Moven's Smartwatch App to Test Demand for Real-Time PFM Advice

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In one of the first big tests of wearable computing in financial services, Moven has modified its smartphone app, which helps users manage their money, to work on a smartwatch.

The new timepiece version of the app provides a stripped-down analysis of the wearer's spending habits. For instance, as a customer walks out of Starbucks, she'll get an alert telling her how much she just spent and whether she's in good shape budget-wise or should start using the office Keurig. The app's spending meter turns red, green or yellow depending on how much the customer has spent overall in the current month versus the previous month and vis-a-vis her budget.

"It is a great way to illustrate that personal financial management is no longer about a tab in Internet banking, but that it's about behavior and context," said Moven's founder and CEO Brett King. "If you aren't delivering PFM-type feedback in real time, then you can't achieve behavioral changes that are at the heart of what PFM should be about, i.e., helping you save money every day. We've gone beyond PFM into day-to-day gamification of financial wellness."

Moven's smartwatch app, introduced Monday, comes at a time when banks are rethinking their digital strategies, especially to appeal to hard-to-reach millennials.

A wearable app "appeals and resonates with the consumer segment the company is trying to reach — namely, younger consumers who want to use mobile technologies to help them track and manage their finances and their financial lives," said Ron Shevlin, senior analyst at Aite Group. "The consumer segment Moven is targeting wants to know that their financial provider of choice is on top of technological developments."

The new wearable app runs on Motorola Moto360 and Samsung Galaxy Gear watches. (It should work on other Android Wear devices as well, but has only been tested on those two.)

Unlike earlier generations of smartwatch apps, which often seemed redundant because they had to be tethered to smartphone apps, this one can run independently of another device.

King said he doesn't know how many Moven customers have smartwatches or how many want to use them to monitor their spending.

"For us, it's more about a learning curve — are they going to change when they use the watch versus the smart phone? Will they look at notifications more on the watch than they do on the phone?" King said. "These are things we want to learn out of this process."

So far, the key thing a watch does better than any other device is deliver alerts, according to King. "Notification becomes the key mechanism for engagement," he said.

The landscape for financial smartwatch apps is sparse for now. Westpac New Zealand has a Cash Tank app for Android smartwatches that shows customers' available balance in a graphic that looks like a gas meter, pointing to empty when the user is scraping the bottom of the barrel. And a few banks, notably Canada's Tangerine Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, are piloting smartwatch banking apps.

"What we define as mobile computing is changing rapidly," said Charaka Kithulegoda, the chief information officer at Tangerine Bank. "We see this as a great opportunity to provide our clients with seamless, relevant and contextual banking experiences — essentially, being where our clients want us to be, when they want and using the technology they want."

The personal financial management provider Wallaby Financial, which was recently acquired by Bankrate, has apps for the Samsung Gear 2 and Pebble watches that let users review their card balances and check other personal finance information.

Moven's bank partners will launch their own versions of its smartwatch app after observing how it performs, King said.

"The pitch we make to these banks is that the U.S. is a proving field and they get the benefit of those features," he said.

Moven has tens of thousands of cardholders and hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the smartphone app, King said. On good days, Moven gets 250 signups a day, a conversion rate of 30% to 40% of downloads. December was the company's best month for customer acquisition.

The company recently signed up two banks — TD Bank and Westpac New Zealand — to use its software. With a couple of bank deals in the works for the second quarter, Moven should have more than 10 million users by end of this year, he said.

"We're starting to get to the point where we'll be the same size as Square," King said.

Alongside the smartwatch app launch, Moven upgraded its smart phone app, adding mobile check deposit and new options for loading cash onto the Moven debit card, which is issued by CBW Bank.

The next big addition to the Moven app, King said, will probably be related to impulse saving.

"The first thing we do is help you to control your spending through awareness," he said. "Next will be, you're $200 below your average spend, why don't you put that away instead of letting it burn a hole in your pocket? We're figuring out the optimal moments to help you save."

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