Mobile Fees: BillGuard Goes Freemium with Integrated Credit Monitoring

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billguard choices

We are always on the lookout for digital fee income opportunities. And if I got a nickel for every one of them I’ve ever found…I’d have about a buck at this point. Fees in U.S. online banking are rarer than the (not-so) mythical fintech unicorn. And mobile banking fees are pretty much non-existent outside a few remote deposit fees (see previous post).

billguard_main_newBut last week BillGuard demonstrated a promising new avenue for incremental fee income: integrated mobile identity theft alerts, resolution and insurance (see inset). Actual credit report access is not included, but BillGuard says that it is coming soon. The service is mobile only, and the company currently has no plans to add it to the desktop version.

The credit and fraud monitoring is powered by CSIdentity (CSID), an Austin-based firm that says it powers 80% of the retail identity theft protection industry. The company, founded in 2006, has raised $36 million in equity (mostly in 2010) and $6 million in debt

What it costs:
The service is value-priced, at $2.99/mo for the single bureau Pro version or $6.99/mo for the 3-bureau Ultimate. In comparison, most ID protection services are in the $15 to $20/mo range (Experian charges $15.95/mo for a private-labeled version called ProtectMyID with BillGuard). Founder Yaron Samid says BillGuard provides essentially the same third-party monitoring as the $30/mo offering from Lifelock for one-fourth the cost. And with BillGuard, users get credit/debit card transaction monitoring (powered by Yodlee) for free.

BillGuard premium benefits:

  • Credit bureau monitoring (3 bureaus in Ultimate service, 1 in Pro service)
  • Identity restoration services (via call center help)
  • 24/7 call center support
  • Lost wallet recovery
  • Social security number fraud alerts (Ultimate service only)
  • Black market alerts (Ultimate only)
  • $1 million insurance (Ultimate only)

Cardholders are already looking to their smartphones to stay informed of problems in real-time (case in point, BofA just integrated fraud alerts into its mobile app). So it makes sense to deliver extra protections services in-app. Although there is stiff competition from free ad-supported versions such as Credit Karma, we believe integrated protection services are a logical fee-based upgrade for mobile banking customers. 



BillGuard iOS app home screen includes pitch for its premium ID protection (17 June 2015)


An actual fraud alert I received after signup for for BillGuard Ultimate (19 June 2015)
Note: It was from a breach in November, 2013. I assume I received alert this week since I was a new customer.  


Feature Friday: Capital One Helps Users Identify Recurring Charges After Card Reissue

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capitalone_mobileCard reissues after a data breach, or lost/stolen situation, are annoying for cardholders. But it’s even worse for the issuer who has to pay for a new card, hound the customer to activate it, handle customer service calls, and then risk losing recurring revenues from now-broken automated pre-authorized charges.

So kudos to Capital One for taking an important step in solving this problem.

Earlier this week I received a new card and number from Capital One, presumably because my card had been involved in a breach. I am not aware of any unauthorized attempts to use it.

In a followup email this morning, the giant issuer reminded me to activate the new card. That’s a fairly typical technique these days. But the help didn’t end there. The bank provided a list of likely merchants where I may need to update card info to avoid the charge being denied (see screenshot below).

That’s great customer service and something I’ve not seen before. But of course I want more. The list I received was primarily merchants where I made one-off payments. Who has a recurring charge with United Airlines? So it needs to be scrubbed better. And it would help to include the most recent charge amount and number of charges to help identify actual recurring charges.

And ultimately, it would be even better if the process was semi-automatic. Let me respond to the email with a simple yes/no response for each merchant indicating if I wanted them to continue the automatic billing under the new card number. Or at least provide links to reduce the friction of the task.

But all-in-all, a welcome improvement.


Capital One email to cardholder (19 June 2015)




Mobile: Citibank Remains Committed to No Login with Newest “Lite” iPhone App

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citibank_lite_app_frontFlipping through the top-100 iPhone apps in the Finance category, I noticed Citibank’s new Lite version at #90. It has been ranked as high as #31 in the past month (see chart below). In comparison, the core Citi Mobile app is ranked #14.

The app was released March 29 to support the Apple Watch app. But it’s more than just a watch app. It can be used by anyone who wants a simple, always-logged-in way to track banking and credit card transactions (see inset).

The app includes current balance and last 15 transactions (5 on Apple Watch) for checking, savings and credit cards. Users log in once, then the app stays logged in indefinitely. There is no transactional functions in the app, so the security risk is almost non-existent. This may appeal to certain security conscious customers still wary of mobile transactions. Customers can logoff at any time to protect their privacy.

The bank provides the same benefit with the Snapshot feature in its full-featured mobile app. So, Citi Mobile Lite may be a temporary workaround until the bank integrates Apple Watch support into its main app. But the bank may find there is a strong core audience for a non-transactional app and keep it around for many years.

The Lite app is not currently listed in the bank’s mobile banking section. The only way to find out about it is through the bank’s site search or through Apple’s App Store. Here’s the landing page found via a search for “Apple Watch” (see screenshot below).

Citibank now offers a suite seven separate apps to U.S. customers: Citi Mobile, Citi Mobile Lite, Cit Private Bank in View, Citi News, Citi Velocity, CitiFX Pulse, Citi on Campus. Additionally, there are local Citi Mobile versions across at least 18 other countries.


Citi Mobile Lite ranking in Finance category of Apple App Store (U.S.)


Source: AppShopper, 27 May 2015


Citibank desktop landing page



Delivering High-Touch Service without Breaking the Bank

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idea_bank_mobiledeposit_car_rightThere continues to be a healthy debate about the future of bank branches. Usually the focus is on whether bank customers of the future will go to physical branches for help. The answer to that depends not only on consumer preferences (clearly a large segment desires a branch option) but also the cost to deliver on those preferences.

The bigger question: To what extent do consumers want to interact with humans to optimize their financial experiences? And if human interaction is still needed/desired/preferred, how can it be most effectively delivered accounting for cost, effectiveness, customer satisfaction, revenue generation, and so on.

We’ve looked at technology solutions (chat, call backs, IVR, etc.) over the years. But one area we haven’t explored here is the idea of delivering the human help at the customer’s location instead of at the bank’s. I got to thinking about it after hearing an interview with Ron Johnson at today’s Collision conference. Johnson, the mastermind of Apple’s retail stores, and former JCPenney CEO, just launched Enjoy, which adds a human component to the buying process for higher-end electronics (screenshot below, news coverage).


Like Best Buy’s Geek Squad, when you buy something online at Enjoy, one of its employees actually delivers and sets up your new equipment (currently San Francisco and NYC only) at no extra cost (over retail prices). When pressed on how they could make money doing this, Johnson said they were taking all the overhead expense of a brick-and-mortar location and instead investing it into talented employees who can deliver a better experience at the customer’s location (or at a nearby coffee shop).

Banks can do the same thing. If someone wants to open an account and doesn’t want to, or can’t, do it online, the bank can dispatch someone to take care of it at a location chosen by the customer. This is already the typical model for many financial professionals (mortgage brokers, insurance brokers, business bankers, stock brokers, financial planners, etc.). The key to making it work is to simultaneously downsize physical brand costs, otherwise the mobile bankers are just an added expense.

You can see this idea playing out in Poland, where small-biz focused Idea Bank has deployed four high-tech electric BMW i3 cars (see inset above) to collect deposits from small business customers via an ATM built into the side (see demo here). Naturally, visits from the roving depositories are scheduled via smartphone app, ala Uber. Security-wise, I’m not sure this is the best way to handle cash, but I do like the idea of mobilized bankers.

Bottom line: Branch or no branch, many customers still need the occasional hand holding. It will be interesting to see how that plays out with a smartphone-wielding customer base.

Tuesday Tactics: Attracting Young Customers via the Parents

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This is a continuation of Friday’s post about using apartment rent-and-chore-tracking app HomeSlice to attract younger customers. The app is a classic Trojan Horse tactic (though not a nefarious one). The thing is, once you get customers digitally locked-in to your platform, they may never leave. And while this works on any age group, the younger set is more attractive in many ways, because they are not already set in their financial ways, and they have massive revenue potential if you are able to hold onto them through the next few decades.

Today, automated investment management platform (aka robo-advisor) FutureAdvisor launched its own youth play, but targeted to the parents of the kids it hopes to serve for the next 70 years. The service, dubbed FutureAdvisor College Savings, aims to get funds earmarked for college into its managed savings plan. The startup is forgoing its usual 0.5% wrap fee and is offering the account at zero cost. An impressive graph (inset) charts the savings growth in its plan (optimistically predicted at a 7.1% annual return) vs. a bank savings account (pessimistically pegged at 0.5%) over 2o years. Even though the spread is likely to be less dramatic than the indicated 6.6%, the benefits are large.

Bottom line: For most financial institutions, the parents are probably the easier path to landing the under-21 crowd. So financial services companies should consider similar offerings whether it be a student loan management, regular savings accounts, starter credit, apartment loans, first-car loans, and so on (for more ideas, see previous posts).

Tuesday Tactic: Communicating via Mobile Updates

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Here’s an unintended consequence of mobile banking.

I learn more about my bank by reading the description of the changes in its latest mobile (iOS) update than all other channels combined. And since I’ve downloaded about 100 banking & financial apps (and manually update them all), I read a LOT of mobile updates.

Very few financial services apps use that space to communicate creatively. Often, it will just be something terse like, “fixing bugs.” Now, I like succinct copy as much as the next person, but at the time of a mobile update, you have the undivided attention of your customer, if only for a few seconds. Use it! (though don’t abuse it).

billguard_update1While a number of web companies do a good job (Yelp, Redfin come to mind), the best financial services communicator on my phone is BillGuard (see inset). Not only do they spell out the changes being made now, they recap prior major improvements, and reinforce their brand with a friendly sentence or two of often unrelated information. They also sign-off each update with a real person and Twitter handle. Credit Karma and USAA have also recently posted interesting update information (see below); Citibank, not so much (last screenshot)

Bottom line: I know it takes extra time to get approvals for the “marketing copy” on an app update, but this is a great chance to improve user perceptions. And you can recycle that approved copy into other media as well (blog posts, email newsletters, employee training, etc).


Mobile update examples:

billguard_update2  usaa_update2


The Evolution of Mobile Weather Apps (and what it means for banking)

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weather_buttons_iphoneIn 2007, I’d never used an Apple product. But I was one of the first to get an iPhone that year. I wanted to see for myself what the much-touted device meant for the future of financial services. While there was no banking in v1.0, I found myself enthralled with the weather button, my first taste of the elegance of a native app experience.

Fast forward (almost) 8 years, and the weather button(s) is still my most-used app (as you can see on my home screen at right with four weather choices). But in the face of fierce competition, even weather apps have evolved from being completely static to having a useful alerting functions. The Dark Sky app (screenshot below, note 1) hits me with a popup notification and jingle 10 minutes before it’s about to rain, which comes in very handy in Seattle.

Look at the schematic of the Dark Sky weather app below. Five years ago weather apps gave us the a simple probability of rain some time during the whole day. Now it predicts precisely the exact minute rain will start in my neighborhood. That’s a massive functional improvement.


Relevance to bankers
The evolution in mobile weather demonstrates the importance of transitioning from static information retrieval to active alerting. A good passive experience was fine for the first wave of mobile information (2008 to 2013/2014), but the best apps now go way beyond that now.

Let’s switch gears to money management. Your preferred banking/PFM app knows how much you’ve spent compared to previous periods, it knows how much you make and what bills are due before the next paycheck. So your money app can alert you, in real time, when you are bumping up to the last of your discretionary spending each pay period.

And while that’s a pragmatic use case, it’s also a negative one since the app keeps reminding users how strapped they are. A more entertaining use revolves around purchase recommendations. My money manager (Mint in this case, but it could be my bank/card issuer), knows I’m a coffee shop addict. The app could give me a heads-up when I was in the vicinity of a high-rated coffee shop. Of course, the recommendations would have to be highly relevant and focused, or I would just ignore (or turn off) the alerts.

Bottom line: It’s time for banking/PFM apps to be as smart about your money as Dark Sky is about the rain. I forecast a bright future for FIs that get it right.


1. Dark Sky is so good, they actually can charge $4 for it in face of dozens of free apps (including the one that comes bundled on all iPhones).

Riding the Uber Wave: Capital One Rebates 20% for 1 Year

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uber_capitalone_phoneLast week, Capital One launched a national marketing promotion with Uber that provides a 20% rebate on rides for one year. And unlike many (most?) card offers, it’s good for both new and existing Capital One customers. However, it applies only to the bank’s Quicksilver cash-back card, so I’m out of luck with my Capital One Venture card.

But they did throw us non-Quicksilver customers a bone yesterday, with an email (see below) offering two free Uber rides (up to $30 each). For me, that’s probably about the same as the 20% rebate, so I was ready to fire up the app and swap out my Bank of America card. But wait, there’s that pesky fine print again. It turns out the free rides are only for new Uber customers. Out of luck again.


Overall, this is a great promotion. The bank gets both new cardholders plus a pile of Capital One cards stored in Uber’s app, a great retention tool (the primary goal?) along with a long-term revenue stream (albeit, not enough to recoup the cost of the 20% rebates, unless Uber is picking up a big chunk of the rebate).

The only thing I don’t like is the disingenuous email to non-Quicksilver customers. Capital One alludes to the fact that the free rides are for new Uber users (see highlighted body copy in screenshot below). But that statement is easy to overlook or misinterpret. It’s only when you get to the tiny type below, which is further hidden in a gray background (see highlighted fine print below), that the “new Uber customer” requirement is explicitly stated.

Why not just come out an say it clearly in the body of the email (or even in the subject line)? Existing Uber customers are going to find anyway when they try to redeem. Just be clear up front and save everyone the hassle! Better yet, don’t send the email to cardholders who are already using Uber (that could have been determined with an email match for me).

Final thought. Why not provide all cardholders an incentive to enter any Capital One card into the Uber app? For rewards cardholders remind them they can pay for their Uber rides with points (eg. Purchase Eraser). Or how about a sweeps? For example, one out of every 100 rides (or 1,000) are free to Capital One cardholders until May 30. That could be funded through interchange alone.


Capital One email to its Venture cardholders (23 April 2015)
Note: Highlighting mine