebody else," says Stu Fisher, svp of e-commerce for Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union. "I don't think people should do that with their branches - just stamp them out so that they all look the same and they are undifferentiated - but somehow when it comes to the Web we tend to do that."

Addison Avenue is prepping a September rollout of a financial management product based on technology from two vendors; it is adapting software from Jwaala to develop the basic tools to help its members monitor deposits and track spending, and is adding community features developed by Wesabe.

Fisher says working with two vendors is a challenge, but the credit union wanted to create a unique financial management product. "We've chosen to take a bit of a harder road in getting this work done but feel that, at the end of it, it should reflect the personality of Addison Avenue."

Kelly Dowell, Jwaala's COO, says many clients have a vision for their financial management products that goes beyond what his company's software supports. "We wanted to make our product very open because we know this is emerging; we know people come up with new ideas," Dowell says, adding he is often competing against his potential clients, which must decide whether to build something themselves, or buy it.

Jwaala chose to provide a third option: build and buy. It offers clients access to its source code, the building blocks of its software, which they can then assemble as they wish. "The beauty of that source code is they don't have to start from scratch," he says, adding seven of its 32 clients, including Addison Avenue, have chosen this approach.

Fisher says he picked Jwaala's PFM software over Wesabe's for the basic tools because "it was architecturally a better fit. We would get access to the source code, which we can then choose to develop further on our own."

Marc Hedlund, Wesabe's co-founder and chief executive, says he does not mind having his software paired with that of another vendor. "All of the engagements that we've done so far have involved some other vendor, whether it's the online banking platform provider, usually, or something else." Just as Jwaala did not build a community element, "there are things that we don't do yet."

Mark Schwanhausser, a research analyst for Javelin Strategy and Research, says Addison Avenue and other financial companies working on financial management tools now are in the vanguard but would quickly lose their advantage over the competition if they relied on off-the-shelf products.

PNC, for example, built on Yodlee's software to add a spend-tracking feature to its Virtual Wallet product, which presents financial data in an interactive calendar. Mike Ley, an svp in PNC's payments and e-business group, says no off-the-shelf product would have worked for Virtual Wallet. Joe Polverari, svp of strategy and development for Yodlee, says about half of the vendor's 155 financial management clients have adapted the firm's basic offering.

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