What Do We Call PFM as it Becomes Part of Digital Banking?

This post has been superseded at finovate.com.


The term PFM has gotten a bad rap. Clearly, Personal Financial Management is not a consumer-friendly term. You can’t use an acronym unless it’s ingrained in society (IRS, FBI, etc.). And stringing together three 3-syllable words to spell it out is too cumbersome (and doesn’t fit on a smartphone menu anyway).

So what do we call this thing formerly known as PFM? Today, I saw “money manager” used at America First Credit Union (an MX client). That’s a 56% reduction in syllables, but I fear it, and its longer sibling, digital money management, are still too generic to be meaningful for consumers. When you think about it, every single time you log in to your bank you are doing some type of “money management,” so that term doesn’t really call to mind the advanced feature set we in the industry have called PFM.

The best approach may be to simply not give it a name. PFM is really just additional features integrated into online or mobile banking. As those features become fully integrated, and relatively common, they become harder to single out with a unique term.

So here’s where I net out. Just between you and me, let’s keep calling it PFM within the industry (on our blog alone we’ve mentioned it in almost 500 posts). But when talking to consumers, let’s not create another confusing term. Especially since personal financial or money management is already an assumed benefit of digital banking.

Then, when looking to create more interest, use the classic marketing terms attached to “online” or “mobile” banking, for example:

  • Advanced online banking
  • Enhanced mobile banking
  • Do more with online banking
  • New & improved mobile banking
  • Features added to online banking
  • v2.0 mobile banking
  • Manage your money better with mobile banking

amex_cardsThat still leaves the problem of what to call it on a menu, or in a tab, if you offer a stand-alone service. Outside of banking, I think the most common term today is Advanced as in Google’s Advanced Search. Or, if you are potentially going to charge a fee, Pro is commonly used. If that seems too specific, it could be Premium or Select. Even the old credit card standbys, Gold, Platinum or Black, could be used.

Bottom line: FIs should use descriptions that fit with their other branding. Here, we are going to stick with PFM, with the understanding that the term should not be used on your website.


Opening graphic is from MX on the cover of its white paper on PFM Digital Money Management. 

Mobile Monday: Fintech Through the Ages

This post has been superseded at finovate.com.

There’s a big, missing piece with today’s money management (aka PFM) offerings:

Age appropriateness

What I mean is that most FIs offer a one-size-fits-all mobile app and that just won’t cut it going forward. As capone360_teen_checkingdevelopment costs drop (see Building it Out, below), it will be easier to cost-justify tightly segmented apps. One of the better examples (from the desktop), is CapitalOne 360’s Teen Money a program it inherited from ING Direct (which launched it exactly four years ago with a $10 million ad campaign).

How will this multi-app trend manifest itself? One of the more likely initial phases will be segmenting by life stage. For example, here’s a common example of 10 stages, along with key money management issues along the way:

  • Pre-teen: learning, saving, chore management, light spending
  • Teen: learning, saving, college planning, spending
  • College: learning, spending, expense sharing with roommates/parents, automobile
  • Singles: spending, renting, insurance, expense sharing with roommates, investing/401k, saving, credit
  • Young marrieds: mortgage, insurance, expense sharing with spouse, investing, saving for home
  • Family with little ones: insurance, spending controls/budgeting, investing, tuition, home equity
  • Family with teens: spending/budgeting, investing, saving for college, sharing expenses with kids, retirement planning
  • Empty nest: retirement planning, asset management, investing
  • Active retirees: asset management, estate planning
  • Homebound seniors: sharing control with kids, health insurance management, estate planning

All of those segments will likely have their own app or at least a way to easily customize a general app in a way that syncs with their needs without the clutter typical of many banking websites (though they are getting much better as building for mobile (responsive design), demands prioritizing features/content.

Building it Out

Given the 6, 7 and even 8-figure costs of major mobile initiatives, building 10 apps may seem ridiculously expensive. And it would be if it weren’t for cost savings enabled by third-party and SaaS services fed through APIs, a subject we touched on this recently in a post about the coming Golden Age of Fintech APIs.

If you are willing to forgo branding, you could provide age-appropriate apps for virtually no cost. For example, some smaller banks gladly refer their customers to Mint for budgeting/money management help or Credit Karma for credit management. It’s not a bad strategy. Sure, they’ll see targeted financial advertising, but that’s not going to matter if you provide a valuable service.

But we expect most banks and credit unions will eschew custom development and choose a full white-label solution such as MX, Backbase or dozens of others. Or alternatively, go with a hybrid co-brand, such as BancVue’s Kasasa or FamZoo for the teen/pre-teen crowd.


We’ll be looking at these issues and more at our second annual financial services developers event,FinDEVr, in October.


Graphic source: Linkedin

Friday Feature Request: Banking/Card Transaction Annotation via Email

This post has been superseded at finovate.com.


On Fridays, I try to post a new digital banking feature I’ve discovered recently. But with nothing to report this week, I will instead take the easy route and make a request for a new feature:

Feature: Transaction annotation by email

BBVA’s Simple has been a leader in adding richness to transaction detail. We reported here on its web-based solution for annotating transaction in late 2012 (see screenshot at top of post). Basically, that capability needs to be ported to email for, forgive me, simpler access.

The specs:

  1. After each transaction that hits my account (preferably ALL my aggregated accounts) I get an email confirmation of each transaction with whatever data the bank/PFM can already provide on it (amount, date, merchant, category) and using a free-form field I add whatever text I want to the description, attach a photo or file (if I so choose), and categorize it (if I’m that kind of a user).
  2. Depending on how the feature is implemented, I press enter or hit reply and my annotations are recorded into my permanent transaction archives at the bank/PFM. (Note: You must have a long-term archive solution in place for this feature to have value).
  3. The transaction details must be in the email message itself so that I can use my email client to forward the message to others, flag for later attention, or file.
  4. The same thing could be done via text (with a link) or notifications, but email is the key for me.

Bottom line: For me this would be one of the best things a bank, card issuer or PFM could do to cement my loyalty (and even cough up a modest subscription fee). I want my transactions history to be both a personal diary (e.g. traveling or dining out), a tax record (for business or charitable transactions), and a searchable resource for future questions (eg. what did I pay last month for cable?).


Note: Hit me on Twitter (@netbanker) if you know someone already offering this.

Game On: What Banking Can Learn from Fitbit

This post has been superseded at finovate.com.

TDbank_fitbit_signageI’ve always been a “wanna be” tracker. I like watching the stats closely, but I also lose interest if the process, either capturing the data or compiling it, becomes tedious. But thanks to mobile (including wearables), the drudgery is disappearing and that has big implications for banking and financial services.

Some examples. I’ve used Mint since 2007 for personal and business expenses, so I have a massive database of transactions, which in theory should make it easy to locate just about anything I’ve charged to a credit or debit card in the past eight years. However, it’s never quite perfect because I will go for long periods without doing the required maintenance to keep every aggregated account flowing. Recently, I just fixed one of my main credit cards which has been on hiatus for 2 years. So, there are big holes in the data.

Then there’s BillGuard, another service I love and have been using for years. I love how it alerts me to questionable items as they hit my card accounts. However, BillGuard’s database is so good, that I rarely hear from them any more. This is good news for me (no questionable items), but less so for them. Because what’s invisible, loses its perceived value.

And I’ve tried tracking other things over the years, both financial and personal. And nothing seems to stick. Until now. I just hit my 2-year anniversary using Fitbitusually glancing at its tiny readout several times per day. So what is it about Fitbit that makes it addictive? And more importantly, how can financial institutions do the same for money management?

capitalone_uber1. Make it easy to use: While Fitibit requires zero maintenance once you get it activated, you do have to remember to keep it on you. The same goes double for a bank’s credit or debit card. Not only do you have to remember it, you also have to choose to use it at the point of sale.

Action item: Incent users to get your card loaded into digital ecommerce sites such as Apple Pay, Amazon, iTunes, PayPal, Uber, Spotify and others. Capital One just unleased a great, albeit expensive, program with Uber to credit back 20% of rides to its cardholders (link).

2. Make it easy to see exactly where you stand in real-time: Fitbit provides feedback literally every step of the day. It’s extremely motivating, though at times discouraging when you fall way behind of personal goals. Card issuers today do something similar delivering real-time alerts right to the smartphone homescreen (and soon to the Apple Watch). But transaction alerts still don’t tell you where you are.

Action item: Make notifications smarter by including daily, weekly, monthly transaction summaries and/or credit available. They could be included in the notification, or enabled with a swipe of the transaction alert.

3. Make it easy to compare to previous periods: This is still a missing piece of my ultimate Fitbit experience. The mobile app makes it easy to scroll backwards or look at bar charts to see how you are doing over time. But there are no simple month-over-month or year-over-year comparisons to see your progress in similar time periods.

Action item: Create single-click views of financial activity and balances compared to one month ago, one year ago, two years ago, etc.

Fitbit email

4. Provide ongoing incentives: Like saving money is its own reward, burning calories walking and climbing are clear rewards of bumping your Fitbit numbers. But it doesn’t hurt to provide extra incentives along the way. This keeps customers engaged, and appreciative of the game provider. Unlike BillGuard, which so quietly goes about its business that I forget about it, Fitbit is always hitting users with badges, and popup notifications, for hitting various daily or lifetime milestones (it actually needs to do more as experienced users can rarely get a new badge, I haven’t had a new one since last November).

Action item: The badges may be cheesy, but the email congratulations are powerful (see inset from Fitbit the first time you walk 20,000 steps in a day).  This has to be one of the simplest things you could do to reinforce good money management. Send an email congratulating a customer when their saving balance, rewards points, interest earned, or whatever, increases compared to a month ago or a year ago. Who doesn’t appreciate an “atta boy or girl” every now and then (even if it is from your bank)?

5. Get social: While I’m not of the social media generation, I do understand its appeal. Just today, Fitbit sent me a reminder to add friends. This allows users to compete against friends and family, a potentially motivating way to get you off the couch and moving. And while I’d never share Fitbit data with friends, I do enjoy a friendly competition with my wife. The key is to make sharing highly selective, customizable, and easy to switch on and off.

Action item: While financial information is not as readily shareable as fitness data, Venmo has proven that it has potential. The youthful set who’ve taken to using Venmo (see the Venmo line), enjoy sharing payment activity, but only without revealing the actual dollar amount, and allowing for maximum snark in the share. And there are also plenty of serious use cases for sharing financial data, such as employees with their employers, kids with their parents, etc. Card issuers should add optional sharing to all card management platforms.


Screenshot: TD Bank landing page (22 April 20015, link)




Picture Credit: TD Bank has been giving away Fitbit Flex trackers to new checking account customers (screenshot above). A reader from MaximizingMoney.com contributed this upper-right photo of TD signage in the NYC subway.