Plenty of banks are incorporating personal financial management software into their Web sites, but Geezeo Inc. wants to convince them that the technology is not just an add-on feature — it should be the heart of an online banking service.
Standard online sites let customers view transactions and other activity in their accounts. PFM software does that and a lot more, and Geezeo is betting its future that firms will agree that their Web sites should evolve into financial management services.
"There's a strong demand in the market for a next-gen online banking platform that has integrated personal finance management," Peter Glyman, a Geezeo co-founder, said in an interview. "At more and more clients that we talk to, people want that Geezeo dashboard … to be front and center, not secondary to the online banking experience."
The Framingham, Mass., company got its start offering online PFM services to consumers for free, and this year began selling a version of its software that banks could integrate into their Web sites. Now it is developing its own online banking application that looks and functions like a PFM product, and which it expects to introduce in the first quarter.
Last week Geezeo announced a deal designed to help its transformation into an online banking company. Under the agreement Geezeo will integrate bill-payment software from iPay Technologies LLC into its own product.
As part of Geezeo's reinvention effort, next quarter it will drop its free consumer PFM Web site. That site was the company's only service from 2007, when the site went live, to early 2009, when Geezeo began selling software to financial institutions.
"We proved our ability to be successful with the direct-to-consumer model, but in terms of focus, and especially being a smaller company, we need to put our resources very specifically on the tasks at hand — and anything that distracts us from that is a problem," Glyman said.
Consumers who already have accounts with Geezeo would get to keep their accounts, but the company would not accept new ones after it transitions to its new business model.
PFM applications typically aggregate banking data from multiple accounts, and give users a clear picture of their financial situation. Most of these tools use this information to help people track their spending and plan budgets — for example, showing someone how much he spends in a month at restaurants or on groceries.
This is an improvement over basic online banking services that show people their recent transactions but cannot analyze the spending data, Glyman said.
Edward R. Woods, the principal at Mindful Insights LLC, a research firm in Portland, Ore., said many banks have realized that there is little to differentiate most online services, and they are looking for ways to improve their sites.
Some bankers "look at PFM to help them to achieve that goal for consumers, and that can only happen from an integrated experience" that makes the financial management capabilities the main function of their services, he said.
However, Geezeo will face stiff competition from older and more entrenched vendors. "It's a very competitive market with long sales cycles," Woods said, though Geezeo "will be highly differentiated from the others."
Geezeo and other providers of free, online PFM services have had trouble finding a viable business model, Woods said. Mint Software Inc., one of Geezeo's rivals, was sold to Intuit Corp. last week.
"Online PFM vendors, I think for them to survive, they have to do something different from what they are doing today," Woods said. Geezeo's plan "is the best way for them to have control of their own destiny."
1st Advantage Federal Credit Union of Yorktown, Va., is one company that wants to breathe new life into what it sees as a stale online experience.
"Right now, home banking is the only piece of our online strategy that has any level of engagement to it, and that's really mostly at a transactional level," said Jim Craig, 1st Advantage's vice president of marketing. If "you're seen as a place to do transactions, you just become a commodity."
In January the credit union plans to implement another Geezeo product: social-media software that will enable members and nonmembers to interact in discussion groups hosted on 1st Advantage's Web site.
Craig said 1st Advantage would consider switching to Geezeo's upcoming PFM-based service for all of its online banking functions when it is available.
"We really are interested in engaging more with our members and becoming more relevant to their life," he said.
Many banks, Glyman said, "are looking at older legacy online banking systems that need to be changed." Because these companies are looking to make sweeping changes, he said, it is easier to offer them an entirely new online banking system than to just tack PFM on to what they already have.
To this end, the 10-employee company is almost doubling its head count with new positions in sales, engineering and marketing.
Geezeo is also developing relationships with other vendors to provide money movement, online account opening and remote deposit capture, Glyman said. Geezeo has long worked with CashEdge Inc. of New York, which provides some of these services, to offer account aggregation to its consumer PFM users.
Glyman said his company is still deciding which vendor to use for those services, but he acknowledged it is helpful to already have a relationship with CashEdge.
When the full online banking software launches, Glyman said, banks will be able to offer a number of creative functions, such as allowing customers to have separate accounts for bill pay and debit card use, and to chart spending to help consumers understand where their money is going.