Portals that provide personal or peer financial and spending data like Mint, Geezeo and Bundle have proven to be good at generating industry buzz and attracting big investors, but with that attention has come the realization that the sites have content and navigation limitations that will need to be addressed in order to maintain and grow their status in financial services.
"PFM sites are limited by the scope of what they can provide to the customer. What the customers want to be able to do is accomplish a lot of things at one place without having to go to multiple sites," says Mark Schwanhausser, a senior research analyst at Javelin Research.
Three PFM sites have recently forged alliances with tech firms to add more financial information to basic personal spend and peer review content, as well as added analytics and better navigation. Mint.com has partnered with Zillow.com to help consumers determining their home's value as part of their overall financial portfolio; Bundle.com is working with CashEdge to power "My Money," a product that adds spending and savings information to Bundle's peer comparison tools; and Geezeo is partnering with Ping Identity to develop a single sign on solution aimed at easing navigation and reducing tabs.
Mint.com will use Zillow's proprietary "Zestimate" algorithm for real estate analysis, leveraging regularly updated data on comp sales and home facts such as number of bedrooms, bathrooms, lot size square footage and remodels. Mint users who have added their home to their Mint.com account will see their home's estimated value from Zillow the next time they log in. Mint has also entered into a similar partnership with Kelly Bluebook to enable consumers to track the value of their cars over time. "Seamless is the key word here, the less manual the entry the better," says Aaron Patzer, founder and CEO of the Intuit-acquired Mint.com, which has about 3.5 million users.
At Bundle, the Citi/Microsoft-funded site's basic peer spending review will be augmented with greater user spending and budgeting analysis from CashEdge's AllData aggregation product, offering timely financial data from more than 12,000 sources such as bank accounts, credit cards, investment and retirement accounts, insurance plans, mortgages and annuities. Users will now be able to register to access personal financial management tools to be used in concert with peer information. "People told us [what we're doing] is interesting, saying 'you're telling me that I should be spending $600 per month on groceries, for example, if I live in a certain zip code. But you're not telling me what I'm actually spending,'" say Jaidev Shergill, CEO of Bundle.com, who describes the new CashEdge-powered service, which consumers can register to use for free, as a PFM service that's "more socially informed. The data that we are giving back to the consumer can be customized a lot better if we know their spending habits."
At Geezeo, a partnership with Ping Identity enables Geezeo's institutional clients to offer single-sign on for PFM and online banking, enabling consumers to seamlessly navigate between PFM and other online banking functions.
"The financial services industry is really hungry to create an integrated experience for their customers, and single sign on makes it remarkably easy for the user to use and for the bank to sell. It's something that [consumers and banks] have been requesting for a long time, not just on the PFM side, but for online banking architecture as a whole," says James Elwood, evp of technology for Geezeo, which has seen First Mariner and about eight other institutions adopt single sign on PFM.
Ease of use is arguably survival stakes for PFM portals. In a blog titled "Why We Lost to Mint," Wesabe founder Marc Hedlund wrote that Mint made the user "do almost no work at all" and that the good things that Wesabe offered "don't matter" if the product is harder to use.
Ron Shevlin, a senior analyst at Aite, says that despite all of the publicity PFM firms have received over the past couple of years, only about 15-20 percent of domestic households use the tools. He says one way to change that is through POS innovation, such as enabling consumers to easily and immediately see the budgetary impact of a mobile payment. Shevlin says while PFM sites are making inroads in the mobile channel, here's been little movement toward integrating PFM with the mobile POS in real time.