The Bankwatch

Tracking the consumer evolution of financial services

Posts Tagged ‘wesabe

The Dangers of Thin Value


Umaiar defines thin value as a mirage that will eventually evaporate. it is value that has no point nor reason, other than generate revenue for the corporation. The landmark example he offers is ARPU, or Average Rrevenue per Customer in the telco business. The 15 second instructional wait time in front of every voice mail is worth $620 million to one telco is one example he offers. The sole purpose of the 15 seconds is to generate revenue, notwithstanding claims that it is for the benefit of the user.

The Value Every Business Needs to Create Now
| Harvard: Umair Haque Edge Economy

Profit through economic harm to others results in what I’ve termed “thin value.” Thin value is an economic illusion: profit that is economically meaningless, because it leaves others worse off, or, at best, no one better off. When you have to spend an extra 30 seconds for no reason, mobile operators win — but you lose time, money, and productivity. Mobile networks’ marginal profits are simply counterbalanced by your marginal losses. That marginal profit doesn’t reflect, often, the creation of authentic, meaningful value.

He goes on to refer to other examples of thin value, and its the last that interests me here.

Thin value is what the zombieconomy creates. The healthcare industry profits, but Americans get poor healthcare. Automakers fought tooth and nail against making sustainably powered cars. Manufacturers of all stripes stay mum about environmental costs. Clothing companies can’t break up with sweatshop labour. The clearest example of thin value, is, of course, banks: they invested our national wealth in assets that turned out to be literally worthless.

That got me to thinking what examples of thin value in retail banking are – value that has no direct correlation to benefit received.

  • no interest on the first $ xx
  • chequing accounts vs savings accounts
  • credit card interest
  • credit card terms
  • overdraft fees

The list can go on. The theme I see in the thin value concept is this: there is no direct attributable consumer benefit associated with the cost paid out. Everyone accepts there is a value expected for their financial services, and the thin/ thick value approach focusses on the relationship between the cost and the benefit.

Thin value suggests that the operator cannot rationalise the value they are creating, therefore must use back door methods to bring in revenue in other ways.

Relevance to Bankwatch:

Here is Umair speaking on the concept some more. The concept is scary for corporations, because it means that business is not going back to the way it was before. It is all to easy to assume that the crisis is easing and recovery means going back to business as usual.

But this is not going to be business as usual, as i have talked about previously here [consumer mindsets] and here [Enter the Zombie Banks]. Consumers are more self aware than ever, and more aware of switching opportunities through bank and non bank designed tools to perform self assessments online. Services such as Wesabe exemplify.

How will your bank redesign services to demonstrate thick value?

Written by Colin Henderson

August 1, 2009 at 09:26

Wesabe today announce that Palo Alto-based Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union is to integrate Springboard Community App


Wesabe are making progress with their Springboard product that I blogged about in March. For the details here is that post. They are announcing today that they have signed Palo Alto-based Addison Avenue Federal Credit Union. That is a big one, given the internet savviness of their customers reflected in the fact only 30% ever visit the branch.

The groundbeaker for me with this service, is the integration of a web app with an individuals online banking. This brings the outputs of the wealth of a social site into the personal world of online banking allowing the customer to investigate their finances and monitor progress against benchmarks.

Wesabe SpringBoard | Wesabe

Wesabe Springboard gives consumers a “smart” dashboard view of their account data and personal finances – guiding them towards value, savings and goal completion, and away from poor financial decisions. In addition, Wesabe Springboard includes community features that let consumers help each other by anonymously sharing advice, support and tips for getting the most value for their money. Drawing on Wesabe’s database of consumer spending behavior, Wesabe Springboard also allows users to benefit from the learning that comes from changes and patterns in how members shop.

Credit unions and banks can implement Wesabe Springboard through either a web services architecture or as a fully hosted web personal financial management (PFM) solution. Wesabe Springboard works with a wide variety of enterprise platforms, including .Net and Java. The web services option uses API-based integration to integrate into the financial institution’s existing online banking system.

Wesabe launched Wesabe Springboard in March and signed its first customer in just six weeks. For additional information on Wesabe Springboard, visit https://www.wesabe.com/springboard

Written by Colin Henderson

July 13, 2009 at 22:34

Posted in Innovation

Tagged with ,

Where will the innovation come from in financial services?


A central question for financial services is this:  “Where will the innovation come from in financial services?”

I read this piece from Dave over at Digital Money Forum, and it highlights a central problem that traditional financial services falls into.

The 50 year plan : Digital Money forum

That sounds like the Greek restaurant will have to give a British cardholder a couple of pages of A4 and make sure that the customers reads them before they punch in their PIN.

Anyway, the point is that for banks, the PSD comes at an interesting time when transaction banking is becoming more central to strategy. The threats from both new entrants and substitutes are, according to Bob (and I agree with him), high. In these circumstances, regulation is turning from a moat that competitors cannot cross into a millstone around the incumbents necks.

The problem is in the complication and diversification of businesses contained within a typical bank.  The problems are surmountable, but first they must be recognised.  The issues arise in part from interpretaion of regulation, and in part from the diverse nature of modern large banks.

Relevance to Bankwatch:

Regulation:

It goes without saying that there is host of regulation that must be complied with.  As the events have occurred over the last two years, regulation has become more of a factor in oversight of banks.   In my three part piece earlier this year, The Great Unwinding, (title refers to unwinding of debt and deleveraging of households and institutions) the point was that as the economic pie decreases is size, and at the same time the role of government increases that the effect will be to produce two types of banks:

  1. Financial utilities; much as you turn on your tap for water, or plug into the wall for electricity, you will plug into these banks for basic services.  Nothing new, nothing extreme, and nothing innovative, unless the government tells them to do it and even then that won’t work – refer back to Daves piece above and SEPA.
  2. Innovators: while in the minority, this group will be comprised of those who keep their heads above the trees and see that rather than a time of crisis, this is a time of opportunity;  opportunity defined as a new market that is diametrically opposed to the market of the last 10 years for banks.

Bank bureaucracy:

Banks have always been bureaucratic but the last 15 years has seen bureacracy become triumphant in many institutions.  It began to be a problem in the mid 90’s when this new fangled thing called internet required that the entire bank be properly represented at the point of a click.  Having spent 100’s of years operating independently, to ask product managers to talk with other product managers, and in the same room as electronic channel managers required new levels of collegialism that was never requested before.  There were no rules nor common norms that could be held up as principles to guide the discussion.

Everyone at the table would claim to be ‘customer centric’ and representing their customer.  Other approaches would say ‘the bank’ owns the customer, but then who represents ‘the bank’ in that conversation – the Chairman?

It also happened that we also saw a rise in regulation for privacy, security, complaint handling, ecommerce laws all of which brought even more partners to the above table.  The result takes us to Daves somewhat humourous, but too close to the truth point above about having customers complete a two page document prior to punching in their PIN.

Market differences:

So in a climate of crisis and regulation, it will be easy for the majority to reduce themselves to financial utilities.  It comes naturally to large organisations, who have not solved the riddles of focus and simplicity.

The innovators on the other hand will see the opportunity because they can see through the morass of problems and zero in on that opportunity with laser like focus.

I blogged earlier about the changes in the economy, and while that post applied to the US context, this equally applies to all western economies, including Canada, UK, France, Germany, and Spain as obvious examples.

These macro factors will play a large role in US banks and credit unions strategy design for the next 5 years.

  1. no consumer purchase driven economy in US – with the implication of extended higher Government spending for some time to counter
  2. US consumers save (increasing savings accounts and paying down debt)

When we think about banking over the last 10 years, the predominant consumer products that saw innovation have been borrowing products.  Lines of Credit, Mortgages, Credit Cards and Consumer loans have been pre-eminent.  If we read and think carefully about Timothy Geithners comments above, and I share his view, the nature of banking products and services that see growth for the next 10 years will be different.

Economic recovery does not mean a return to things as they were.

The dominant products will shift to becoming investment accounts, savings accounts, and money management services.

As consumers seek to save (economic terminology for hoarding cash, or repaying debt) they will be watching every penny.

As money is saved or spending is reviewed the requirement for real time information is added to the mix.  Questions will be asked, such as;  ‘can I afford this purchase this month’  or ‘what if I waited till next month’, or ‘how much have I saved this month’ or ‘how much have my total credit card balances reduced’.  This introduces the need for new payments services, and that are adding value by connection to money management services such as Wesabe, or Wells Fargo spending analysis service.

These questions should drive new and innovative services that banks have not been accustomed to creating.  It requires new thinking and re-alignment of strategic resources.  It is much easier for new entrants to banking to start small and simple in this new environment.  A mix of new entrants and smart existing players will be the innovators, and the winners.

Written by Colin Henderson

June 1, 2009 at 13:04

Wesabe introduces a redesigned site with enhanced features


Wesabe have introduced a redesigned site.  It appears to be more than a surface change with nice use of interactive ‘hover’ features with personalised information inside the hover.  The menu is simplified, yet takes you to everything required, including ‘Connections’ that includes iphone and twitter connections.

Its clean, bright, and worth checking out.

wesabe

Wesabe Site Redesign

If you haven’t logged in to Wesabe lately, you’re in for quite a surprise. We’ve redesigned every single page of the site and have been getting some rave reviews about our new look!

Written by Colin Henderson

May 26, 2009 at 11:22

All banks have the same strategy | what happened to the Starbucks strategy?


It was refreshing to read this piece, and takes us exactly where innovation in financial services ought to be going – the new (old) grand ideas.

Starbucks should start banking | FT

What if Starbucks opened an online-only retail bank offering competitive deposit rates and a modest range of loans and mortgages? It could do that by partnering with a finance company such as ING, which has the appropriate banking licences.

All it would need to do is install ATM machines in its outlets, which would involve investing some money but would allow it to get more out of its existing branches.

National supermarkets in the UK, such as Sainsbury and Tesco, have opened retail banks and placed ATM machines in their branches, but there is no national grocery chain in the US with a comparable reach. Even Wal-Mart lacks outlets on most urban high streets.

I recall the brainstorming sessions in the 90’s at the bank, where the discussion about competition arose not from other banks but from:

  • Starbucks levering their distribution and cards as a bank
  • ebay or Amazon offerring a credit card
  • internet only banks – ING was on the horizon – mbanx and Wingspan already out there
  • whether to join the S1 online banking commoditised platform
  • offer an All in One account that pulled together lending and deposits into one account
  • how to deal with the role of aggregation- offer it, join it, or ignore it
  • bill presentment – same idea – offer, join or ignore
  • shift in business model from generalist to:
    • product (manufacturer) – offer loans and deposts through others channels
    • distribution (channel) – sell products & services of others – Open Finance (Forrester)
    • segmentation (customer type)  – focus on a niche market, although most interpreted as the generalist, all things to all market which is where most banks ended

Relevance to Bankwatch:

The problem today is that Banks are on strategy defined 6 – 8 years ago to bricks and clicks, focussed on customer retention and wallet growth.  Customer Relationship Management (CRM) became the strategy de jour.  Who would claim that has worked?  Seibel disappeared inside Oracle for a reason.

Banks are all on the same strategy, focussed on mortgage as the entree, and upsell with other services later.

There is nothing out there that aims at shifting the balance of share of market in a substantial way.  This is not about acquisition or mergers – we have done that, and “too big too fail” is too fixated in everyone’s radar now, or until capitalisation is fixed, in any event.

No, this is about business model shifts … shifts that would have a target of:

  • double digit percentage shift in share of payments,
  • extraction of share of deposits and payments from an existing industry (the Starbucks example),
  • exponential elimination of costs relative to competition
  • focus on what your are good at and eliminate the stuff you are not good at

Business models –

Mr Bank Chairman …  what is your business model, and how is it different than the competition?

Supplementary question –

Who is your competition?  Do you lost sleep over Citibank and Wells, or Tempo and Wesabe?  Does your answer worry you?

PS …  as I finish this post the most telling thing is something I have become acutely aware of.  The blog categories I set up 5 years ago no longer apply, until I do a retrospective post such as this.  Either those were really bad ideas, or ideas yet to come.

What does recovery mean for Banks?


Banks are at the centre of the economy.  Business and consumers conduct their day to day business using money and they do this through banks.  Stating the obvious you may say?  This is why I study the economy so closely and try to understand how it will look in the future, because that has a direct relation to how banks will look in that future.

We are in a crisis of debt.  It is a debt crisis because consumers and businesses are over-leveraged.  Their debt is too high relative to todays asset values.  Asset values have decreased by 25 – 60% in the West, whereas debt has reduced only minimally.

So what do we see around us that offer substantive clues to our near term future for banks?

  • US economy reducing at annual rate of 6.1% – this has to be contrasted to growth rates of 2 – 3% pre crisis, so thats an almost 10% shift being experieinced
  • Lithuania today seeing a 12% reduction in its economy
  • Germany seeing 5% – 6% and talk of rioting on the streets, which of course will do no good except create panic
  • Citibank and Bank of America today finally wisening up to the reality that they cannot grow out of their leveraged position – they must contract out of it by selling stuff
  • corporate jets becoming an embarrassment rather than a status symbol
  • Allens & Overy (lawyers in the City) introducing a ‘cull’ of 10%
  • 80 – 100% growth in managerial and professional unemployment (UK)
  • General Motors in Canada cutting dealerships from 794 down to 400 – 400 within one year

These headlines are all point in one direction.  Less is the new reality.  No-one knows precisely where the new balance will level off, but it is certainly going to be at a level less thn we saw at the peak in 2007.

A smaller economic base results in less of many other things that probably still have to happen;  less restaurants, real estate agents, accountants, grocery stores, plumbers, construction workers, and of course bankers and banks.

Relevance to Bankwatch:

Operating in this new environement will require new thinking and recognition of new opportunities.  This will be the time (for banks) to not just accept internet but to insist on internet as a core component of the business to drive efficiencies.  It will require fresh looks at old ideas that were squandered away and hidden by the excesses of the good times, eg:

  • # of branches required?
  • style of branches required- which services will be offerred?
  • what is the the role of tellers in the new operating model?
  • is it time to eliminate cheques ?
  • is it time to bring commercial banking into the and up to the same degree of automation as consumer banking?
  • Why is business banking still being done by cheques and deposit books?
  • What is the role of Head Office?  How many are required to invent bank accounts, mortgages and loans?

In a smaller and more efficient world, new competitors will be prodding away at banks’ business model.  I watched many of the presentations yesterday at FinovateStartup09 and was struck by how they all in some way chipped away a part of banking from banks.  Whether it is Tempo and their de-coupled debit card, or Wesabe and Micronotes pro-actively helping consumers spend wisely, or Prosper and Lending Club introducing “Securitization 2.0′ (online secondary markets with clear line of sight between debtor and creditor),  the coming of Web 3.0 is imminent and in a form that banks may not expect nor be prepared for unless they act now.

FinovateStartup – 1


Caught  a few of the participants this morning and as we wait for the next few rapid fire presentations, some highlights.  Note there are 350 in the audience:

Lending Club:

  • highlighted some lender functionality, paricularly in the secondary market
  • showed the ability of lenders to compare their returns to other lenders

Tempo Debit Card;

  • decoupled debit card
  • sign up online, with 90% approval success
  • offers rewards on your debit card
  • aim to to be the MBNA of debit cards

Wesabe:

  • always my favourite – Gabe showed off the new web interface
  • highlighted accounts, and discussions
  • ability to dig deeper aggregate certain cards and compare expense categories on those cards
  • the iphone app which is significnatly more powerful than the Mint app.  Allows sign up to Wesabe, and editing of expenses though the app

Written by Colin Henderson

April 28, 2009 at 12:07

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