Image c/o 401(K) 2012
Financial technology can save you money. Whether helping you avoid pesky fees, misleading subscriptions, or even just saving you time, a new wave of financial tools are gaining traction because, hey, who doesn't want to save money?
Dealing with money is only going to get easier. Now, with the majority of Americans carrying around a smartphone, there's even more opportunity for innovation. Technology has made it easier and more affordable than ever for financial solution providers to offer services that help consumers in many situations: at the point of sale with mobile payment tools, retail card management, personal finance management, and more. Meanwhile, businesses can also save time and money making more informed decisions concerning accounting, fees, crediting, invoicing and more.
From the ongoing boom in mobile payments, to the growing mobile and digital shift in banking, how we understand, manage and use money is changing. Below you will find six top financial tools that are helping lead this shift and saving you money.
1. Credit Karma
Accessing, understanding and improving one's credit score is essential to every consumer and business. Historically, gaining access to your score - let alone interpreting what it all means - has been cumbersome, confusing and even expensive. Credit Karma is a consumer advocate. The company connects users with their credit scores, entirely free of charge. Credit Karma does not ask for credit card information, or attempt to subscribe the user to credit monitoring services. Reports from Credit Karma are generated quickly, and the company provides a really useful set of complimentary tools designed to help empower better financial decisions, within the context of credit, or otherwise. The proof is in the user base: Credit Karma boasts 10 million users, and a seemingly permanent place amongst the top 10 financial apps in the App Store.
Every student of the emerging mobile payments market should pay attention to Venmo. The company launched in 2009 as a first-mover in the mobile money transfer space - a nimble startup developing well ahead of the curve. While others are still talking about making it easier to send payments to friends through emails and other, similar methods, Venmo already has brought a social approach to payments: think Facebook meets PayPal. Moreover, the company really takes the hassle out of money movement by allowing you to transfer money from one bank to any other, free of charge. Venmo is already riding high, growing by 30 percent each month - and considering that the mobile payments industry is expected to be a $235 billion market in 2013, it's well positioned for continued growth. PayPal has taken notice, as they just announced the acquisition of Venmo parent company and payments gateway provider, Braintree.
Xero is modern accounting software built for today's small or medium business. Unlike more traditional options, Xero offers speed and flexibility with its interface - especially when it comes to easily reviewing expenditures and organizing entities. Xero also boasts simpler integration with other leading payroll and CRM tools due to its open API approach, and is extremely flexible when it comes to rolling out new features and enhancements. Case in point: Xero recently announced an upcoming conversion service that will allow Quickbooks users to easily port their data over to Xero, making the switch incredibly easy. As further evidence of increasing momentum, within its first year of launching in the US market, Xero doubled its customer base and earned an additional vote of confidence with a second large investment from PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel.
There is a growing gap between small businesses' need for credit and its availability. This is due in part to the difficulty in evaluating the traditional risk and credit files associated with many small businesses. Often, there is just not enough legacy information available for credit report-based decisions to be made. As a result, many qualified companies may not be able to access the capital they need and deserve, which unnecessarily stifles their growth. Kabbage automatically aggregates real-time online data from small businesses' payment history, user feedback and social media interactions, and uses this information to provide financing options in under seven minutes. This can save businesses days or even months over legacy channels, helping entrepreneurs gain access to capital and grow their businesses faster.
OnTrees was just recently the #1 free finance app in the UK App Store. In a local market challenged for innovation, OnTrees is like a better, smarter Mint.com. Easy and automated, OnTrees is really the ultimate service for taking control of your day-to-day finances and making sure that you know when you've hit your spending limit in specific buckets. It's a like a digital version of envelope budgeting, without all the hassle. In addition, OnTrees keeps consumers aware of banking fees to help avoid unnecessary charges, especially as financial institutions continue to raise account minimums and implement more service charges.
FeeX is bringing an end to the lack of understanding people have about the fees they pay for financial services and retirement products. FeeX is currently focused on helping investors avoid burdensome 401k fees, which can take a disproportionate share of planned retirement savings over the years. By leveraging the power of the crowd, FeeX is doing more than just helping people understand their rates - it's helping them control and manage their futures with help from their peers. People trust people, and the benefits of collective intelligence are exactly what FeeX is trying to promote. And, putting its figurative money where its mouth is: FeeX has opted out of the lead generation business model that drives 70% of the advice industry's referral model, enabling FeeX to stay both free and objective.
Financial institutions, consumers and businesses alike are permanently shifting toward digital financial services, and the door to innovation is now wide open. At the same time, the availability of required, secure platforms and APIs, the reduced cost of cloud computing, and excellent data analysis tools are making it possible to leverage big data and offer new solutions to consumers and businesses at affordable prices, anywhere, anytime. Given this perfect storm of increased demand and reduced overheard, we will continue to see an exponential increase in digital finance tools that help consumers hack their finances; and I expect these six tools to lead the way.
Full disclosure: Yodlee Interactive offers services to the companies listed in this piece.