Helping members manage their money with personal financial management tools is a win-win move for credit unions and members. Add a mobile alert feature that keeps members on top of their spending 24/7, and they may be even more likely to improve their habits.
That’s the premise of Vancouver, British Columbia-based software company Pennyminder’s Cashbook, a personal financial management tool that interfaces with credit unions’ core banking systems and sends alerts to members’ mobile devices, keeping them informed of where their budgets stand at all times.
So far, one credit union, Mount Lehman Credit Union in Mount Lehman, British Columbia, has implemented Cashbook. Pennyminder is in talks with several other British Columbia-based credit unions to get the tool off the ground, according to Pennyminder Founder Vince Hodges.
Here’s how it works: members log into the Cashbook platform through their credit union’s website, where they can customize monthly budgets in different spending categories such as food, entertainment and transportation. Then, they can set up desired text and email alerts and receive messages on their mobile devices immediately following purchases. For example, Hodges explained, if a member allots $100 a month for coffee and makes a coffee purchase that brings his total coffee purchases for that month to $88.90, he’ll receive a text message stating he has $11.10 left in his monthly coffee budget.
“Cashbook is a simple tool that’s largely automated and doesn’t require much effort from members to use,” Hodges said. “It works with today’s devices, meaning it’s something that members will actually use. It helps them understand their finances better so they can make better choices about how they spend their money.”
Hodges named three features as key selling points for Cashbook. First, its real time core banking system interface allows transactions to register as soon as they’re posted to members’ accounts, eliminating the need to wait for overnight batch updates.
Second, to ensure data security, the tool utilizes the OAuth2 protocol as its user authentication method, which means sensitive login credentials are never sent to Cashbook or another third party, where they can be compromised, Hodges said. Pennyminder developed an open source service called Juno, through which credit union clients can host an OAuth2 service. Hodges said personally identifiable information is never sent to Cashbook. Instead, a token is used to identify users and transactions are recorded against that token.
Third, since Pennyminder touts Cashbook as the first in a suite of products, it gives credit unions the opportunity to grow their offerings over time, Hodges said. “What’s most interesting for us is the fact that when credit unions implement Cashbook, they get much more than a PFM,” Hodges said. “They get a platform for easily building and deploying other apps, and we’re excited about the possibilities that such a platform enables.”
Dawn Collins, project manager and loan officer for Mount Lehman, said her credit union first learned of Pennyminder during a meeting with Hodges at the BarCamp Seattle technology conference in 2008. The credit union recently implemented Cashbook, which they’re branding as MemberTrak, and spread the word about it in a newsletter article and through in-branch advertising.
Aside from allowing members to determine budgets and keep track of their spending via instant, mobile alerts, Collins said MemberTrak lets them view their monthly spending trends, manually add expenses and deposits for cash transactions, and import statements from their other financial institution accounts. Mount Lehman likes the fact that the tool promotes member engagement, helps increase member awareness of spending patterns and may lead them to change their spending behaviors for the better, she added.
“Mount Lehman CU and Pennyminder both feel strongly about helping people understand their money,” Hodges said. “We think members with more information can make smarter choices and avoid financial difficulty. Time will tell, but we think this will help reduce defaults on loans, saving the credit union money and time.”
While Hodges said PFM tools are still new enough to give credit unions a competitive edge just for offering them, he believes Cashbook and Pennyminder’s subsequent products will position credit unions as competitive players well into the future.
“In the longer term, given that the competitive landscape has grown to include tech startups like Mint and Simple, we believe that using technology as a competitive advantage is a good approach,” Hodges said. “The investment Cashbook requires pays for itself by providing a good platform for building new products and services in less time and for less money, allowing credit unions to be agile and remain competitive.”