Mint’s Fresh Approach to the iPad Could Boost Bank Sales

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Intuit Inc.'s Mint.com is launching an iPad application that it says can boost its referrals to financial accounts by making money management social.

The company is updating its iPhone app this week to be a "universal" app, meaning the same software it already distributes for the iPhone provides a different set of features on the larger iPad. Intuit says a substantial portion of its app users run the phone app on an iPad already.

The new version is designed to help encourage users to make financial decisions as a household that they might put off as individuals. The bigger screen space allows multiple users to see the same data at once, so a married couple could review their finances together.

By encouraging collaboration, Intuit also hopes to also spark decision-making, says Aaron Forth, general manager of the company's personal finance group.

"It's about visibility and being able to discuss stuff," he says. "If it's always an asynchronous conversation … it's hard to get together and get on the same page."

According to Mint's research, in many households where financial responsibilities are shared among a husband and a wife, the man is responsible for long-term investments and the woman is responsible for day-to-day expenses.

"That seems to be a separation that is somewhat common," he says, "and that's not being together. That's not being synched up."

The iPad, which is small enough to pass around, but large enough to be viewed by more than one person at once, is uniquely suited to what Forth describes as "making personal finance intimately social." By contrast, "the phone is intensely personal and the computer's kind of hard to [use to] share information," he says.

To encourage Mint users to get more social about financial decisions, the iPad's lead generation aspect is focused more on Mint's advice engine than its "ways to save" feature, which Forth says was "kind of passive" in that it required users to seek out new accounts on their own.

The advice feature, which is part of a financial news feed accessible from Mint's iPad app, provides advice "on a nightly basis, recapping one's financial situation, producing a task list of advice … it's a push model that comes to me," Forth says.

This, in turn, should make Mint a more appealing partner for banks, he says.

"There's two ways for banks to think about this," Forth says. They can try to copy Mint's approach as they design their own apps, but that limits their audience to the customers they already have. "If they think about us as an advertising platform, we're much more integrated into the core stream of usage at this point" and can help banks reach a wider audience of prospective customers, he says.

Others have tried to make personal financial management more social, but without a focus on the iPad.

In 2007, Mint's rival Wesabe Inc. (which failed last year) added a cash-tracking feature to its iPhone app. Part of the benefit to this feature, Wesabe said, was to allow one person to add transactions on the go so that their spouse could see it instantly while managing finances online from home.

Another provider, SmartyPig LLC, takes social financial management beyond the walls of a single household by allowing users to share specific savings goals online.

Bobber Interactive, a Seattle company founded last year, also encourages users to share their financial goals through its game-like GoalCard app for Facebook.

The iPad and similar tablets "can be used for collaborative decisions" in ways that other computing devices cannot, says Nicole Sturgill, a research director at TowerGroup.

In a branch, for example, "you can be passing it between branch staff and the person that's sitting in front of you or the couple that's sitting in front of you" to better explain a banking concept or product, she says. "At first glance, I think that it's a good idea."

However, a lot depends on the implementation, Sturgill says.

The temptation with expanding a mobile app to the iPad's bigger screen is to add information, which could be perceived as needless clutter, she says. In particular, Mint's advice system must be used intelligently so that its product pitches are seen as attractive instead of just one more thing to click past to see one's finances. "There is a fine line between helpful and intrusive," Sturgill says.

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