NORTH HIGHLANDS, Calif. -- Getting right in a member's face with a graphic look at his or her financial realities might seem a bit counterintuitive for building brand loyalty, but that's a key element of the personal financial management solution now deployed at SAFE Credit Union.
The big California CU is an early adopter of FinanceWorks, the home banking version of Quicken now being pushed out by Digital Insight and its corporate owner, Intuit Inc.
One of the key features are pie charts showing money in, money out and where you spend it, and they appear front and center--freshly updated--each time the online banking site is called up by the member.
"The big question is, 'am I living within my means? Next is where am I spending my money? And after that it's how can I save more?' All that information, along with showing opportunities where to make different spending choices, is right there every time," said Glenn Tom, senior vice president of the consumer segment at Digital Insight.
"Those using online banking today are typically doing it for simple purposes: checking balances and seeing if transactions have cleared," Tom added. "In our observation, in this tough environment, folks have a need to go beyond that.
"We want to help them fully understand their personal financial situation, find ways to have actionable information about it and really be in a position to manage their cash flow more effectively."
Taking aggregation to the next level, FinanceWorks allows members to manage accounts across more than 5,000 financial institutions and credit card sites, organizes bills in a kind of cyberstack to make them easy to understand and pay on time, and get a clear view of cash flow, past and future, the company said.
Since it was first announced not long after Intuit bought Digital Insight, the company has touted research as key to the product's development, including thousands of sit-down sessions with consumers at their screens, including at SAFE CU.
And while FinanceWorks contains features for categorizing areas of spending--down to things such as how much one spends on coffee at Starbucks--putting that together in those charts and right in the members' view each time they log-in can be a jolt.
"When we went and sat down with people, for some of them it was the very first time they had seen all their debt at once. For some it was a significant amount," said Tarrah Palomino-Prim, SAFE CU's Web services manager.
She said she particularly remembers "one member who was really shocked, but once she got over it,she felt empowered to do something about it," Palomino-Prim said.
The service is offered gratis to all online bankers at $1.3 billion SAFE CU, although they have to sign up for it. About 100 people a day have signed up since the soft launch in late September. So far the only advertising has been banners on the Web site at www.safecu.org with the real marketing push to begin in early 2009, said David Pope, senior vice president at $1.3 billion SAFE.
Digital Insight said about 70 of its 1,600 retail financial institution clients have committed to FinanceWorks so far, with "hundreds of active conversations going on with other interested clients," said Tom, the Digital Insight SVP.
"One of the reasons DI and Intuit came together in the first place was to deliver this kind of functionality," added Tobin Lee, a company veteran who's now senior manager of corporate communications for Intuit.
Far from shying away from being a guinea pig, SAFE--a DI client since 1999--felt so strongly about the project that it made being an early adopter part of its recent contract renewal, Pope said.
"We really feel the whole personal financial management world needs to be a part of home banking," Pope
said. "And, coincidentally, right now more than ever, our members, like about everyone else in this country, need access to easy-to-use tools to really understand and help manage their day-to-day finances."
Digital Insight is now offering FinanceWorks to all financial institutions, not just its client base and plans to add a small business version in December, Tom said. Meanwhile, Lee said, "from a technical perspective, some of our client credit unions and banks want to do phased rollouts, but our recommendation is they provide it to everybody."
Digital Insight provides templates, best practices, staff training and is working to help credit unions raise awareness the solution, he said.
"We've just had phenomenal feedback on this, and most people are surprised that we are offering it for free," said Palomino-Prim.
"Our mantra here is that we want our members to keep more of what they earn, and this touches the essence of that to a great extent," she said.
The personal finance manager service also is seen as a key to the overall growth of the online channel overall at SAFE.
"We don't have a big ROI on this, really, but in the overall big picture of things, it's not that expensive. But Tarrah does have increased goals and expectations for next year and FinanceWorks is her linchpin for increasing online bill pay, active online banking users, sales of new deposit products and new membership goals," said Pope.
"All those goals are being increased next year, in all those areas, and the expectation is that FinanceWorks is going to be the linchpin of our advertising and all our efforts to get people to use this channel," he said.