The backstory of Goldman Sachs' Marcus app, three years in the making

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Three years after Goldman Sachs launched its Marcus digital-only brand, it rolled out an app for the product last week.

Adam Dell, a venture capitalist and head of product at Marcus, said because the brand was only digital, it wanted to take time to get the app right.

"We have no physical branches," he said. "And so as a result, it's imperative that our digital products really shine. And so we took the time to do both qualitative and quantitative research with literally thousands of prospects and existing customers to define what the Marcus app should be. The app is intuitive, it's clean, it's beautiful."

Dell, who is founder and CEO of Clarity Money, which Goldman bought in 2018, talked about future plans for the Marcus app as well as recent reports he's predicted doom for traditional institutions. Following is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity.

In several recent article headlines, it's reported that you say banks are screwed. Did that come out a little stronger than you intended?

ADAM DELL: Yes. The text of my comments were not relayed in the press. My comment really was around the notion of the empowerment of the consumer and how important it is that banks appreciate the degree to which the consumer is now empowered to understand the value they are getting from their financial relationship. Historically, if you're an average consumer in the United States, it is very difficult to understand the fees that you pay to your bank, the interest rate they pay you for your deposits. And that obfuscation and lack of transparency is a thing of the past in that consumers now have a wide array of tools available to them to understand the financial arrangement they have with their financial partner. And if incumbent banks don't embrace that reality, they're in a tough spot.

Do you think we really have transparency today, or are we getting there? It seems there are still large-bank customers who are still paying fees that they don't necessarily understand.

Inertia is the most pernicious of the ailments that face the consumer who is failing to address their financial well-being. I do think we are getting there. If you have an Apple card today, we very clearly show you what your interest rate is. If you have a Marcus account, we very clearly show you what your annual interest rate is. We make those pieces of information clear to the consumer by design because we want the consumer to understand the implications of their choices — if I were to save my money rather than spend it, this is how much interest I could earn; if I decide to spend it on an Apple card and I need to carry a balance, this is the interest rate I will pay. And giving consumers a transparency, clarity and a visual understanding of what those choices are is the way we get to help consumers achieve financial well-being.

That sounds like the philosophy behind Clarity Money. Can you tell me a little about how and why you founded Clarity Money?

Consumers don't have a great way to understand the financial relationships they have. And I believe that there was an opportunity to create an app that would give consumers that visibility by aggregating their accounts, showing them how much interest rate they're paying on their credit card, showing them how much interest they would get from their deposit accounts, showing them where they spend their money, with which merchants they spend the most of their dollars in a given month, and making it visually compelling such that it would be impossible to ignore. If you can present that clearly to a consumer, you've educated that consumer, you've piqued that consumer’s interest in understanding their financial picture, and hopefully prompt them or nudge them to take an action that will improve their financial well-being in the future.

Clarity Money was conceived around the idea of giving the consumer a button to press that would improve their financial future, creating an automatic savings account, creating an investment account, canceling bills, monitoring their credit score, all of those things improve financial well-being. And those are things you could do and can continue to do in the Clarity Money app.

Are you continuing to develop the Clarity Money app in parallel alongside the Goldman Sachs Marcus app? Or do you think eventually you might sort of meld them together?

The two apps are complementary. The Marcus app is meant to help existing customers have access to their accounts at their fingertips. We can't just assume that all of the Clarity Money customers are also Marcus customers. So Clarity Money customers will be able to continue to use the Clarity Money app. But if they are Marcus customers, we encourage them to download the Marcus app.

What does the Marcus by Goldman Sachs app do?

It’s designed to serve our existing customers around their savings and deposit accounts. You can set up auto pay if you're a loan customer, you can set up a recurring deposit if you're a deposit customer. Those features are among the most popular or most requested features of our existing Marcus customers.

Why didn't Goldman create this app sooner? Was there a reason to take time with it?

Yes, we listened carefully to our existing customers and wanted to build a stellar experience. Because we are a digital-only bank, our only interaction with customers is a virtual one. That's a bit of an oversimplification because we obviously talk to customers on the phone. But we have no physical branches. And so as a result, it's imperative that our digital products really shine. And so we took the time to do both qualitative and quantitative research with literally thousands of prospects and existing customers to define what the Marcus app should be. The app is intuitive, it's clean, it's beautiful.

Can you give an example of something that you modified or improved as a consequence of the beta testing?

Yes. One of the things we heard back from customers was if they have more than one Marcus loan account, they want to see a visualization of that. That was something we improved upon after hearing feedback from customers.

Do you have any thoughts on how you might add on or develop this app in the future?

We always aspire to improve the experience we're giving our customers. I think back to the first version of the iPod, compared to the current incarnation of the music experience on an Apple device. I would imagine that the Marcus app will continue to evolve over time and we'll continue to add features that delight our customers. You can expect to see those in the coming months.

Is there any particular feature here that you feel you have that others don't have?

We have a series of inspirational quotes and a header at the top of the app. We also have a content library that is in constant rotation as you access the app, which is designed to speak to the interests and needs of our demographics. The third thing I would say is design. We start, iterate and finish with design. It is the core of our effort in terms of a delightful banking experience. So our visualizations, the cleanliness of the app itself, we really think is a differentiator.

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Mobile banking Digital banking Mobile technology Fintech Apps Goldman Sachs