The ability to disable a debit card and turn it back on from within a mobile app is still considered edgy. But Wells Fargo, which already offers that digital feature, announced it will soon test something that is much more profound.

Control Tower, the name of the San Francisco bank’s forthcoming tech wrinkle, will let customers track the many places they have shared their financial data. Eventually, it will let them control which app gets their data, update their billing address for a utility provider or even eliminate a subscription — all from within Wells Fargo’s mobile app and online banking.

Tim Sloan, president and chief executive officer of Wells Fargo.
Data vision
Wells "is reimagining the future of personal finance to deliver an experience that is secure and convenient and provides customers a central hub for better control, simplicity and transparency,” CEO Tim Sloan says in explaining its new data-sharing app. Bloomberg News

In other words, customers will be able to control when and where their Wells Fargo account information is shared with everything from mobile wallets to recurring payments.

“Customers currently have their payment information stored in numerous places online,” Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan said during an announcement at Fortune magazine's Brainstorm TECH conference in Aspen, Colo. “If you lose a card or want to update a billing address, you’re expected to go on a journey of self-discovery to remember all the different places your financial information is stored, which can be time consuming and complex."

Instead, Wells "is reimagining the future of personal finance to deliver an experience that is secure and convenient and provides customers a central hub for better control, simplicity and transparency,” he said.

The internal testing of Control Tower begins this year, and the bank expects to roll out the features to customers next year.

The planned enhancement builds on what Wells Fargo has been pursuing in recent years: forming partnerships so consumers and small businesses can share bank data with third-party apps like Mint and Xero and with the data aggregator Finicitywithout sharing their bank credentials.

If all goes as planned with Control Tower, Wells Fargo would realize the longtime bank dream of becoming a hub for controlling fintech apps, while at the same time providing a safer and more convenient way for consumers who want to share data with third-party apps.

The experiment comes as banks are exploring ways to make money off digital identity. Capital One Financial, for instance, is pitching digital identity products to businesses that would, among other things, vet the online identities of their customers. USAA, for another, is very active in the digital identity space.

The planned feature also comes as banks like JPMorgan Chase are partnering with data aggregators so consumers can share their financial data with third-party apps without sharing their login information — an initiative meant to provide consumers with more control of which app gets what data and to let them share their data in a safer way. Wells Fargo has been a leader in working on screen scraping alternatives. In an interview this year with American Banker, Brett Pitts, who serves as head of digital for Wells Fargo virtual channels and was one of our Digital Banker of the Year finalists, said:

“We believe there are better ways for banks and fintech companies to share their common customers’ data. At a minimum, customers should have the ability to choose what data they wish to share, and the process shouldn’t involve their login credentials.”

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Mary Wisniewski

Mary Wisniewski

Mary is deputy editor of BankThink. She also writes on a variety of subjects as part of American Banker's bank tech team.