Credit Karma expands personal finance hub with high-yield savings accounts

Image via Credit Karma

Credit Karma has joined the high-yield savings race. The 12-year-old personal finance company, which is now worth $4 billion, will roll out a savings account product for U.S. customers on Oct. 28.

The FDIC-insured savings account is offered through custodian MVB Bank. The company, however, is partnering with a network of 800 banks, which will allow customers to get the most competitive interest rate among network banks’ offerings.

For Credit Karma, which promotes itself as a guardian of customers’ money, savings accounts help advance its mission to help customers manage their money better and will add to its repository of customer data. “We built a platform that helps people make decisions that impact their lives, so they get access to the right type of credit, the right loan or insurance,” said Jagjit Chawla, head of product at Credit Karma.

Chawla acknowledged that the accounts give Credit Karma access to more data, but he denied the move was a “data play,” noting that the objective of the savings accounts is to help customers set aside more money.

Within the Credit Karma savings account interface, an account growth simulator will help customers visualize how much money they can accumulate over time. Credit Karma savings accounts have an introductory interest rate of 2.03%, but rates will fluctuate depending on market movements and the rates that its 800 partner institutions are offering.

“From a consumer’s perspective, they have one account number and one routing number and nothing changes,” explained Chawla. “[Rate fluctuations are] a little bit of sausage making — with the network of [banks], we optimize the yield to get to the best deal that we can offer customers on a monthly basis.”

Credit Karma began as a way for consumers to check credit scores. It’s since expanded to a full-scale personal finance platform and customer acquisition channel for institutions, referring customers to such products as credit cards, auto loans and home loans. It boasts 90 million customers in the U.S. and 100 million customers globally.

The company joins a group of challenger banks, robo-advisers and legacy institutions that want to draw in customers through high-yield savings accounts. But Credit Karma isn’t participating in a “rate war” with other companies, a game that Chawla said “isn’t the most productive.” Instead, the purpose of the product launch is to build on customer trust by broadening the ecosystem of products, he added, noting that the company will not generate revenue from the savings accounts.

Credit Karma makes money through referral fees partner institutions pay when the company successfully refers a customer to a partner’s product. The advantage it has over competitors is scale, data and ease of onboarding. “Our model is win-win, which means if we recommended something to you that you found useful and you apply for it, we make money on our side and the partner is happy because they got a validated customer,” Chawla said. Based on the data it’s already accumulated on its customers, Credit Karma is able to facilitate a quick sign-on to a new product with a minimal number of clicks, he noted.

According to Alyson Clarke, principal analyst at Forrester Research, Credit Karma’s foray into savings accounts aligns with its focus on financial health.  The challenge for Credit Karma, however, is the growing number of companies offering similar products and a bias among many customers to open savings accounts with existing providers.

According to Forrester survey data, 57% of customers open savings accounts when they have an existing relationship with the company. “Saving is hard,” Clarke said. “Leading firms are bridging the intent to action gap [with high-yield savings accounts]. It’s an interesting space, but everybody is getting into it.”

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