Jwaala Claims Its Spot As Passionate Online Personal Finance Manager
By MARC RAPPORT
CU Times Technology Correspondent
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jwaala is a Hindi word for "passion" or "fire," a fit description of how the founders of the company by that name feel about their personal finance manager and its future.
And like the Jwaala MoneyTracker solution, their choice of name was intended to be practical.
"Well, our co-founder is Indian and the word 'jwaala' reflects how passionate we are about this," said Andrew Taylor, chief technology officer of the two-year-old startup (www.jwaala.com) that's now a CUSO of Amplify FCU in Austin.
"Plus it's a domain name that's only six letters long, and we can pronounce it," he said.
The PFM integrates with a credit union's home banking solution, allowing members to do much of the same kind of money management tasks long available from Quicken and Microsoft Money and now online-only challengers like Mint and Wesabe.
With at least one big difference, Jwaala's co-founder said.
"MoneyTracker resides within the home banking site," Taylor said. "We think consumers want this kind of capability to come straight from their financial institution and not have to give the credentials for all their online accounts to some Silicon Valley startup."
Jwaala sees its sweet spot as basically addressing that and two other concerns of credit unions: The danger of online PFMs such as Mint and Wesabe taking away members, and PFM giant Intuit forcing financial institutions to pay for the ability for members to download data.
"With sites like Mint, your members stumbles into that and sees all those rates and other information from their marketing partners, and Intuit has made Quicken such that institutions our size are unable to support it," said one of Jwaala's first customers, Greg Varnell, chief operating officer of Trust Data Solutions, a CUSO of $548 million Texas Trust CU (www.texastrustcu.org) in Mansfield, Texas.
"MoneyTracker takes care of all that," Varnell said.
A dashboard-style display allows users to view and organize and report on their finances as would be expected from any PFM, but also includes some twists.
"You can do things like sort by how much you spent at Costco, for instance, using a natural language search that simply lets you type in something like 'Costco last seven months,'" Taylor said. "Add something like 'around $100' to the search and it will narrow that to transactions of around $100. It's pretty powerful."
His involvement with Jwaala and MoneyTracker was a natural progression for Taylor.
"I've always been a software guy with a marketing role," the startup's CTO said. "I did that for eight years with IBM, writing software on the marketing side of the business, and when I started my own business in 2003, we did the same thing doing security for enterprises.
"A lot of our customers were financial institutions and that's what got me into this whole world. It drove me nuts, personally, that online banking was really just a real-time statement, an online statement every day, and it could be so much more.
"My partner saw that, too, and we wanted to tackle that."
Thus was born Jwaala, a concept that Taylor and his partner was shopping around in late 2006 when they visited Amplify FCU.
"We didn't start out as a CUSO," he said. "But Amplify latched onto it in an aggressive way, and after talking to them we decided to 'CUS-ify' and now they're a part owner of Jwaala."
Uptake has been quick with eight new credit union clients in the past five months, Taylor said, and his staff has been busy integrating and launching their services.
On the back side, Jwaala uses DirectConnect OFX and WebConnect OFX for downloads, and has integrations with major players such as Bank of America, Washington Mutual and CashEdge to help with account aggregation. On the core processing side, MoneyTracker supports credit union and bank systems from Symitar, UltraData, Phoenix, XP Systems and Open Solutions.
In fact, Texas Trust hooked up with Jwaala in a conversation about Symitar in the first place.
"Andrew called my cell phone one afternoon and we had an hour-and-a-half conversation about how Money-Tracker could integrate with the Symitar MemberConnect Web product," Varnell said.
"So, we took on that integration with another credit union, Air Force FCU in San Antonio, and rolled it out to our membership as soon as we could. We don't charge for it, and we already have about 10% of our online banking base using it, about 1,000 members," he said.
Taylor said Jwaala provides the financial institution with all the code necessary for integration--"at least from the Symitar standpoint"--as well as headers and footers that can be color customized. At the other end, "we can make the entire source code available to a credit union and they can use it as a platform to build their own capabilities," he said.
"We've had a couple credit unions take us up on that and their in-house developers have come up with quite a powerful way to put features in front of their members," the Jwaala CFO said.
The customization also includes the ability to target marketing messages, such as only to people who have a 529 plan or have a credit card limit over a specified amount.
In addition to tracking personal finances, the MoneyTracker solution includes an electronic vault system that allows members to scan and store documents such as Social Security cards and birth certificates.
Going forward, the company also is working with its first customer to add the ability to handle investment data, Taylor said.
The system is an in-house solution that can be integrated in as little as three or four days, Taylor said. He said the cost to credit unions can range from $12,000 a year for smaller institutions to "the upper 20s for $4 billion to $8 billion institutions."
"It's pretty reasonable and there are not really any other options available like this," he said.