SmartyPig Archives

Generating Deposits by Working with Fintech Startups

By Jim Bruene on October 4, 2013 5:21 PM | Comments


While the number of U.S. banks working with tech startups is very small, their numbers seem to be growing. Just this week I learned of two:

  • imageSocial Money is using Iowa-based Lincoln Savings Bank ($630 million assets) to hold deposits generated through prepaid card issuers and other clients of its CorePro, API for savings (more on that below).
  • image Zions Bank is holding funds transmitted through stealthy mobile payments startup Clinkle. For a sneak peek at its UX, see this supposedly leaked video.

In addition, the 800-lb guerilla is driving deposits to smaller financial institutions. BancVue, just announced that its clients have refunded $10 million in ATM fees through various rewards checking programs including Kasasa.

Banks working with startups potentially benefit in a number of ways:

  • Unique source of deposits, independent of their traditional customer base/geographic footprint)
  • Exposure to new methods of marketing to younger segments, who often gravitate to startup offerings
  • Access to modern tools and design expertise that would be otherwise unattainable

Finally, it can be an interesting project to work on, benefitting all involved.

Bottom line: Does working with a startup have a positive ROI? Not necessarily. There are many pitfalls, not the least of which is making sure that everything satisfies compliance and regulatory watchdogs. But that just means you'll have less competition and can negotiate better terms. 


Social Money's new CorePro API

image The Des Moines, Iowa-based company has been a leader in the online savings space, launching SmartyPig back in 2008. In total, about $5 billion in transactions have been processed. That has helped add deposits to its partner banks, primarily Compass BBVA, the 15th largest U.S. bank.

Social Money is now offering its powerful savings platform to developers and non-bank financial companies as a Savings API. Features include:

  • Multiple goals within a single savings account
  • Real-time funds transfer (savings account "issuer" must maintain reserve account at Lincoln Savings)
  • Configurable via client admin site
  • 1099 filings

Its simple pricing is fully disclosed on the website:

  • $495 setup
  • $0.39/mo per savings account
  • $0.02 per ACH transfer
  • $3 to $6 per new account authentication

The startup has had interest from other non-bank financial companies such as prepaid card issuers. It's also getting good feedback from mid-size ecommerce companies looking to offer customers an easy way to save money to make a later purchase (think Christmas Club).

The system is currently in final beta testing and is expected to go live in Q1 2014.


Picture credit: Savings page at Lincoln Savings.

1. Watch Social Money demo GoalSaver at FinovateSpring 2012
2. For more insights into how to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits, see our Online Banking Report (Nov 2008, subscription)


SmartyPig Launches OneClick, Goal-Based Savings Account Browser Plugin

By Jim Bruene on January 21, 2013 1:09 PM | Comments (1)

It's not easy making savings accounts sexy, but Social Money, with its GoalSaver and SmartyPig brands, is trying. The latest innovation? A Google Chrome browser extension called SmartyPig OneClick (link), that allows users to create savings goals on the fly while shopping online.

The service launched last week and can be found in the Extensions: Shopping section of the Chrome app store. The app has 30 users according to stats displayed in the store. In comparison, the most popular shopping extension, from Amazon, has more than 600,000 users.

The SmartyPig OneClick system can be licensed by banks looking to juice their savings account feature set.

How it works
smartypig_browserbutton_300.jpg1. Install from Google Play app-store (see screenshot 1 below)

2. A SmartyPig icon is added to the upper right of the browser (see inset)

3. When shopping online (at any website), users click on the SmartyPig icon in the upper right, which launches a popup (screenshot 2)

4. After logging in (screenshot 3), users establish a goal and automatic savings plan to fund the purchase of the desired item (screenshots 4 & 5). SmartyPig automatically imports the item's price and image and stores it for the user at 



Goal-based savings is an important feature to add to online banking (note 1). And shopping helpers are a relatively popular browser extension (Amazon's Chrome extension has 600,000 users). So marrying the two is an interesting play.

Will this boost savings-account balances? Perhaps a little. But the more important FI benefit is getting a branded button in the corner of the user's browser (whether anyone will remember it's there is another matter). That's a bit of a Trojan Horse that can be used for a variety of services (note 2).

Bottom line: I like SmartyPig's move. Smartphones have conditioned users to look for specialized apps. I believe consumers will use full-featured online banking via direct desktop links (see also Mint's QuickView). Although, it will take education and marketing support.


1. Installing browser extensions is a painless process (Chrome store link)
Note: Users must allow SmartyPig to "access your data on all websites" and "access your tabs and browsing activity." The first one is likely to give users pause.


2. Creating a goal on the fly while shopping


3. Login to SmartyPig via popup box


4. Confirm the savings goal


5. Customize the savings goal


1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report (Nov. 2008, subscription) detailing various ways to leverage your online/mobile channel to boost deposits.
2. Long ago, we wrote a report (Aug 2002, subscription) on ways to put your bank onto the computer desktop. The strategy is still the same, though the specific techniques are somewhat different today.

Comments (1)

Mobile Monday: Intuit Launches 17th iPhone App, MoneyDue

By Jim Bruene on June 4, 2012 10:30 AM | Comments (1)

Note: Since I didn't get my Feature Friday post finished last week, it's now been transformed into Mobile Monday.


imageWhile most banks still have a single mobile app, the big players will eventually have a portfolio of apps for their various product lines, business units, and disparate customer segments (note 1).

While technically not a financial institution, Intuit shows why multiple apps are needed. With the launch of MoneyDue (see below), the company now has at least 17 apps available for the iPhone.

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Payments (2)
Intuit GoPayment Credit Card Terminal
MoneyDue (ebilling for small service providers; see below)

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Online Payroll
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MoneyDue: Ebilling app for hourly-based professional services

Intuit's MoneyDue iphone appFor almost 30 years, Intuit has been a key financial services innovator. So I'm always interested in the new services coming out of its R&D area.

Here's one that seems like a winner, a mobile small biz ebilling app specifically targeted to those that bill their time by the hour (or appointment).

The app integrates with the iPhone calendar and contacts to seamlessly turn appointments into ebills in a 3-step process (see screenshots below):

  1. Select an existing appointment from iPhone calendar
  2. Select the corresponding person to bill from the iPhone contact list
  3. Enter the billing amount and send

It would be especially useful for one-person shops such as lawn care, home improvement, cleaning services, tutors, etc. The main downside is that the appointment and contacts must already be loaded into those iPhone functions. You cannot create a new bill directly from the MoneyDue app if it hasn't already been scheduled on your calendar (note 2). 

The app hit the app store on May 30 and has been a top-150 finance app since for the past few days.


Intuit's MoneyDue iPhone app (2 June 2012)

  image   image   image    

1. See our mobile apps forecast here (April 2010, subscription)
2. The iPhone automatically syncs with your desktop calendar (eg. Google's Gmail calendar) so you needn't set up the appointment on your mobile phone.

Comments (1)

2010 Saw 40-Fold Growth in the Number of Financial Institution iPhone Apps

By Jim Bruene on December 14, 2010 6:21 PM | Comments (1)

image As hard as it is to believe, last year at this time only 30 financial institutions had apps in the U.S. iTunes App Store (note 1). And that was a full 18 months after Apple's phone had opened its OS to third-party programs. A few in the industry still questioned whether smaller banks and credit unions would ever need a native iPhone app.

I think that question has been answered: In the past 12 months, the total financial institution app-count has rocketed upwards to more than 1,200, a 40-fold increase. That's 100 new apps per month for the past 12 months.

In raw numbers, the past seven days have been relatively unremarkable with just 17 new FI apps. But it's been one of the biggest weeks in terms of major launches:

  • BofA Merrill Lynch research library for iPad only (note 4; iTunes)
  • Capital One, whose app was released on Sunday, went to #5 Monday and is up to #4 when I checked a few minutes ago (see inset; note 2; iTunes)
  • NetSpend (iTunes)
  • Schwab, both v1 of its iPhone app (iTunes) and an iPad version of its On Investing magazine (iTunes)
  • SmartyPig (pending Apple approval)
  • Stanford Federal Credit Union, which used a striking background for its app home page (see below; iTunes)

imageAnd while it's not nearly as crucial as the iPhone, we are waiting for a slew of iPad apps. Apparently, BBVA Compass demo'ed a cool unreleased iPad app at a mobile conference (note 4). And just today, Schwab released its monthly magazine in iPad format, an industry first.


1. See Online Banking Report #176, Table 18 (link subscription required)
2. Rank is of free apps in the Finance category in the U.S. store. The apps above it are #1 Bank of America, #2 Chase, #3 PayPal
3. HT David Eads in Mobile Manifesto
4. At the same conference as note 3, Bank of America revealed it hit the 6-million mark in active mobile banking users.

Comments (1)

SmartyPig Allows Customers to Choose Level of Account Detail in Email Communications

By Jim Bruene on July 30, 2010 4:49 PM | Comments

image SmartyPig is the first of my personal banking accounts that allows me to choose the level of detail provided in email alerts. The startup just moved away from sending detailed info in all messages to offering the option to receive a general notification that requires logging in for specific balance/transaction info (see below; link to SmartyPig blog post).

This is a basic level of customer choice that every financial institution should put into their product roadmap. For me, and a great many customers, alerts are practically worthless if they don't include some detail on the transaction. On the other extreme, many customers are not at all comfortable with actual data being included in an email and won't use alerts if that is the only choice. Most customers fall somewhere in between. 

In the future, it won't be a black-and-white decision. Users will be able to select varying levels of detail depending on the account, balance level, email address used, time of day and so on.


And while we are talking about SmartyPig, check out their very thorough security section. The startup covers far more ground than most financial institutions.  Here are the topics covered:

  • White-hat hacker tested via Primeon
  • Verisign Extended Validation SSL
  • Security scanned daily by McAfee
  • TRUSTe privacy seal
  • FDIC info for its banking partner
  • Secure login
  • Firewall
  • Encryption
  • Constant surveillance
  • Technology updates
  • Browser support

Note: For more info on email alerts, refer to our most recent Online Banking Report.


SmartyPig Deposits Up Ten-fold with High-rate Strategy

By Jim Bruene on June 25, 2009 5:21 AM | Comments (1)

image Maintaining one of the highest rates in the country, currently 2.75% (see note 1), SmartyPig's deposits have grown ten-fold since January (see chart 1, below). And the company plans to continue its aggressive pricing and marketing, hoping to grow another five-fold to a half-billion by year-end (see chart 2, below) or 50x what they started the year with.

Deposits in the United States are held by part owner, Des Moines, Iowa-based West Bank. Australian deposits are held by SmartyPig partner ANZ Bank.

To help fund their growth objectives, SmartyPig announced today that Red McCombs, co-founder of Clear Channel Communications, has invested an undisclosed amount. McComb Enterprises lists one other financial services company in its portfolio, asset-based lender, Propel Financial Services.

Founder Jon Gaskell is pleased with the aspect of goal-based saving at SmartyPig. In an email yesterday he told me:

Of our customers who have reached a goal, more than 80% of them have started a new goal. The average SmartyPig goal length is nearly 4.5 years, and our average user is depositing a little more than $200 per month toward his or her goal. Fifteen months after launch, our data suggests that a vast majority of our customers are staying focused on their predetermined goals, and the deposits are "CD-like" in nature.

The half-billion-dollar question, assuming they meet their 2009 projection, is how sticky are the deposits when rates come down off the top of the chart?   

Chart 1: Actual deposit growth at SmartyPig


Chart 2: Expected deposit growth through Dec. 2009


Source: SmartyPig, 25 June 2009

SmartyPig homepage (24 June 2009)


1. In Bank Deals weekly list of highest savings rates, SmartyPig was number one on June 20 at 3.05%. The rate was lowered on June 22 to its current 2.75%.

Comments (1)

SmartyPig Releases Social Savings Metrics; Launches in Australia with ANZ Bank

By Jim Bruene on January 14, 2009 6:07 PM | Comments

image SmartyPig, which launched its social savings program in March 2008 (previous post) and debuted at Finovate Startup (video here), hit the world stage Dec. 16.

The company, operating out of world headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, partnered with ANZ Bank to launch SmartyPig in Australia. ANZ was able to lay claim to being the first to offer social savings down under (see note 1).


The site is nearly identical to the stateside version, but ANZ has a smidgen more branding (see screenshot below). Also note the new emphasis on being 100% free, a benefit echoed on the U.S. site as well.

However, unlike U.S. partner and part owner, West Bank (note 2), which has the SmartyPig logo plastered all over its site (see screenshot below), the ANZ site has no mention of the product, it even draws a blank using ANZ site search.

Social savings metrics from SmartyPig
Because SmartyPig's sole emphasis is on goal-based savings, its results provide unique insights into the market. While the company has not released account totals, its partner, West Bank disclosed that total deposit in the program amounted to $5.6 million at the end of Q3.

While that's less than $1 million per month since launch, since many accounts start very small, it could be a healthy number of accounts. And with the requirement of automated savings additions, the growth potential is excellent. Assuming a $1,000 average account balance (note 3), the company would have attracted more than 5,000 total accounts during its first six months.

After the initial launch spike, site traffic has been steadily increasing to 25,000 monthly visitors in December (see chart below).

SmartyPig has made available information on the savings goals made by users. The data is through Oct. 2008 (except total deposit amount) and includes only the totals from the U.S. site. 

Total amount on deposit (30 Sep 2008, per West Bank 10Q): $5.6 million

Primary account holder by age*:

18-25 >>> 30%
26-35 >>> 37%
36-45 >>> 20%
46+ >>>>> 13%

*By law, primary account holders must be 18 or over,
so children’s goals are owned by their parents

Average goal amount across all holders on the following dates:

April 1 >>>  $3,900
May 1 >>>> $7,300
June 1 >>> $7,400
July 1 >>>> $7,400
Aug 1 >>>> $7,900
Sep 1 >>>> $7,700
Oct 1 >>>> $8,600

Goal amount by category:

Travel >>>>>>>>>>>>> 21%  (Avg = $4,400)
Holiday spending >>> 12%   (Avg = $900)
Electronics >>>>>>>> 10%    (Avg = $2,500)
Home improvement >> 6%  (Avg = $12,900)
Unspecified >>>>>>>>> 5%   (Avg =  $9,800)
Weddings >>>>>>>>>>> 5%   (Avg = $7,900)
House down payment or addition >>> 4%  (Avg = $22,200)
Emergency fund >>>>> 3%   (Avg = $6,600)
Babies >>>>>>>>>>>>>> 3%   (Avg = $5,100)
Home furnishings >>>> 2%   (Avg = $3,500)
Car or car expenses >> 2%   (Avg = $6,800)
College >>>>>>>>>>>>> 1%   (Avg = $9,700)
Other >>>>>>>>>>>>>> 26%  (Avg $10,700)

Average projected time until goal met based on savings rate: Just over 4 years


SmartyPig ANZ Version (13 Jan 2009)


USA partner West Bank's homepage (14 Jan 2009)


Traffic chart from Compete (14 Jan 2009)


1. See our most recent Online Banking Report: Growing Deposits in the Digital Age, for more info on social savings, along with 16 other strategies.

2. Des Moines, Iowa-based West Bank owns 18% of SmartyPig according to its 30 June 2008 SEC filing.

3. My guess, not a number that has been disclosed.


Social Networking Meets Savings Accounts: SmartyPig Launches this Week

By Jim Bruene on March 4, 2008 12:24 AM | Comments (15)

Update March 6: I added two clarifications pointed out in the comments. First, that normal ACH deposits to your own SmartyPig account are free of charge. Second, that the retailers bonus on withdrawals to their gift cards is UP TO 5% (not a flat 5%). 

imageHow about this recipe? Take a basic FDIC-insured savings account, spice it up with automated electronic transfers and email communications, mix in gift/debit cards, wrap the whole thing up in a social network, and top it with a memorable name. What do you have? SmartyPig, the most innovative financial service we've seen since Prosper launched two years ago.

The site is in the final week of private beta. To register, you still need an invitation code. The company asked me not to publish it, but it's OK if I distribute by request via email. Send a note to info@netbanker with "SmartyPig" in the subject line. Or simply wait until after this weekend when the site goes into public beta.

How it works:

image1.  Users create savings accounts at the site. Deposits are held at West Bank, a Des Moines, IA- based financial institution with $1.3 billion in assets. Funding is through ACH (electronic) transfers from outside bank accounts. SmartyPig currently pays a high, 4.3% APY on deposits. 

2. After the account is established, users are encouraged to create savings goals funded through automatic monthly ACH transfers until the goal is met.

3. Now here is where SmartyPig diverges from a typical bank account. The savings goals can be made public or kept private. Public goals can be funded in part, or entirely, by outside contributors. Think of grandma and grandpa contributing birthday money to help junior buy a new bike. Contributions are funded through credit card charges with a maximum charge of $500 and a per transaction processing fee of $4.95. To make sure grandma's $50 doesn't go to a Mario game, the money cannot be withdrawn until the savings goal is met (or canceled by the primary account holder).

4. After goals have been met, the user can elect to take the funds out in the form of a MasterCard debit card or a gift card from a retail partner such as Participating retailers add up to 5% bonus to the savings goal so that $1000 saved for the plasma TV is worth $1,050 if redeemed via Amazon gift card. That's a great added incentive to use the service.

Gift Cards
SmartyPig gift card SmartyPig also sells gift cards that can be redeemed towards new or existing savings goals. These cards, issued in denominations of $25 to $500, are meant to be given as gifts or employee incentives. They cannot be redeemed outside the SmartyPig system. Physical card are produced and delivered for a processing fee of $4.95 plus delivery fees of $5.95 or more. Or consumers can deliver a virtual card through email to eliminate the delivery charge (but the $4.95 processing fee remains the same). 

Summary of Fees

  • Your own deposits: Free (via ACH transfer)
  • Public contributions: $4.95 flat processing fee for each contribution made by an outside contributor. Contributions can be from $25 to $500 and are funded via credit card.
  • Gift cards: Gift cards incur a $4.95 processing fee and an optional $5.95 shipping fee. The shipping fee can be avoided if a virtual gift card is chosen which is fulfilled via email.

Although, not everyone is going to want to go through the extra steps to save this way, we are impressed with SmartyPig and are awarding it our first OBR Best of the Web award for 2008 obr_bestofweb(see note 1). We like how it's part gift registry, part savings account, and potentially a big help in getting users in the habit of saving for larger goals. The look-and-feel is very Web 2.0 and should resonate with teens and twenty-somethings.

There are a few rough edges that need better explanation and/or minor redesign. For instance, there is no way to simply add funds to a savings account without first setting up an automatic funding plan. But the site isn't even officially launched yet, so these issues should be ironed out during the beta period. 

The processing fee for outside contributions of $4.95 per transaction is a bit on the high side (there is no fee for funds transfers from your own bank account). One could argue that it's worth price of a triple mocha for the convenience and benefits of the savings account. But for smaller deposits of $50 to $100, it's a pretty high percentage of the overall deposit.

It would be nice if the company could lower the fee, perhaps by creating an ACH funding option. Another way to reduce costs is to lower the 4.3% APR. I'm not sure the savers attracted to this account really need that high of a rate. A lower interest rate combined with lower fees might make the service more palatable overall.   

The company may have to tweak its business model going forward. But the real lesson here is that savings accounts can be made stickier with automation and incentives. Leave it to the Iowans to show us the way (note 2). 


1. The main account screen: I set up a savings account for my son. Then set a savings goal of $300 for a new bike. SmartyPig requires that the savings goal be funded in equal monthly withdrawals from the linked checking. It would be helpful if you could opt out of the automated savings plan so that the savings goal could be funded manually. 



2. Public goals: If you opted to make your savings goal public, anyone can find it by searching via email address under the "Friends' Goals" tab on the top (you can see this one by searching for  SmartyPig widget

Users can publicize their goals with a widget (see inset, and link at bottom of screen above) or by sending email to friends.

After making a contribution, the following screen is displayed.

SmartyPig contribution thank you screenshot



1. Online Banking Report (OBR) Best of the Web awards are given for products that "raise the bar" in online financial services, usually for pioneering a new feature. Recent winners are covered here. Five awards were been handed out in 2007: two for Wesabe, and one each for Jwaala, Buxfer and Obopay. In the past 10 years, 67 companies have won the award.

2. Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Iowa and my brother lives within a few miles of the SmartyPig world headquarters.

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