Google Archives

First Look: Google Wallet "Pay by Gmail" (and the Pain of Authentication)

By Jim Bruene on May 22, 2013 9:38 PM | Comments

image As you probably already know, last week Google launched P2P payments via Gmail (and through the Google Wallet mobile/online interface). Once authenticated, users simply "attach" funds to an email message (see inset).

Bank transfers (e.g., ACH) are free while card-based payments will cost senders 2.9% of the amount, with a $0.30 minimum. However, all transactions are free for an unspecified time during the launch period.

With an estimated 400 to 500 million global Gmail users, the service has the potential to become an important method of sending money (it's only available to U.S. users at this point). However, like all U.S.-based P2P services, it's easy to send money, but not always so easy to receive it.

In my first test, I was able to claim the funds relatively easily with my four-year-old Google Wallet account. There was a short authentication process with a login, name, address, birth date and last four digits of my Social Security Number (SSN). After claiming the funds, I was then able to send money out of the system (note 2).

After sending my two cents over to Larry Page, congratulating him on the launch (see screenshots below), I then sent money to my work email account. While it was deceptively simple to send the money, I was unable to claim the money, despite already having an active Google Wallet associated with that email address.

After receiving the email notification, I went through the same authentication process as above. But after logging in and providing my personal info, I was hit with four additional out-of-wallet authentication questions, apparently pulled from public databases (I think NOT my credit bureau due to the errors..see below).

But apparently there was an error in the out-of-wallet Q&A served to me. The first two questions obviously pertained to me, and I answered them correctly, but the final two did not (note 6), so I answered "none of the above." But Google didn't believe me, and I was told my answers were "inconsistent" and that I could not be authenticated online.

I was invited to upload three pieces of documentation since I failed the Q&A (all required):

  • Picture ID (e.g., drivers license)
  • Proof of address (e.g., utility bill)
  • Social Security card

Unfortunately, I haven't laid eyes on my Social Security card for several decades and haven't a clue where it is. And in 18 years of testing online account opening, no one has ever asked for it. So I'm stuck. Had someone sent me a real payment, I would be extremely frustrated, and would have to either ask for a check to be sent, or use PayPal.

Bottom line: This is a brilliant play by Google, taking everyone by surprise. However, P2P payments (in the USA anyway) are still a pain to receive the first time which dampens their viral growth (note 7). I understand the reasons for good authentication, though it still seems like overkill given that I was only claiming a one-cent transfer via a pre-existing and active Google Wallet account (used for more than $400 worth of purchases this year). And especially after I provided the correct name, address, birth date, SSN and two additional out-of-wallet questions.

But I know the folks from Mountain View, Calif., will work the risk-procedure kinks out quickly (there is a reason it's called "beta"). And if they stick with it (RIP Google Reader), Google should be able to build a critical mass of financially authenticated users, making "gpay" as easy as using PayPal.


How Gmail Pay works

Step 1: Craft email message and click on the "$" icon at the bottom of the compose screen

Step 2: Attach funds via Wallet balance, bank transfers, or card; then add memo if desired


Step 3: Press send


Step 4: Final chance to review


Final: Confirmation copy is placed in your inbox (note 8)




1. During the beta test, you can become a P2P user only by first receiving funds from an existing user.
2. I have two Google Wallet accounts, one set up in 2009 and the other established in January 2013 when I got a Nexus NFC phone with built-in Wallet support. The credit card associated with both accounts was stolen earlier this year, and I had to add a new card to both wallets before I could use them. This could have triggered additional authentication requirements on the second Wallet account.
3. The payment appears as a "card" within a Gmail. There is no indication in the title of the message that it might contain money (user controls the rest of the email).
4. The transaction fee was waived for my Discover Card-based payment. I assume it would be on other card types, but I didn't test that.
5. Users have the option to add a memo to the payment (in addition to what's included in the email message).
6. Ironically, if the recipient was mobile-deposit-enabled, it would be easier the first time to send a high-resolution image of a check that the user could take a picture of and then deposit via mobile banking. Or, for Capital One 360 users, the emailed image could simply be uploaded directly into their account (see post). 
7. Though I suspect the last two questions could have been drawn from online info about my brother, who has a different first name and lives 2,000 miles from me.  
8. Yesterday, confirmation emails went to my inbox when I sent a payment. Tonight, I am not seeing that: It's only showing in my Sent messages.
9. For more info, see our recent Online Banking Report: Digital & Mobile Wallets (published Feb 2013, subscription).


PFMs Are Top Browser "Money" Plugins for Google Chrome

By Jim Bruene on January 24, 2013 8:29 PM | Comments

image While they are overshadowed by the hundreds of thousands of mobile apps, there is a growing eco-system of plugins and apps for use with desktop browsers. I recently poked around in the Money section of Google's Chrome Web Store.

Not surprisingly, Google Finance was the most popular with almost 300,000 users. Mint was second at about half that (160,000 users). No one else was close (see table below).

Of the top 11 money plugins, six were PFMs: Mint, Finance 41, CashBase, PocketSmith, Easy Envelope Budget, and Toshl. Four were investing related, and Zillow tracks residential real estate (note 1).

One surprise: There was just one U.S. financial in the store. BofA? Fidelity? PayPal? No, it was Mountain America Credit Union (screenshot below). There were several international financial institutions in the store as well (Maybank, BBVA, Bradesco).

Bottom line: With 700,000 total users across the top-11 apps, this is a niche market so far, and could remain that way. But interestingly, it's another place where Mint dominates.


Table: 11 Most Popular Chrome Extension
in the "Money" Category

Name Users Type
1. Google Finance 283,000 Investing
2. Mint 161,000 PFM
3. Zillow 49,000 Real estate
4. Finance 41 41,000 PFM
5. Cash Base 35,000 PFM
6t. Pocketsmith 34,000 PFM
6t. Wikinvest 34,000 Investing
8. WealthLift 28,000 Investing
9. Free Stock Charts 20,000 Investing
10. Easy Envelope Budget 18,000 PFM
11. Toshl 15,000 PFM
TOTAL 710,000 --

Source: Google, 18 Jan 2013


Mountain American Credit Union extension for Google Chrome browser (link)
Note: The app currently has 127 users

Mountain American Credit Union extension for Google Chrome browser

PFM Toshl featured in the Google Chrome Web Store (link, 18 Jan 2013)
Third-party PFM Toshl was one of the featured apps in the broader Lifestyle Category. They have about 15,000 users, making it the 10th most popular app in the Money category.

PFM Toshl featured in the Google Chrome Web Store  


1. And Finovate alums are well represented. In addition to Mint, Pocketsmith and Wikinvest, BillGuard, FutureAdvisor, Xero, ImpulseSave and SmartyPig (previous post) have plugins.
2. For our take on PFMs, see our May 2010 Online Banking Report (subscription).


Mobile Wallet Providers Woo Retailers at Annual Convention

By Jim Bruene on January 22, 2013 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

image Last week I was just at ground zero of the mobile wallet battle, the National Retail Federation annual convention in NYC. It was a great opportunity to see what the folks from MCX, ISIS, PayPal and Google were telling the audience of 25,000+ retailers.

No one has won the war, but a few winners emerged at the skirmishes I witnessed:

  • Best Tradeshow Branding: ISIS absolutely owned the show in terms of branded impressions. They had their name on the bags (inset), on the registration desk, ISIS brand on NRF convention bagat two lounges and at their purple booth. Congrats to its Seattle-based marketing/PR team who made quite a splash with that six-figure buy. 
  • Best Product Launch: Google was the only one of the four which launched a new product, its digital coupon/POS initiative, Zavers. The new service isn't solely a mobile wallet, and the Google Wallet is a key piece of enabling technology. Although its booth was buried in the back, Google had a lot of traffic when I stopped by on day two.
  • Best Partnering: PayPal was the clear winner, announcing a huge partnership with NCR. (NCR, which owned the front of the show floor, seemed to have a huge buzz going at all times, and I don't think it was a coincidence that the color scheme of the whole show seemed to revolve around the NCR booth). See the post at our Finovate blog for a summary of the deal making.
  • Retailer BFF award: The MCX panel featured execs from Walmart, Gap Inc., Lowe's, Dunkin Donuts, and WaWa doing some serious bonding for an hour. It made me want to become a retailer, just so I could join MCX. It was impressive.
  • AWOL award: The bank networks, Visa and MasterCard, had virtually no presence, neither exhibiting nor speaking. Square was not represented either, unless you count the keynote by Howard Schultz of Starbucks, which owns a small chunk of the startup.  

Bottom line: Things are still wide open and it's impossible to see the winners yet to emerge. Silicon Valley remains enthralled with Square (which is partly owned by Visa), valuing it at around USD3 billion. NFC technology is hotly debated, and so far ignored by Apple, PayPal and MCX. There are 280 mobile payment startups hoping to become relevant. And all eyes are on PayPal and Google to further their partnerships with Discover.  

Comments (1)

The Digital Wallet Value Proposition

By Jim Bruene on November 13, 2012 5:33 PM | Comments

image There has been more e-ink spilled this year on the subject of mobile/digital wallets than any other financial technology. For good reason. The upcoming shift impacts every major retailer, bank, and card issuer, along with their various supporting technology vendors. 

But there are still those who wonder what all the fuss is about. Doesn't plastic serve the consumer just fine? It's fast, ubiquitous, and oh-so much better than the checks and cash it replaced. 

The problem with that reasoning is it only focuses on the "last mile" of payments, the swipe. The swipe is easy. That's why contactless was slow to catch on. It only converted the physical action from swipe to tap; a tiny benefit hardly worth the trouble. 

imageBut the changes being ushered in now have little to do with hand motions. It's about simplifying the messy process consumers go through when deciding which card to swipe/tap/insert. Consumers, at least those with the luxury of having multiple payment options, are faced with a fairly complex decision process (albeit repetitive):

  • Do I have my wallet with me?
  • What cards are in it?
  • Debit or credit?
  • Signature debit vs. PIN?
  • What card types are accepted (e.g., Visa/Mastercard vs. Discover or Amex)?
  • What is my balance or available credit?
  • Personal card or company card?
  • Will the card be accepted?
  • Am I in revolving status? If so, what impact will this purchase have on my rate or monthly payment?
  • What are the penalty fees if I go overlimit or am late with my payment?
  • Are they any reward bonuses available on this merchant category with a certain card?
  • Are there any card-linked offers at this particular merchant?
  • Are there any other loyalty perks at the merchant for using their card?
  • What are my rewards balances on various payment options?
  • Do I have any coupons or offers to redeem here?
  • If it's a joint account, is my spouse making purchases on the card I didn't know about?
  • Do I trust this merchant, or might I end up with a fraud problem on this card?
  • Do I want the merchant to know anything about me?
  • What is this costing the merchant (if I don't want to drive up their costs)?
  • Will the merchant give me grief over using this option (e.g., surly cabbies)?
  • Does the merchant have any minimum purchase amounts or surcharges for various purchase methods?
  • For non-revolving credit, when will my grace period be over and I'll actually have to come up with the money?
  • How easy is it to track the payment for later reimbursement or tax deduction?
  • How hard is it to dispute a charge?
  • Which card did I use here before?
  • Is there more prestige in using one payment card over another?
  • Do I need to curry favor with one issuer vs. another (e.g., to get a better rate or higher line of credit)?
  • What is the foreign exchange rate and are there foreign exchange surcharges?
  • Do I have brand preferences for reasons unrelated to the actual transaction? 

Mobile wallets can use their computing power to instantly resolve these questions and present the user with optimal choice(s). Or the wallet could step in and make the choice automatically which is the key value proposition of the upcoming offering from Wallaby (see notes 1, 2).   

Then there's the whole issue of receipt management and expense tracking that can be integrated into wallets (see previous post; note 3).

Bottom line: I could go on, but the point is that the digital wallet era is upon us, and consumers are going to love it (eventually). How long it takes to catch on is uncertain, but it should be fun to watch.


1. I was briefed on the Wallaby card, currently in closed beta testing, by its founder Matthew Goldman at Money2020 three weeks ago. Like Google's rumored wallet 2.0 offering, Wallaby hopes to replace all the plastic in your wallet with a mobile app and decoupled debit card (plastic) for use at the POS. Then after the transaction is made on the Wallaby card, its proprietary algorithm will route transactions to the user's optimal card based on which offers the highest reward amount for each transaction.
2. For a more thorough analysis, see David Birch's vision of the "decoupled wallet" future here and Tom Noyes Battle of the Cloud, both published this week. And Glenbrook's Carol Coye Benson published this opus on Sep 24.
3. Aite's Ron Shevlin expanded on that in his blog post last week.

Categories: Google, Mobile Payments

Op Ed: Thoughts on Google Wallet

By Jim Bruene on June 10, 2011 12:30 PM | Comments

This guest post was written by Daniel Thomas, a 25-year strategy and product development veteran of the financial services industry. He is a principal consultant with Mindful Insights LLC.

image Google's announcement two weeks ago certainly raised a few eyebrows in the mobile payments arena and took a giant leap toward putting to rest the debate about the use of NFC.

However, there's an interesting twist that hasn't been explored in the many articles written in the aftermath of the announcement. How will Google's effort impact revenues from the merchant-funded rewards programs (see note 1) banks hope will increase loyalty while softening the blow of the now-certain Durbin Amendment losses?

Citibank inside google wallet

But has Google just killed banks' dreams of grabbing a share of the online advertising pie ?

Merchants today are offering higher discounts and rebates to bankcard users because the banks, via various rewards vendors, are letting merchants in on their customers' spending history.  That data obviously has a lot of value and the merchants compensate the banks for it in the form of commissions on purchases made by the bank's customers after targeted offers have been presented.  On the surface, one might think that regardless of the mobile wallet used, Google's or otherwise, so long as the payment is made from a bank-issued product, the bank will still own the spending history data and be able to trade it for a commission.

However, Google, or whoever owns the mobile wallet (but especially Google), will be able to "see" the purchases as they take place and can begin recording its own spending history data.  That, coupled with other non-mobile spend-history gleaned from browsing on the web across multiple cards per individual or household, potentially gives Google a leg up on the richness of its data (assuming Google can tie the two together, is there any doubt?).  Combine that with general browsing history and Google has a pretty good profile of each person to offer up to merchants. 

Privacy issues aside, this seems to trump bank spending history data placing Google in a much better position to bargain with merchants and ad networks. But privacy issues may well loom large over all of this once consumers and Congress put 2 and 2 together and figure out what Big Broth... er, that is, Google is up to.

Meanwhile, not everyone will have an Android phone nor a Google Wallet. Plenty of other mobile wallets will soon hit the scene, but even so it will take a long time for mobile wallets to replace plastic (amusing thought-- which will go away first: plastic or the perpetual paper check?) so merchants will still want to keep banks in the equation by compensating them for allowing them to use their spending history to develop targeted offers.

So, merchants are going to need to decide: should they allow Google to make the reward offer or the banks?  Surely, they won't compensate both for bringing in the same purchase. That leaves the decision in the hands of the consumers. Do they want to receive points and cash back from Google or from their bank? 

Undoubtedly, consumers will decide based on which one offers the greatest value for the least amount of work. Online usability has been a trademark of Google, banks not so much.


Citibank and MasterCard are key banking partners
On its website, Google asks prospective visitors if they have a Citibank MasterCard

Citibank and MasterCard are key banking partner


Note: For more information, see Online Banking Report: Merchant-Funded Rewards (published  Feb. 2011)


Out of the Inbox: Chase Invites Business Clients to a Free Webinar with Google

By Jim Bruene on May 6, 2011 12:34 PM | Comments

imageOn the one hand, it's easy for a bank to get the attention of business clients and prospects. Just announce a streamlined commercial loan-app process. But since that's unlikely to happen in the wake of the Financial Meltdown, a Webinar with Google is a pretty solid Plan B.

Chase has a winning effort here. The topic, 7 ways to sell online, is so compelling that Google is tossing in a $100 AdWords credit for attendees (see note). And it never hurts to associate with a powerful and well-regarded Internet brand.  

The email design is good with an interesting subject line, an email to ask questions, and a big green button for the call-to- action. The copy is a bit predictable, but it's short and to-the-point and doesn't distract. There are small quibbles regarding design-layout; perhaps, a Gmail issue; and they forgot to capitalize the W in AdWords, but those are minor glitches.    

Grade: A-

Chase email to existing business clients (6 May, 10:33 AM, Pacific)

Chase Email to Existing Business Clients announcing webinar with google

Landing page hosted by Google and co-branded with Chase (link)

Registration page hosted by Google and co-branded with Chase 


1. Google usually offers the $100 only to new clients, but I don't seen any fine print limiting the bonus. I hope they don't add a restriction after the fact, which could negate the positive energy Chase generates from the Webinar offer.
2. For more info on the space, see Online Banking Report: Micro- and Small Business Online Banking (published Oct. 2009)


Customer Service Tips: Google Verifies Contact Info via Interstitial Page

By Jim Bruene on March 8, 2011 12:13 PM | Comments

From time to time (2x per year?), Google drops an interstitial after login to verify that it has the correct email address and mobile phone number on file.

While financial institutions are far more likely to have current contact info on their online banking customers, it's still advisable to check in annually to verify contact info, especially with the growing importance of mobile.

And while you are at it, ask customers for alternate email address(es) and phone number(s).

Google interstitial page displayed after logging in to Gmail (7 March 2011)

Google interstitial page displayed after logging in to Gmail (7 March 2011)

Categories: Google, Service

Prioritizing Financial Information Flow

By Jim Bruene on February 7, 2011 2:35 PM | Comments (1)

image I'm just finishing an enjoyable novel by Cory Doctorow, Makers. It chronicles two inventors operating in the United States 15 to 20 years from now (the actual time period is not revealed) after another economic/tech downturn, similar to the 1999/2000 dotcom crash.

Readers will recognize most of the technology and information services used, e.g., email, IM, blogs and Twitter. But Doctorow's vision for these services a decade or two into the future is quite enlightening.

One area that's much improved over today's practices is the use of technology to prioritize the avalanche of information bombarding users. Here's a passage from the book:

He'd been tuning his feed watchers...for nearly a decade, and this little PR item rang all the cherries on his filters, flagging the item red and rocketing it to the top of his news playlist, making all the icons on the sides of his screen bounce with delight.

imageAll you news junkies out there, isn't that how you want your email/RSS/Twitter/ Facebook streams to work? The most-important info pops to the top and alerts you at the same time. Google is doing great work along these lines with its Priority Mailbox introduced in August (previous post), which now works on mobile phones as well (see inset).

Opportunity for Netbankers: I'm looking forward to the time when my bank, card issuer and/or third-party aggregator does the same for my finances and alerts me to odd transactions, excessive charges, and potential savings. And more importantly, helps me take action to resolve the issue.

But it can't be delivered in a pile of email alerts sent every day. I tune those out. Just tell me about the IMPORTANT transactions triggering the "financial alarms" and keep mum about everything else. Thanks.

Comments (1)

Google Launches More Financial Product Comparison Pages: Savings Accounts, Checking, CDs, and Mortgages

By Jim Bruene on January 12, 2011 5:30 PM | Comments (1)

image Today, I ran into Google's new savings-account comparison chart for the first time (see notes 1, 2 and screenshot below, link). The search giant now offers separate pages with financial product comparisons for mortgages, credit cards, CDs, checking, and savings accounts. And the comparison matrices are at times positioned prominently on searches potentially reducing traffic to top advertisers and to organic results as well (see screenshot below).

Savings account search results
Let's look at an example search today for "savings accounts." The results include a blue-chip lineup of paid advertisers. Following is a list of the top 10 paid results compared to their position on the Google comparison page (note 3):

1. American Express (#1)
2. ING Direct (#7)
3. US Bank (#24, 30, 32, 33)
4. BECU (local advertiser)
5. Citibank (#19, 25, 26 )
6. Capital One (#10, 15, 31)
7. Navy Federal CU
8. TD Ameritrade
9. Zions Bank (#4, 5, 22, 23, 27)
10. Discover Bank (#2, 11)

I still don't understand why Google would risk antagonizing its financial advertisers by drawing traffic away from their ads and into the Google-powered comparison matrix. The company says its focus is on the user experience. So I guess they believe that long-term this approach will generate more traffic, more searches and ultimately more revenue, possibly from commissions for actual accounts generated, rather than just pay-per-click.

But in its current beta stage, there are some odd results. How would you feel if you are US Bank, bidding high enough to be number three on the search results page, but not shown until page three of the savings-account comparison page? Worse, three top-10 advertisers, BECU, Navy Federal CU, and TD Ameritrade aren't even listed on the savings comparison page.

Which brings up a bigger question. How does Google determine which FIs are listed? The savings-product comparison indexes only 17 banks, of which five aren't even playing the rate game at this point with rates of 0.25% or less (note 4). Furthermore, there's not a single credit union and just one smaller bank (Bank of Internet) listed. 

I understand this is just a trial balloon from Google and that product comparisons could make it easier for users to find the best rate. But right now it's unfair to any financial institution not in the chosen 17, and it doesn't allow users to easily choose from criteria other than rate, monthly fee, and whether a branch is nearby.

It also looks like the system could be gamed. What's to prevent one of these banks from launching ten, or 20 or 30 different savings accounts, all with temporary teaser rates, to soak up more space in the matrix?

Sure, Google will eventually build algorithms to prevent that, but that will take time. Meanwhile, it's an odd transition time for the search engine and its financial advertisers. But if you rely at all on Google to deliver new customers, you better pay close attention to developments with its product-comparison pages.

Google search for "savings accounts" (12 Jan. 2011, 4:00 PM Pacific, Seattle IP address)

Google search for "savings accounts" showing new product comparison ad

Google's "savings" comparison page

Google's "savings" comparison page

Offer details page for American Express High-Yield Savings

Offer details page for American Express High-Yield Savings


1. According to, Google started running the deposit-account comparisons in late December 2010 in the U.S. market.
2. We wrote about Google's credit card comparison matrix in November.
3. Google's savings-account matrix listed a total of 44 results, from 17 unique banks, displayed 10 per page
4. 14 of the 44 results, almost one-third of the matrix, were accounts paying 10 basis points or less.

Comments (1)

Google Testing U.S. Credit Card Comparison Ads

By Jim Bruene on November 10, 2010 6:01 PM | Comments

image Today, when searching Google for "credit cards," a small Comparison ad appeared on the top of the results page, above the individual paid spots (see first screenshot below; note 1). The title was "Credit Card Offers" and clicking on it delivered me to the following URL: (see second screenshot).

Google had previously disclosed United Kingdom tests for credit card and mortgage comparison ads, but this is the first I'd heard of them in the United States (note 2). The comparison page had 101 credit card offers that could be searched based on certain card attributes such as "no annual fee" and/or by the user's self-evaluation of their credit quality.

Clicking on one of the offers delivered a page that summarized the salient points, but according to the fine print at the bottom of the page, Google isn't currently being paid for these credit card ads. However, there was a source code in the URL that delivered me to the U.S. Bank application, so Google may be banking referral fees for completed applications.

If this practice becomes widespread, card issuers will need to adjust their Google search buy and figure out how to gain better exposure on the comparison-results page. Right now, APR (interest rate) is the default sort mechanism.

1. Google search for "credit cards" brings up comparison ad (10 Nov. 10)

Google search for "credit cards" brings up comparison ad

2. Credit card comparison page includes sort and search options

credit card comparison Landing page includes sorting and search refinement options

3. The offer page provides detailed price info
Note: Clicking on the "application form" button takes users to the issuer's site to complete the application

Google credit card comparison Offer page

3a. Fine print at bottom of the page



1. Searching from a Seattle IP address on 10 Nov. 2010 at about 5:00 PM Pacific Time via Firefox 3.6 on WinXP.
2. Apparently a few others have seen them; for example, Search Engine Journal reported on the practice in an October post (here).


Gmail’s New Priority Inbox Should Inspire Banks to Do the Same with Electronic Statements

By Jim Bruene on September 1, 2010 3:07 PM | Comments (2)

image I've been on a bit of a campaign this summer (writing in Online Banking Report here and here), about the need to move beyond the static online "data dump" model to a more measured approach in delivering precise financial info when and where the customer needs it. 

We mostly looked at outbound messaging and streaming systems: email, text, RSS and third-parties such as Blippy and Swipely. But the same logic can be used to improve the financial home base, the online statement.

Google's new email option, Priority Inbox (aka Magic Inbox), introduced to Gmail users this week (note 1), is a great example of how this could work. Instead of always displaying email (or transactions) in chronologic or reverse-chronologic order, use algorithms to show items in order of importance (see screenshot below).

The bank-transaction importance-ranking would obviously include the size of the item. But it would also position unusual payments of any size at the top of the list so that users could more quickly identify fraud or errors. And, as with Gmail, users should be able to label and flag transactions for future reference (note 2).

A service like this would have saved me hundreds of dollars this year, by alerting me immediately that my cell phone bill had mushroomed, and that I needed to switch to an unlimited-minutes plan.

Gmail Priority Inbox (1 Sep 2010)
Note: There are no messages in the top priority area called "Important and unread" because I'd read them all. Google provides a little note of congratulations for clearing out that portion of the inbox.

Gmail priority inbox is a good model for online banking and credit card statements

1. Google has offered similar algorithm-based ordering in its RSS reader for some time. I've been using it for almost a year and am a big fan. It really helps lift the best posts to the top of the 600 or so I get each day. I will use Twitter a lot more when it offers the same type of functionality (Does anyone know of a Twitter client that arranges tweets by importance?)  
2. And like Google, banking users should be able to store their transactions for as long as they are customers. See our Online Banking Report on Lifetime Statements for more info.

Comments (2)

Bank of America App Shown in Sprint Android Microsite

By Jim Bruene on October 22, 2009 9:11 PM | Comments

image Once again, the first mover gets the attention. Bank of America, long a fixture in Apple iPhone advertising, now figures prominently in Sprint's marketing for the Google's Android marketplace.

In a whirling dervish of apps on the Sprint microsite, Bank of America's mobile banking app appears in the second set of four apps displayed (see screenshot below). 

Spring microsite featuring BofA app (link, 21 Oct 2009)


Android market has BofA mobile banking on the second page of top free apps (link)


Note: For more info on mobile banking via apps, see our Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone (March 2009)

Categories: Android, Google, Mobile Banking

What Does Google's Possible Entry in to Mortgage & Loan-Rate Aggregation Mean for Banks?

By Jim Bruene on August 27, 2009 3:48 PM | Comments (1)

image Thanks to information in LendingTree's lawsuit (embedded below) against its rate-engine provider, Mortech (see note 1), which was picked up by the NY Times, then echoed across the Internet, Google appears to be looking at providing loan rate comparison/aggregation directly in its search results. The service appears to have been beta-tested in the UK more than a year ago (screenshots here).

It's no surprise Google would make this move. It's long worked on ways to help online shoppers compare products and services. For example, a search today on "air conditioner" displays the usual targeted text ads on the top and right, but also shows various "shopping results" in the middle of the page (see screenshot below). There are even catalogue-like thumbnails in the right-hand column, something I'd not noticed before.

Financial services, with heavy search volumes, are an obvious area for expansion by the search giant.

The LendingTree lawsuit says the service may launch within the next 30 days. Google says only that it is "currently working on a small ad unit test that will run against a limited number of mortgage-related search queries in the U.S."

What it means to NetBankers: The service, if successful, could help users streamline their rate-research process by eliminating a visit to a loan-comparison site. But it's not likely to have a material impact on banks, credit unions and other mortgage lenders. There will just be more advertising dollars ending up in Google's pocket at the expense of other financial lead-gen sites such as, and LendingTree, of course.

LendingTree complaint

Search results for "air conditioner"
(27 Aug 2009, 3 PM Pacific, from Seattle IP address)


1. LendingTree claims that Mortech, an info provider to LendingTree, would be in violation of its contract if it provided similar technology to Google. See LendingTree's press release on the matter.

Comments (1)

Banking Apps in the Google Android Market vs. Apple iPhone App Store

By Jim Bruene on August 24, 2009 6:10 PM | Comments (4)

image A few weeks ago, we noted a milestone at Apple's iPhone App Store, 1000 apps available in the finance category (U.S. store). I was been curious how that compared to Google's Android Market so today I did a quick comparison.

The Android market now has a respectable 211 apps in the finance category. However, few financial institutions have staked a claim. Only, Bank of America and Alliant Credit Union, had branded apps (see note 1, 2).

In comparison, the iTunes App Store has 11 U.S. banking apps and 3 from U.S. credit unions. That's up from 6 banks and no credit unions when we published our most recent report on the subject (see note 3).  See the the following table for details. Did I miss any? Let me know in comments or email

  Google Android (Rank) Apple App Store (Rank)
Number of finance apps 211 1,089
Number of U.S. bank-branded apps (note 1)

(number shown is rank in the finance category)
#2 Bank of America #1 Bank of America
#3 Chase
#4 Wells Fargo
#10 E*Trade
#13 Citibank
#28 & 32 PNC Bank
#43 BBVA Compass
#156 IBC
#409 1st Mariner Bank ATM/Branch locator
#962 Plaza Bank Mtg Calc
Number of CU-branded apps #30 Alliant CU -- ATM Locator #185 Tech CU
#327 CUloc8 (TDECU)
#411 iDeposit (WV United FCU)

Source: Online Banking Report tally, 24 Aug 2009

1. In addition, Qualcomm's Firethorn unit has an app that works with several dozen banks and card issuers including Citi, Chase, Wachovia, SunTrust and USAA. It's ranked tenth in the Android Market and 15th in the iPhone App Store. Also, in the Android Market, Visa has a beta app that works with Chase cards ranked #77. However, according to commenters, that test is ending in September.
2. There are another 15-20 international banks listed in the iPhone App Store.
3. Our Online Banking Report on iPhone Mobile Banking was published March 11, 2009.

Comments (4)

Bill Pay Needs an "Oops" Button

By Jim Bruene on March 24, 2009 5:00 PM | Comments (3)

image Gmail's new undo send option, aka the "oops button," has been well received in online circles. Gmail users that enable the feature in the Google Labs area, have 5 seconds after hitting send to recall the message by pressing "undue" at the top of the page (see screenshot below). It's a nice addition, although it would be better if you had more than 5 seconds to react.

The same concept would work nicely in online bill payment. While most bill-pay systems have several safeguards to prevent unwanted payments to go out, including a confirmation screen and an "edit pending payments" function, those functions still require some knowledge of the system to properly use.

A simple "undoue" button would make the process much faster. More importantly, it would make the bill-pay system appear more user friendly, helping increase usage. 

Gmail undo send function (24 March 2009)


Comments (3)
Categories: Bill payment, Google

Google's G1/Android Phone Launches Today; Bank of America Mobile Banking is First Finance App

By Jim Bruene on October 22, 2008 5:17 PM | Comments

Bank of America Google Android G1 menu with mobile banking app loaded (22 Oct 2008) A few hours ago, I talked to a friend who'd just purchased the T-Mobile G1 phone this morning in Atlanta. He was pleased with it so far and said he was impressed to see Bank of America available on day one through Google's Android Market.

Apparently, BofA was the only app in the Finance section this morning (see inset). However, that will change rapidly as the store opens to other developers next week. Thanks to Alan Martin for the screenshots.

The bank's Android app looks like the other mobile versions. It includes online banking access and an ATM/branch locator that uses built-in, location-based services (see pictures below).

I also read several blog reports of successful downloads  of the BofA app. However, when visiting the Android market website, the BofA app is not shown amongst the 40-some programs currently available. Apparently, the public market website is different than the app market accessible through the phone. I guess I'll have to hit the T-Mobile store tomorrow to see for myself.

Congratulations to BofA for again beating its U.S. competitors in mobile deployment. It now has a three-peat in recent smartphone application launches:

For more info on the market, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking.

Bank of America Google Android App main menu (22 Oct 2008) Bank of America Google Android App online banking signin (22 Oct 2008)

Bank of America Google Android App branch locator (22 Oct 2008) image Bank of America Google Android G! App bank branch map (22 Oct 2008) Bank of America Google Android G1 App more info (22 Oct 2008)

Bank of America Google Android App bank services (22 Oct 2008)


Intuit Scores Viral Hit with The Tax Rap

By Jim Bruene on April 18, 2007 8:27 AM | Comments (1)

Link to Intuit's webpage At WBR's Net.Finance conference yesterday, Jon Kaplan, head of Google's Financial Services Group, showcased ways to work with Google that were NOT related to search. He showed some cool and free ways to showcase your brand on Google Earth, Google Gadgets, Google Calendar, and more. We'll look at those in future posts, but by far the most entertaining example is Intuit's refreshingly creative TurboTax Rap promotion.

The company sponsored a contest that ended on the traditional U.S. tax day, April 15, that offered a top prize of $25,000 to the best YouTube video featuring TurboTax. Intuit also gave the first runner-up $5,000 and the third place video $1,000. And anyone who uploaded a video entry received a free copy of TurboTax. Intuit hired 1980's rapper Vanilla Ice to do the intro and announce the winner.  

To promote the contest, Intuit created a special-purpose website (see screenshot below) and built a YouTube page (see below). The winning entry, showcased on Intuit's YouTube page, has more than 250,000 views. That's enough to put it on YouTube's most-viewed page (currently, it's number 13 on this week's most viewed), which really turbocharges the viewership. In comparison, the two runner-ups have less than 9,000 views.

This is brilliant work by Intuit. Although it was a costly promotion, it was still less than a major print buy and more importantly, it introduced the TurboTax brand to a whole new group of younger customers who'll be buying tax software for many decades. It will be interesting to see if Intuit makes this an annual event.

YouTube page  <>

Intuit's TurboTax Rap YouTube homepage

Website home <>

Turbotax rap home page at Intuit

Comments (1)

Quicken Loans Develops a Google Gadget; Pageview Counts Released by Google

By Jim Bruene on March 1, 2007 4:53 PM | Comments

Desktop showing Google Gadgets CLICK FOR CLOSEUP On Tuesday, Google began publishing usage information for its popular gadgets here. That's Google's name for widgets that can be imbedded on personal start pages including, but not limited to, the personalized version of Google's homepage at <> or PC desktops running Google desktop. 

For example, I have three Google gadgets running on my XP laptop, a snow globe displaying the crummy Seattle weather conditions and forecast, a Weatherbug widget showing the conditions where I'd rather be, and a calculator (click on inset for a closeup). 

Listed below are the most-popular gadgets last week (note 1) and their approximate pageviews (note 2). The only one related to financial services was a currency converter, which surprisingly was the 19th most popular gadget, with an estimated 2.8 million views last week. In addition, two other currency converters had another 1.1 million page views, bringing the category to just shy of 4 million. Use this list to generate ideas on non-financial content that could be added to your website to increase its appeal.

In the Finance category, only 10 English-language gadgets had more than 100,000 pageviews. After currency conversion, the two biggest were a stock tracker with 900,000 and a loan calculator with 500,000 (see Table 2, below).

The growing popularity of gadgets and widgets provides an opportunity for financial institutions to develop branded gadgets for various functions, such as monitoring rates, calculating exchange rates, and tracking stock and commodity indexes (for more info, see note 1). We looked at several widgets last year including the Mortgagebot-produced mortgage rate tracker and the Mac-only bill pay tracking widget from billQ (see previous coverage here). 

Quicken Loans Google gadget Most of the gadgets at Google were developed by outsiders. In its instructions to developers, the company claims you could write a gadget in five minutes (see instructions here). Even if it took five days, the payoff could be impressive. For example, the only financial brand with a Google gadget is Quicken Loans <> which posted an attractive rate tracker and payment calculator (see inset). Although its gadget had only 7,000 pageviews last week, that's still 350,000 annualized. An impressive return for a trivial programming expense.

Table 1: Most popular Google Gadgets across all categories

More than 100 million
131 million >>> Date & Time (only "default" gadget on Google's personalized start page)

More than 10 million
39 million >>>> Driving directions
27 million >>>> Daily horoscopes
27 million >>>> Wikipedia
14 million >>>> Word of the day
13 million >>>>

More than 5 million
9.5 million >>> Search YouTube
8.9 million >>> Current moon phase
8.1 million >>> PacMan v2.0
6.2 million >>> NASA image of the day
5.5 million >>> Babelfish

More than 2 million
4.9 million >>> Google Maps
4.5 million >>> Free Sudoku puzzles
3.6 million >>> Art of the Day
3.4 million >>> Bible verse of the day
3.2 million >>> DIGG viewer (posted by
3.0 million >>> Simple calc
2.9 million >>> World clocks 
2.8 million >>> Currency converter
2.7 million >>> IP address lookup
2.6 million >>> Hangman (word game)
2.4 million >>> National Geographic photo of the day
2.4 million >>> Calendar
2.2 million >>> My webcam
2.1 million >>> Famous optical illusions
2.1 million >>> Countdown

More than 1 million
1.9 million >>> Crossword of the day
1.9 million >>> Free text messages
1.7 million >>> Interesting photos of the day
1.6 million >>> A joke a day
1.6 million >>> To do
1.6 million >>> Local NWS radar
1.5 million >>> Google docs and spreadsheets
1.5 million >>> This day in history
1.4 million >>> Mighty optical illusions
1.4 million >>> Romantic quote of the day
1.4 million >>> Your daily horoscope
1.3 million >>> Local gas prices
1.3 million >>> Search eBay
1.3 million >>> Spellcheck
1.2 million >>> Brain teasers
1.2 million >>> US Traffic info
1.2 million >>> My Google groups
1.1 million >>> Weather by
1.1 million >>> My IP
1.1 million >>> Today in history
1.1 million >>> Terror alert level
1.1 million >>> Braingle - daily brain teaser
1.0 million >>> Frogger
1.0 million >>> Yahoo mail

Table 2: Most popular Google gadgets in the Finance category

2.8 million >>> Currency converter (
910,000 >>> Stock portfolio
800,000 >>> Currency converter (
500,000 >>> Loan calculator
300,000 >>> Stockchart
270,000 >>> Currency converter (
210,000 >>> Crude oil watch
160,000 >>> Bombay stock exchange
120,000 >>> Mortgage rate watch
110,000 >>> Live gold

Source: Online Banking Report search at Google, 1 March 2007


1. We looked at traffic levels of the first 264 gadgets listed under "popular" at Google's gadget directory:

2. Google's explanation of the pageview count:

Gadget pageview statistics are approximate only-- for precise statistics, we recommend the use of Google Analytics inside your gadgets. Gadget pageviews represent the number of times that the gadget was rendered, including Google Personalized Homepage, Google Pages, Blogger, Google Desktop, and across thousands of independent pages around the web.

3. For more information on the broader subject of delivering financial services direct to the user's desktop, see our Online Banking Report #85, Grabbing Desktop Mindshare, which is a bit outdated, published in 2002, but still worth a look.

Categories: Google, Quicken Loans

Why Growth in Mobile Search is Good for Online Banking

By Jim Bruene on January 8, 2007 9:55 AM | Comments

Today, The Wall Street Journal looks at Yahoo's latest efforts in mobile search where it holds a substantial lead over its online nemesis Google. According to figures from Telephia, Yahoo has a 7% penetration of U.S. mobile subscribers vs. 3% for Google. In addition, MSN has a 4% penetration and AOL 3% (see article here).

Yahoo will be encouraging users to download a search application to their phones, see  <>. Advertising revenues will be shared with wireless carriers. Mobile search results are more "managed" than website results in attempt to better display a single answer to the search so phone users can avoid surfing to other websites for answers.

Why is this important for online banking? Most consumers, especially the 35-and-older crowd, will get their first taste of a mobile phone app through search. Once users begin to to get comfortable with Googling or Yahooing from their mobile, it won't be long before other ecommerce apps become popular, and mobile banking will be at the front of the next wave.

And early mobile banking users are likely to share one key attribute that sets them apart from online banking users, a willingness to pay fees for service. Most mobile applications such as sports scores, mapping services, or games currently carry small monthly fees. Whether or not banks choose to charge directly for mobile banking is yet to be seen, but we believe there is an excellent potential for profitable fees from at least a portion of the mobile user base (see previous post here).


Bank Opportunities with Google Checkout

By Jim Bruene on July 6, 2006 10:21 AM | Comments

Credit_card_shoppingYesterday, we posted a lengthy discussion of Google's new universal checkout system, Google Checkout. We are extremely bullish on its future and will follow the developments closely. Just like Google's AdWords first gained traction with small businesses (including Online Banking Report, an AdWords user since early 2002), we expect small merchants to embrace Checkout quickly to realize two huge benefits:

  • Lower card processing fees: A certain amount of card processing can be virtually FREE, as long as the merchant can use the AdWords credits; even after that, Google's fees are one-third lower than PayPal, which is considered a relatively cost-effective program for small merchants
  • Less shopping cart abandonment: Consumers abandon their online carts for a variety of reasons, but one of the leading causes at smaller merchants is concern about entering personal info and credit card numbers

It will take much longer for larger merchants to come on board since they must cede an important part of the customer relationship to Google, such as the customer's email address.

Financial institution opportunities
All this begs the question: What does this have to do with my financial institution? I'm glad you asked. Here are five ways a bank could leverage Google Checkout (in order from easiest to most difficult):

  1. Educate customers on Google Checkout with encouragement to enter your credit and/or debit numbers into the wallet: While Google allows multiple cards, most users won't realize that initially since it asks for only one during the sign-up process, so the first one entered has a huge advantage. This would make a great subject for your periodic email newsletter, a feature for your website, and so on.
  2. Incent customers to enter your card number: As we mentioned yesterday, Citibank has made a significant investment by buying the pole position in the sign-up process. Assuming one million of its cardholders take advantage of the $5 credit, that's a $5 million expense, even without considering what they paid Google for the exposure. You might want to consider a similar program, although an iPod sweepstakes could be just as effective and less expensive.
  3. Educate small merchants on the program: If you don't offer your own merchant processing, you should tell your business customers about this new way to save on card processing and potentially increase online sales.
  4. Use it to fund new deposits during your online application: If you accept credit cards to fund new checking accounts, you could offer Google Checkout as a funding option. Provided you can use the AdWords credits, it could be a way to virtually eliminate the cost of interchange on these deposits. In fact, Google may have to erect some barriers here. Again, assuming you are a big AdWords spender, you could offer customers the option of making ongoing deposits via credit card, as long as the total deposited was no higher than your normal AdWords buy. For example, if you spend $10,000 per month in AdWords/AdSense, you could offset up to $100,000 in card-funded deposits.
  5. Create a front-end to Google Checkout within your online banking area: Using account aggregation technology that saves the user's Google username and password on your server, you could make it easier for users to access their Google accounts. You could even go into full aggregation mode, by automatically downloading Checkout activity and displaying it within your online banking area.

Did I miss anything here? Email me (click on my initials below), if you have other brainstorms or comments.


Categories: Epayments, Google

Google Checkout: "iPodding" Ecommerce? Citibank's Unusual Role

By Jim Bruene on July 5, 2006 12:01 AM | Comments

Ipod_nanoHas Google found its iPod? Not the music player, but an end-to-end ecommerce system that is safe, convenient, and above all, drop-dead simple to use. Something that does for online commerce what Apple did for digital music. That's a tall order, but we believe the search giant may have just such a hit on its hands with Google Checkout.

Google_checkout_logo_1For more than a year, there has been a great deal of speculation about Google’s entry into the payments arena. After months of quiet testing with carefully selected beta merchant partners such as Starbucks and, Google Checkout was officially released June 29 <>. Although the reaction in online blogs was mixed, we think it's a winner. The only question is whether it's a home run or a grand slam (or World Cup equivalents, one goal or four).

Google Checkout (previously known as Google Payments or Gbuy) is an online-payments tool integrated with the user's Google account. On the surface, it's similar to PayPal, but the true strength and potential threat is its close ties to Google’s already industry-dominant search function.

At this point, Checkout's functionality is more limited than PayPal's. There is no stored value, no subscription payments, no eBay integration, no non-credit card options, no integrated debit card, or money market account. For the end-user, it's closer to a virtual wallet than a PayPal substitute. However, it goes way beyond what the ewallets of the late 1990s offered, taking control of the entire checkout process, a potentially disruptive technology in online retailing.


How it works
Google_checkout_starbucks Searches that match a Google Checkout advertiser include a shopping cart icon embedded within the AdWords text box (see Google search on "Starbucks store" above). Users can buy products from these merchants in a few clicks without having to enter any additional information (see Google Checkout icon in lower left of the Starbucks shopping cart shown at right). This eliminates the dreaded merchant-account set-up process that causes massive shopping card abandonment problems, especially at relatively unknown merchants where privacy fears are greater.

Google_checkout_starbucks2First-time users are prompted to enter their credit card, billing, and shipping information, which Google stores in its servers (see screenshot left). Subsequent purchases can be made with a simple Google username and password. Users can store additional payment and/or shipping options at any time. Complete purchase histories can then be monitored from their Google account.

Currently, just 100 merchants are participating (see places to buy), but given the potential merchant savings, expect that to change quickly. Twenty-four of the 100 Checkout users offer a $10 discount on purchases of $20 or more (see DayDeals screenshot below).

Google_checkout_daydeal2Like PayPal, Google shields the buyer’s credit card number and other personal information beyond what is necessary for shipping purposes. However, Google also provides the option of keeping the user's email address confidential, a spam-limiting function not available via PayPal.

When a user selects the confidential option (see screenshot below), Google forwards the seller's confirmation message to the end-user.


Sellers are paid directly through their own Google Checkout account. Google has significantly undercut PayPal on pricing, at least for smaller merchants. Google's fee is 2% of the sales amount plus a flat $0.20 transaction fee compared to PayPal’s typical 2.9% plus $0.30 (PayPal has a sliding scale with higher-volume, $100k/mo and above, merchants paying 1.9% plus $0.30).

In addition, Google advertisers earn credits against their processing fees. For every dollar spent on Adwords, sellers can process $10 worth of sales with no processing charges other than the $0.20 transaction fee. It amounts to a 20% discount on AdWords spending, provided there is sufficient Google Checkout volume (i.e., at least 10 times the amount spent in AdWords).

Finally, sellers can create their own Buy Now buttons at the Google site, then drag and drop the HTML code into their websites. This allows small business sellers who are not currently ecommerce-enabled to immediately begin accepting Google Checkout.

Google is expected to provide additional data as the service matures. Having a hand in the process from product search all the way through to the purchase will allow Google to keep tabs on which ads actually result in a sale. This could mean changes to Adwords pricing or structure.

The pitch to consumers is appealing. In addition to the privacy shields, Google promises to mediate disputes, and gives users a central place to track purchases. But the biggest consumer benefit: a common user interface for checkout, something that previous ewallets never provided. As you can see in the screenshot below, after shopping the merchant site, the contents of the cart are transferred to Google. At that point, Google takes over, offering the end-user the following options:

  • Change shipping method with all costs itemized
  • Add a coupon code
  • Change credit card
  • Change shipping address
  • Shield email address from merchant
  • SIgn up for promotional messages from merchant
  • Links to the user's Google account
  • Concise summary of the billing info, including exactly how the charge will appear on the user's credit card statement
  • Concise summary of the merchant's return policy


Will consumers give up more personal information to the largest data repository on earth? Initial polls seem to suggest so. In addition, you can bet that merchants will create incentives to move credit card and/or PayPal volume to Google to save as much as 3% on card processing. For a retailer with a 10% margin, that's a potential 30% lift.

You might be thinking that free credit card processing is a short-term loss leader that will end as soon as a critical mass of merchants adopts Google's system. We don't think so. Put yourself in the shoes of a Google advertiser. You now know that you'll earn a 20% discount on your AGoogle_checkout_signindWords buy. Will you let that drop to the bottom line, or might you use some of that windfall to goose your bids on Google a bit? If it's an efficient market, eventually much, if not all, of the "free" card processing will flow back to Google in the form of higher bids. And since not all merchants will qualify for the 20% discount, Google might actually increase its total take due to the "discount." Brilliant.   

Google_checkout_ccregCitibank's role
The program should have little impact on retail banks, since at this point Google Checkout must use a bank-issued credit or signature debit card to participate. However, Citibank is paying Google to be the "preferred card" on both the Google sign-in page (click on inset above for closeup) and the credit card registration page (click on inset right). The credit card giant is hoping the $5 (or 1000 Thank-you points), will entice users to enter their Citi card into the Google wallet. The $5 bonus offer ends Aug. 1.

Retail banks might want to consider supporting the payment service with a secure gateway to various online payment alternatives so users can manage their PayPal, Google, and other accounts directly from a secure online banking area.

If you are a credit card processor, however, this could eventually pose a threat to your market share and/or margins. Even without factoring in the AdWord's credit, Google's highly publicized 2% discount rate, along with a lack of monthly fees, is a bargain, especially for small businesses. However, given the reluctance of businesses to change banking relationships, it will be years before the impact is felt.


Categories: Citibank, Epayments, Google

Google Unveils New Finance and Investing Website

By Jim Bruene on March 21, 2006 12:11 PM | Comments

Google_finance_logo_2Google just staked its first claim in financial services, opening Google Finance <> today. It comes as no surprise that the search giant would look to grab a share of the considerable traffic to consumer finance sites (see chart below).

Naturally, the Google effort is well designed and fast. The site uses interactive, Flash-based price charts, news feeds from Google news, and company and officer information from a number of sources. The site allows users to set up a personalized portfolio, and it links to blog postings and even to postings from Google's moderated forums (click on inset below for a closeup).

Google_finance_full_3The only surprise is the lack of advertising. Not only are there no banners or postage-stamp ads, but also no buried "sponsored links" to be found. We don't expect it to stay advertising free, but for now, it's a good place to refer customers to check stock quotes, track target companies, or set up an online portfolio.

Consumer finance traffic
Unique visitors in Feb. 2006
  Yahoo Finance>>>12 million
  MSN Money>>>11 million
  CNNMoney>>>8.5 million
  AOL Money & Finance>>>8.3 million
  WSJ/MarketWatch>>>8.3 million
  Forbes>>>6.7 million
  Reuters>>>6.6 million
  Entrepreneur>>>5.5 million>>>4.0 million>>>3.5 million

Source: Nielsen/NetRatings, 3/06



Citibank using Google to Pitch Credit Monitoring

By Jim Bruene on February 20, 2006 1:36 PM | Comments


Since the dawn of the online credit bureau era (1997/1998), online credit report marketing has been dominated by the specialists: Experian, Equifax, TransUnion, (now owned by Experian), Fair Isaac, Intersections, and others.

Citi_creditmonitoring_googlead_2Now, financial institutions are becoming more involved. For example, Citibank's AdWords spot pitching its Credit Monitoring Service showed up fourth overall (and second in the right-hand column) in a search today for "credit report monitoring" on Google (click on inset right for a closer view). With 84 advertisers vying for space on the first page or two of results, that's expensive real estate.

Citi's $9.95/mo service (after one free month) is powered by Intersections <> and includes info from all three credit bureaus, daily alerts based on Equifax info, $20,000 in identity theft insurance, and other benefits (see screenshot below for a full listing).

Another surprise advertiser in the category is Wal-Mart whose ad appears in the sixth position along the right side of the search results (see inset above). The retail giant's $7.46/mo service is co-branded with TransUnion's TrueCredit (click here for screenshot).

We are big fans of credit report monitoring, having personally used it for more than a decade. And while the service does deliver significant value, we think the single $9.95/mo price point is too high for the mass market. Granted, ten bucks is better than the $14.95/mo charged by TransUnion's TrueCredit for a similar service (see inset for an email received today). But the $120/yr is simply too much for information that can be extracted relatively easily by consumers themselves.

Better would be a multi-tiered offering: Regular/Gold/Platinum that starts at under $5/mo and peaks at $9.95/mo for an individual, $14.95/mo for a family. That way, more customers would receive the benefits of proactive monitoring while the truly paranoid could use the pricier options for added peace of mind. Truecredit_email

Another puzzling aspect of Citi's service: it's impossible to find it through the home page. It not only lacks its own link in the product menus, but also comes up blank in searching on "credit report monitoring" or even "credit reports." You shouldn't have to use Google to find such an important service, especially at a bank that's spent tens of millions promoting itself as a safe haven against identity theft.

For more information on credit-report monitoring, see Online Banking Report #83/84. For more on pricing, see OBR #109.



E*Trade "Debit Card" on Google

By Jim Bruene on November 2, 2005 4:24 PM | Comments

As we searched Google today for debit card info, we noticed E*Trade on top of the paid search results with an AdWords listing entitled Platinum Visa Debit Card (it was the first "banner" on the top of the search results).

Etrade_landingpage_debit_on_google_1Interestingly, clicking on the link takes you not to a single-product pitch for a debit card, but to the broker's E*Trade Complete product which combines brokerage, banking, and lending into a single offering (click on inset for landing page screenshot).

Note: The graphic image appearing in the middle of E*Trade's landing page features a check, debit card, and security token overlaid on a screenshot of its online banking area.

Showcasing its Complete product on debit card searches shows good mastery of search engine marketing by E*Trade. The online giant figures the type of person searching on debit cards will be intrigued by the total control promised by the package account. The out-of-scale security token also adds a reassuring touch to the image (see inset). 

-- JB


Local Option Boosts Google AdWords Appeal for Financial Institutions

By Jim Bruene on April 29, 2004 3:26 PM | Comments

Now that Google has begun identifying search engine users by their IP addresses, advertising via Google has become a whole lot more lucrative for community banks and credit unions.

Financial institutions now have the ability to target their keyword ads via city, state, or MSA.

See OBR 95 for a full report on search engine marketing.


Other PPC Search Engine Opportunities

By Jim Bruene on June 4, 2003 10:07 AM | Comments


Overture, the IdeaLab venture that pioneered the pay-per-click auction process originally under the name, also reaches a significant number of Internet users: 80% of the total according to the company. The majority of the volume is through MSN, AOL, Yahoo, and others that display its paid listings for a cut of the revenue. itself attracts 6 million unique search users each month.

Overture PPC ads displayed on Yahoo.

Overture’s 100,000 advertisers have their listings displayed at before any non-paying websites. Some banking terms have more than 200 paid listings. However on partner sites, such as Yahoo (screenshot above), only the top three or four advertisers are displayed on each page, leading to intense bidding for top slots.

For example, in early May the top four bidders for “home equity loan(s)”1 were all paying about $4/click. Converting one of every 100 visitors would result in an acquisition cost of $400/loan.

Other financial services terms had even higher bids, especially anything to do with debt or credit. For example, the top four bidders for “debt management” were willing to pay more than $9/click (Table 5, right).

More targeted search terms such as “home equity loan(s) Seattle” had much lower bids, in this case just an average of $0.11 per click for the top-four spots.  However, geographic targeting doesn’t always result in lower CPCs. In the case of “mortgages yourstate” average costs for the top-4 bidders were 15% higher than for the unmodified “mortgage”.  

1On Overture, but not Google, singular and plural versions are covered by a single bid, e.g., mortgage and mortgages return the same search results.

Table 1

10 Most Expensive Financial Keywords

average pay-per-click cost on Overture, May 2003

  Keyword Average Cost to be in Top 4


Debt consolidation



Debt management



Credit card debt



Term life insurance



Payday loan



Refinancing mortgage



Credit card processing



Credit counseling



Auto insurance



Life insurance quote


Source: Overture, 5/29/03


Yahoo, MSN, AOL

Advertising placed through Google and Overture will get you placed on AOL, Yahoo, and MSN. However, all major search engines except Overture limit the number of paid ads to eight or fewer per page of search results.

Table 2

PPC Listings Displayed at Major Search Engines

includes pay-per-click sponsors only

Site Feed Max. Paid Listings
per Page















4 on top
2 on bottom

Source: Online Banking Report, 5/03

*Not all keywords display Overture paid ads.


A year ago, LookSmart joined the pay-per-click competition with the launch of its Small Business Listings service. Search volumes are lower, but so is the competition, so it might be a good place to pick up a few accounts at relatively low cost.                        




Google AdWords

By Jim Bruene on June 3, 2003 9:52 AM | Comments

For less than the monthly cost of a typical Starbucks habit,  you can run a small advertisement on Google, the most popular search engine in the world. The company says that it displays results on 200 million searches per day through its own very popular website and distribution partners such as Yahoo, AOL, and Earthlink. The advertising program is called AdWords and we first recommended it in Feb. 2001 .

Two years later, the program is even better, and we continue to heartily recommend it for financial institutions of all sizes, but especially for smaller credit unions and community banks with small to non-existent online advertising budgets. We’ve used the program ourselves for more than two years and can attest to its ease of use. Although we don’t track actual sales results closely, we are pleased with the traffic generated.

AdWords is billed as self-service, and it is. Ten minutes after reading this paragraph you could have an ad running on Google. Then, whenever someone typed “yourtown” and “bank,” your ad would show right next to the search results.


AdWords spots appear on the right side of the search results and are clearly labeled as Sponsored Links. The first four or five appear “above the fold” depending on the size of your monitor and the screen resolution selected. A maximum of eight ads are shown on each page of search results.


How it Works

1.       Set up an account at <>. Advertising costs will be billed monthly to a credit card.

2.       Type your ad copy into the template provided. You have 25 characters (including spaces) for your title, two 35-character lines for ad copy, and 35 more for the displayed URL.* A total of just 130 characters to be approved by marketing, legal, and compliance, a significant cost savings.

*You also have 1024 hidden characters for hyperlink

3.       Choose the keywords or phrases to trigger the display of your ad. Google allows very precise word/phrase selection so you aren’t buying impressions on “blood bank” searches. The company also provides tools to choose and estimate costs on appropriate keywords.

4.       Decide what you want to bid for placement of each keyword (you can either choose different bid amounts for each keyword, or use the same maximum bid amount for each). Note: It’s an auction environment similar to eBay. You specify a maximum cost per click (CPC) and Google automatically raises your bid to $0.01 above the next highest bidder.

However, the formula for ad position is not as straightforward as an eBay auction. The top bidder may not be shown first. Google uses a proprietary formula that weighs relevance, as determined by actual click-through history, when determining ad position.

Since Google is paid per click, it maximizes revenues by placing top-rated ads in the best slots. For example, if Citibank pays $0.25 per click to advertise under “online banking” and Joe’s Bank pays $5.00 per click, Citibank will likely get the top spot. Why? Citibank’s 1,000 clicks per day will generate $250 for Google, while the sole curiosity-seeker clicking on Joe’s Bank will only put $5 in Google’s coffers. Most other search engines, including Overture, use a pure auction environment, with placement determined solely by bid amount.

5.       Decide if you want to limit your ad to certain languages and/or countries.

6.       View an estimate of how much your campaign will cost each day/week/month.

7.       Enter the maximum amount you’re willing to spend per day and across the entire campaign (you can always add more; Google sends an email when you are within 10% of your budget maximum).

That’s it. No graphics, no copywriters, no media buyers, no monthly minimums, and no set-up costs. You’ll pay a minimum of $0.05 per click, but for common words you’ll be up against national competitors, so for hot areas such as mortgages, expect to pay as much as $1 or more per click.

We recently tested an AdWords buy for “mortgage” . For a top-placing ad (position 1 or 2), Google estimated costs of $2.71 per click for an 1,100 clicks per day; a total cost of $90,000 per month. And that’s just for one keyword. However, if you limited your ads to targeted niches, such as “mortgages New Jersey” (see below) you would still pay around $3 per click, but you might only get a few clicks per day, resulting in advertising costs of $200 to 300 per month.


The top Google AdWords ad on
 “mortgages New Jersey” (June 9, 2003).

Another side benefit: instant feedback on which keywords, headlines, and URL combinations attract the most click-throughs. You can change ads very simply just by choosing “edit” in the control center and typing new text. You can also use or Overture to research search-term popularity.  You can also mix and match using our keyword selection tool.


For more information

We highly recommend 21 Ways to Maximize ROI on Google’s AdWords Select, a 124-page ebook by Andrew Goodman of Page Zero Media. The $49 publication can be downloaded at .

Categories: Google

Toolbars Provide Inspiration for Online Banking

By Jim Bruene on August 3, 2002 8:59 AM | Comments

One of the more promising new developments for companies with extensive Web offerings are custom toolbars, now relatively easy to build with Internet Explorer 5+ extensions. Several top Internet companies have already deployed toolbars including Google, eBay, Yahoo, and Ask Jeeves. Many more are in the planning stages. Also, numerous companies have deployed the toolbars internally to better navigate company intranets.

Our first practical experience with a custom toolbar began last year when we downloaded Google’s version (above). Since then we’ve used it thousands of times and have found it to be a great time saver. Instead of going to its Web site, you simply enter your search term directly into the Google search box embedded in the browser. The toolbar also has a number of other features that we rarely use, such as page rank and site info. It’s currently available in 15 languages, with more in the works.

Ebay Toolbar

Ebay is the newest entrant, officially launching its toolbar a month ago following a six-month beta. It was officially launched July 11, but it’s still not widely promoted on the site . Ebay spokesperson Kevin Purseglove declined to provide usage figures but told us that initial feedback was very positive and the company was thinking about promotional ideas to get the word out. With 43 million users, eBay is rolling out the service slowly so as not to overwhelm its resources.

Like Google, the key feature is the embedded search box. But for power users, that’s just the beginning; you can elect to receive popup alerts whenever a flagged auction is about to end. Users needn’t even be online to receive alerts, they are triggered by the auction end-time. Assuming its acquisition goes through, it shouldn’t be long before PayPal is incorporated into eBay’s toolbar.

The eBay toolbar is the result of a yearlong project by @Hoc  (pronounced at hoc), the Burlingame, CA-based company that has also built toolbars for Wired Magazine, Dreyfus Brokerage, HSBC’s Bourse, Multex Investors and a couple dozen others.

Privately held @Hoc  was founded in mid-1999. At that time a number of other companies were building proprietary toolbars they hoped would attract end users and ultimately advertisers to pay the freight. By the time @Hoc launched its product in mid-2001, those efforts had gone by the wayside, victims of the Internet advertising downturn. @Hoc has survived by focusing on private-branded toolbars for company intranets.

Initially the company targeted financial services, experiencing an early win with Dreyfus Brokerage Services. But the Dreyfus toolbar is gone, a casualty of its acquisition by Brown & Company. Other promising discussions with banks such as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Bank One were scuttled post-911.

@Hoc believes the best opportunities in banking are on the commercial and small business side. Co-founder Ly Tran sees little need for a consumer-oriented banking toolbar. While we agree the B2B application makes sense, we think a consumer toolbar is just as useful, especially if combined with popular search applications such as Google .

Toolbar Limitations

One limitation of customer toolbars and buttons is that most users do not want to hassle with changing browser settings. And for those that attempt to make changes, your tech support lines may be overloaded with questions from novice users. A less labor-intensive, but more expensive, approach to keep your name on the desktop is to ride on the coattails of the Web’s sixth most popular site, WeatherBug. This turnkey program requires little user involvement, reducing confusion and tech

Categories: Custom Toolbars, Ebay, Google, Yahoo

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