I like to think that when it comes to personal finance, there’s hardly anything personal about it where the big-boy banks are concerned. At Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo, etc., banking has become an obstacle-course game of dodging exorbitant fees and penalties, usually done by keeping ultra-high balances. How many of us are in a position to do keep $100,000 or more in our combined accounts? Talk about being treated like a number … one that had better be high!
Meanwhile, real innovations in personal banking and finance—those that align with our social media habits and need for interactive banking—are coming from high-tech entrepreneurs and startups. In recent months, I’ve told Money Under 30 readers about services from Dwolla (a company that’s created an online payment system free of pesky PayPal fees) and Kapitall (an investment platform that works with a sleek drag-and-drop interface).
Moven deserves a high place on that list, and its model marks it not merely as another player, but a leader. The reason is simple: For years, banks have armed themselves with data to the point where they know more about your finances than you do. But Moven gives you chance to collect your own data, in a way that banks can’t refute (especially if they’re ready to deny you a loan, for example).
One you join Moven, you get an RFID-enabled sticker for your smartphone; touching the sticker against an in-store MasterCard payment console registers your purchases. Simple enough.
But the true revolution comes through what Moven does with your data once you make a purchase or transaction. Through its smartphone app, Moven provides users with reports on how they’re doing financially, based under the broader categories of spending, living and savings. So you’ll get updates from your phone telling you that “You’re on track!” … or that you needs to shop less and stay within a budget.
It gets even better, as Moven’s use of financial wellness tools provide the kind of reporting most folks might get from a brick-and-mortar bank (via paper) only once a year. MoneyPulse, for example, tells a user with hard numbers whether their spending is “in the red” or otherwise healthy, giving up-to-the-minute breakdowns in categories such as dining out, entertainment, shopping, travel and more.
That’s crucial because when it comes to assessing our financial health, we’re more than just credit scores. But try telling that to the banks.
Here’s another way to think about it: Financial health is a lot like physical health. You can get a clean bill from your doctor based on charts with all the numbers in order: low cholesterol, low blood pressure, blood sugars and triglycerides. But are you hiding something from your physician? Were you having a little too much fun, for example, at the local bar just 48 hours prior to your checkup?
Just as you can tell a lot about a person’s health by what they do outside the doctor’s office, you can also tell much about a person’s finance via their social behavior. This is why Moven, and services like it, are forging a new frontier in what some call “social banking.”
There’s a fascinating blog post on econsultancy.com entitled “The Facebook Mortgage,” which speculates about how social data could help us correct the gaps in credit scores. In it, author Craig Le Grice gives the example of two real-life friends. “John” has impeccable financial habits (“he’s never had credit card debt, he doesn’t gamble, he saves every month”) and “Jane” is a bit of a spendthrift, with “a mountain of credit card debt” (which is more than her annual salary) and “zero savings” due to her shopping habits. Guess which one has the bad credit rating?
If you guessed Jane, guess again. She may have a terrible record saving, but she also knows how to game the credit report system. Even with high credit balances, she does just enough to keep her credit scores “very good,” Le Grice reports. Meanwhile, John has a “poor” score that kept him from buying a property in 2012, likely due to a lack of credit history.
In terms of social banking, Le Grice points out how in theory, a bank could take a look at your social media activity, and come up with a more accurate picture of who you are financially. Now before you complain about “big brother,” keep in mind your social media activity is 100 percent public, and you control what you post on Facebook, Twitter and your personal blog.
Yet there’s another side of the social banking picture, and it revolves around self-awareness and taking charge.
Social banking bodes well for the Johns of the world. Using a tool such as Moven, he could march right into that frumpy bank that’s ready to deny him a home loan, and show off detailed reports that reflect a well-rounded picture of prudence and sound financial judgment. Nothing like fighting data with data, I say.
Of course, trying to predict what any bank will do is risky at best. But we can always control our own behavior—and the bottom line, if you will, is that most of us want to improve how we manage our money, if only we had tools to do it.
My thought is that 50 years from now, a large majority of people will track and tweak their finances this way, using the power of data to scrutinize day-to-day behavior as it fits into a larger picture. As for life in 2013, a majority of us, this writer included, too often rely on paper, pencil, a calculator and a dim sense of whether we’re doing the right thing.
The social banking e-revolution promises to move us into an era where our financial data tracks as fast as a Google Maps program. And as we all know, you can’t get to your final destination, financial or otherwise, without a reliable roadmap.