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Making Banking Interesting

By Jim Bruene on December 19, 2012 9:35 PM | Comments

image When did banking become boring? Probably when all the gold doubloons and pieces of eight were replaced by paper checks and computer bits.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Most people have at least a passing interest in where their money is going. Sure, there are some negative issues around money, but the place where you track your spending and savings should at least be engaging. And that's rarely the case today.

But Bank Simple (and others) are making good progress.  

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Simple Innovation #8: Full transaction annotation
with on-the-fly categories

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As the startup continues to push the UI envelope (see note 1), it now lets users annotate transactions with uploaded images or PDF files (for a pic of that tantalizing dinner or the receipt for expense reimbursement), free-form memos, and categories created on the fly (#category like on Twitter).

That allows customers to create a historical record around their purchases. Or as Mechanics Bank's Bradley Leimer put it:

"I love it. It’s like Pinterest or Instagram in your banking application." 

For a more thorough look at the UI, check out the new video posted on the Simple blog.

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Fully annotated transaction at Simple (19 Dec 2012)

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Notes:
1. See previous seven Simple innovations here.
2. Expensify offers similar photo capture and memo annotation capabilities
3. For more info on Simple and other Truly Virtual Banks, see our Oct 2011 Online Banking Report (subscription). image
For more on balance forecasting and other advanced PFM features, see our recent Online Banking Report: PFM 4.0 (June 2012; subscription).
4. According to Apple iTunes, Simple app downloaders are also "buying" Schwab, PageOnce, and Mint apps.

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Finovate Alumni News from Expensify, FiLife, Mint, and Prosper

By Andrew Dolbeck on March 26, 2010 4:17 PM | Comments

Following are summaries of the articles posted recently on our Finovate blog. More alumni news is available on our Finovate Twitter feed.

Expensify: One Year Anniversary

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Online expense-report generator Expensify marked the first anniversary of its product being live and available to a mass audience on March 10. Some notable accomplishments for the year:

For more on Expensify and its accomplishments, read the full post here.

FiLife and Mint Remain on Top of Finovate Alumni Traffic Chart

Each month we survey the U.S. Web traffic data for Finovate alumni websites. In our second survey, FiLife and Mint kept the top spots, with 1.5 million and 1.1 million unique visitors respectively. FiLife also showed the highest year-over-year growth, gaining more than 1.3 million visitors.

TradeKing took the prize for month-over-month growth, gaining an additional 69,000 visitors in February for a total of 78,800 -- nearly eight times as many unique visitors than the month before.

And the highest growth for a site not in operation a year ago belongs to Credit Karma's private-label site for Sears' Sears Credit Score which reached 139,000 visitors in less than six months of operation (full post here).


Mint Holds iPad Sweepstakes on Facebook

clip_image004Mint was the first company we'd seen capitalize on the recent iPad publicity by giving one away to Facebook followers.

To enter the sweeps, users first register as fans of Mint's Facebook site, an action that is usually visible to the user's Facebook friends, further increasing Mint's visibility on the social network. The contest also allowed entrants to name the person who referred them, with the referrer also winning an iPad (full post here).

Prosper Launches Talk Taboo Site

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Prosper launched a new social website called Talk Taboo where users can share stories about their finances.

The site includes a simple interface for users to post stories, a page displaying the stories, and a debt-consolidation guide. The landing page contains a link to Prosper, inviting consumers to consolidate their debts with a Prosper loan (full post here).

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Xpenser Masters Mobile Expense Input

By Jim Bruene on March 31, 2009 4:06 PM | Comments (1)

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Launched in Oct. 2007, Xpenser (see note 1) is a financial tool designed for tracking items for business expense reports. Monthly traffic is about 6,000 unique visitors according to Compete.

To understand Xpenser, visualize how Mint works, then think of the opposite.

  • Mint is full automated; Xpenser is all one-off data entry.
  • Mint has graphics that will blow you away; Xpenser has lists.
  • Mint requires you to divulge your banking usernames and passwords; Xpenser just needs your email address.
  • With Mint, you can track your bank accounts, investment accounts and net worth; Xpenser only helps you submit your next expense report.

Xpenser's mission from its website:

We were fed up with how painful expense reports and tracking were. After many experiments we found a workable solution: record expenses as soon as they happen and forget about them.

How it works
image After a registration process that requires no more than your email address, you can begin immediately submitting expenses to the service via:

  • Email by sending a message to e@xpenser.com with the free-form expense listed in the subject line
  • iPhone optimized site (see inset); it's not in the App Store, but you can add an Xpenser button to your iPhone by navigating to the Xpenser website and pressing the + button
  • SMS by sending a text message to 66937 (MOZES), using "exp" followed by the free-form expense description
  • Voice via Jott or Dial2Do (both free services)
  • Twitter via direct message from your registered Twitter account
  • IM via Yahoo Messenger, AOL Messenger, MSN Messenger, or Google Talk
  • Browser search box in Firefox or IE 7+ (see below)
  • Secure website via standard input form

Once the expenses are collected, users go online and move each expense to the appropriate report. Transaction amounts and descriptions can be edited.

The company is building open APIs, so developers, including banks, can use the service to kick-start their own personal finance tools. The company says it will build premium fee-based versions with long-term archives along with other features.

Xpenser competes directly with Expensify (see note 2), a company that will be demo'ing at our upcoming FinovateStartup conference.

Data entry via the browser search box
Although, it's not a core piece of the program, I was perplexed when I saw that one of the methods of entering expense data into your Xpenser account was through the "search box." That was probably what convinced me to sign up for the account.

Here's how it works in Firefox (also works in IE 7+ and any browser that supports OpenSearch):

  • Navigate to the Xpenser website
  • Click on the drop-down area next to the browser search box
  • Add Xpenser as a "search engine"
  • Then simply type the expense amount and description in the search box making sure that Xpenser is the selected as search engine (see second screenshot below), and press enter; Xpenser recognizes your account through cookies and adds the "search term" to your data file

That feature is so clever, it's almost creepy. I'm not sure a bank would want to use this feature since it could capture any search term the user inadvertently input while the bank's "search engine" was selected in the browser search box. 

Xpenser main account page (30 March 2009)

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Input via the browser search box (30 March 2009)

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Notes:
1. Not to be confused with FinovateStartup alum, Expensr, now part of Strands.

2. Expensify has abandoned the decoupled debit business model it was using when we wrote about it's launch last fall (previous post).  It now offers the choice of a prepaid MasterCard or an American Express-issued card.

3. For more information, see our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features for Online Banking and our Online Banking Report on Social Personal Finance

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Expensify Launches Decoupled Credit/Debit Card Using Prepaid Model

By Jim Bruene on September 11, 2008 5:59 PM | Comments (1)

image Like Rate Surfer, which we wrote about yesterday, Expensify launched its new employee expense-management system from the TechCrunch50 DemoPit this week.

The San Francisco-based startup (note 1) combines a payment card with a Web-based expense manager and uses cellphone cameras to upload pictures of receipts to match against purchases. It's a banking triple play: card, online, and mobile.

The target market is smaller businesses that want to automate expense report preparation, approval, and reimbursement to their employees.  

How it works
The heart of Expensify is a prepaid, decoupled credit card. I know that doesn't make sense, but here's how it works: 

  1. Sign up for an Expensify MasterCard prepaid debit card.
  2. Load it with value from any credit or debit card, Visa, MasterCard, or American Express. 
  3. Make purchases with the Expensify MasterCard.
  4. As each purchase clears, the prepaid balance is lowered, triggering an automatic "top off" charge of an equal amount to the consumer's credit card, thereby returning the prepaid balance back to the original level.

Metabank is the issuer; here are terms and conditions.

Analysis
At first blush Expensify sounds pretty amazing. An expense management card that rides on top of your regular card, with mobile and Web-based integration. Brilliant, until you start thinking about costs. There's that pesky thing called interchange. What Expensify has done is create two card transactions instead of one, doubling the amount of interchange paid.

To cover the extra interchange and create some revenue for itself, Expensify levies a 3% transaction fee on the cardholder. Although the card is otherwise relatively fee-free, that's a significant surcharge.

Why would anyone pay 3% extra in order to use the Expensify card when they already have a credit card? The company believes that small businesses will pay the fee in order to get the expense-manager features and to help employees separate business expenses from personal ones. Businesses could have multiple Expensify cards tied to different categories of expenses (see screenshot below).

A business with just $1000/mo in expenditures would pay $360 per year. In addition, the business would tie up several hundred dollars in a prepaid account, because the only charges cardholders can make must not exceed the prepaid balance held in the Expensify account. 

I think the expense-management concept is good, especially with the mobile receipt integration, but it's just too expensive in its current format. The founders should try to move to an ACH-based "topping off" process and remove the transaction fees. 

But regardless of how this specific product performs, the integration of payments, online and mobile, is a huge trend. If Expensify is nimble enough, they may be able to ride the wave.

Expensify homepage (10 Sep 2008)

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Note:
1. Since I didn't see contact info on their website, here's what the founders provided at TechCrunch50: Expensify, 548 Market St. #61434, San Francisco, CA 94104, Phone: 801.745.9064

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