Financial tech coming to a phone or wallet near you

September 23, 2011

Maybe you think you’re up to date on the latest financial apps and mobile solutions, but unless you are updating your money life every five minutes, you aren’t. Behind the scenes, scores of companies are throwing money at digitizing you, your cash and (even more popular than money these days) your consumer profile.

Recently I had a chance to check many of them out. I spent two days at Finovate, a financial technology conference run by Online Banking Report. It’s a cool meeting — in two days roughly 60 different companies present seven minute versions of their best selves. Usually they do this before they are fully up and running for consumers, so not everything is ready for prime time yet.

But it does give a great overview of the trends that consumers will be seeing over the next year. Here’s my take on the biggest trends for individual investors and bank customers.

You want mortgages? We’ve got mortgages, says Google

You know all those sites like Bankrate and that let you comparison shop for credit cards and mortgages? Google is gunning for their space with its new Google Advisor. At first glance, there’s nothing new here that isn’t already on lots of different sites, but as company rep Charles Gianfrante says, “We’re Google. And we are just getting started.”

So expect comprehensive listings on the clear and clean site, which covers mortgages, credit cards, bank certificates of deposit, checking and savings accounts. One big plus: You can shop for quotes without giving your real contact info to the banks in question; there’s a complicated interim-email system that blocks your identity. But of course you do have to give it to Google, which won’t let you access the site unless you sign in.

Yo, Merrill — we’re breathing down your neck

Do you know how well your adviser is serving you? A couple of companies are offering new ways for investors to monitor the performance of their investment accounts.

Most aggressive is Sigfig, a San Francisco firm that collects your portfolio data and then tells you things like “Merrill Lynch is charging you more than 95 percent of its clients,” or “You have a clunker mutual fund recommendation. Here’s one with lower fees.” Company co-founder Parker Conrad claims that the program will improve  investor performance by an average of 4.5 percentage points

A second company is diving deeper into stock fundamentals and pegging itself as “anti-virus for your portfolio.” RobotDough will back test all of the stocks in your portfolio (including those of most foreign companies) to see how they did during similar times in the past. Its formulas include detailed corporate information (supplied by this company, Thomson Reuters, six times a day) and also detailed economic data.

So, for example, a company that reports a new loss (or even a profit that is caused by an atypical one-time event) will be back tested to show how the shares of similarly-performing companies did when the economy was slow. Investors who use the program will be able to use it to determine when to sell a stock when it gets a red ink alert that shows price declines of similar shares in similar conditions.

Your bank wants to be Yelp … and Groupon …  and the neighborhood shopper

Consumer rewards and review companies seemed to dominate and there’s a reason for that: The massive quantities of consumer data that credit and debit card issuers amass is worth a lot of money. Some companies, like Cardlytics, Clovr Media, and BillShrink jumped in early: They were embedding rewards in credit card statements at least a year ago.

This year there were more. For the most part these firms are intermediaries that are cutting deals with banks and credit card issuers that want to massage your data without sharing it. Among the companies that demonstrated various rewards programs were Offermatic (which requires consumers to sign on with a credit card), Swipely (which takes a local approach), FreeMonee (which plans to offer time-limited and targeted gifts from popular merchants this holiday season) and Cartera Commerce. E-business firm Activepath partnered with Cardlytics to offer bank and credit card statements embedded with offers in email.

Notable for taking it a step further is Bundle, a financial site backed by Citibank and others that offers “reviews” based on real spending patterns. Instead of publishing comments from purported users, like the popular website Yelp,  it allows users to screen for businesses that people like them actually spend money at. For example, what restaurants in downtown New York City are popular with foodies between the ages of 36 and 49? Where are 20-somethings buying their clothes?

One brave company, JingIt, is offering to pay users (at a rate of roughly $7 to $10 an hour) for watching ads and taking consumer surveys, online or on their phones. Instead of subtly targeting people by their spending patterns and putting offers in front of them, it will deposit real money into an account that can be spent online for music and other advertised consumer goods. This may be a winner for the young and unemployed.

Reading so you don’t have to

One of the more innovative presenters at Finovate was Transparency Labs. This company claims to be creating the “fine print genome project” by scanning, interpreting and storing all of the “terms and conditions” contracts in the credit card, banking, lending, insurance, real estate, mobile phones and savings world. Wow, that’s a lot of contracts.

Founder David Hirsch said his company will present consumers with clear warnings about the hidden fees and pitfalls in those contracts. “We will read so you don’t have to” So far, there’s nothing on the company’s site except an email address. So you’ll still have to read that 60-paged Apple disclosure before you download that game. But there’s hope, so watch that space.


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Not sure of what value Google is attempting to provide — in the mortgage space, that is — with nothing more than YET ANOTHER lead generation platform. This is an obfuscated reality for consumers since the only “value” Bankrate and Lending Tree provide is to themselves and those that subscribe to the leads. The consumer is nothing more than a participant in a cattle drive. And no, the consumer is not on horseback.

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Here’s a good visual on How TO: Calculate Credit Card Rewards 0/how-to-calculate-credit-card-rewards/

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