Are Personal Finance Apps Old News?

canstockphoto6249298Personal finance management and investment apps — Level Money, Acorns and the like — have gained popularity among millennials, who seem to enjoy the added control over their finances through smartphones. But on the investor side, the hype over these apps is cooling off, according to Tanya Ladha, senior manager at Center for Financial Services Innovation.

“In the past 12 to 18 months there’s been a slew of fintech apps that rely on account aggregation, and pulling from your checking account to have this autonomous savings account in place, and the Mints of the world, that show you all your control options on your account, enjoyed a lot of hype,” she said during a panel at the inaugural Auto Finance Innovation conference last week. But generally, she added, PFM apps struggle with stickiness.

“It was a thing that was bright and shiny and new, and a lot of people signed up and attached their accounts, but they are seeing a drop in that,” Ladha said. The panel agreed, however, that the entire VC community has pulled back slightly on fintech across the spectrum.

In response, companies began adding new features to their personal finance management apps. “Some of the folks that were able to maintain that customer base and investor interest have brought in new elements of sociability in the market,” Ladha said. “So, the idea of saving in a group, or communicating with groups to cheer them up, and sharing results.”

VC hesitation notwithstanding, building a community around financial planning seems to be gaining traction. Ally’s new Splurge Alert app, for example, asks users to identify merchants and areas where they tend to overspend, from coffee shops to malls, and then select “buddies.” Using geolocation technology, the app will then send an alert to the “buddies” when a user approaches the splurge zones. The startup Trigger allows users to set conditional alerts on stock movements, earnings reports, corporate events, and even Twitter sentiments. The app then curates the triggers into a Twitter-like social space, where users can browse and integrate triggers into their own dashboards.

As banks further integrate PFM tools into their own apps, Ladha also foresees increased regulation on possible data breaches. (Jamie Dimon famously warned customers about giving data to any old app that asks for account info.)  “The idea of real-time tracking has been helpful for people to first make and then meet savings goals, and banks recognize that,” she said. “So there will be a lot more attention paid on this facet of fintech that’s very critical.”

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