Over the last couple of days, an interesting debate has surfaced on why exactly consumers have not taken to PFM. American Banker was in on this discussion with a compelling article published yesterday entitled, “Banks and the PFM Delusion,” as was Jim Marous, who posted on PFM on Bank Innovation here.
The only problem is the Banker neglected to highlight the most glaring problem with bank PFM today: the data is lacking.
The American Banker article highlighted the problem with PFM as follows:
This spring, research firm Celent reported that only 4 percent of online banking customers at the top 50 banks are active PFM users. And in a September survey of more than 1,100 U.S. consumers, Aite found that only 27 percent use PFM from any host, be it their own institution or a third-party site like Mint.com.
These are not good numbers, folks. It is clear that PFM should be a — if not the – central PF tool for consumers. PFM is data aggregation in full and, as we all know, personal finance is largely a data-centric endeavor, or at least it should be.
So what is going on here? Why are consumers not taking to PFM?
This was one reason suggested in the article:
The problem, Aite research analyst Ron Shevlin says, is not a lack of promotion by banks to spark their customers’ interest. Instead, it’s a lack of recognition in the industry of what users want PFM to do for them.
“Why so few consumers use this tool is that so few are engaged or active in the management of their financial life,” says Shevlin. “Eighty percent of people don’t do budgeting. These are the people who aren’t the Quicken junkies.”
And as evidence of the dislocation in PFM, American Banker pointed out that when a few major financial institutions gathered to discuss PFM recently, “none of them agreed on what aspects of financial management should be part of PFM offerings.”
Are capabilities like budgeting and spending analysis enough? Or will PFM only gain traction when it becomes a factor in financial decision-making, through services such as real-time price comparisons or customized loan-rate appraisals?
These were rhetorical questions, but are they on point? Will more — and by “more” I include myself — consumers use PFM if, say, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo agree on the capabilities that should be included in PFM? Additionally, as Ron argues, is this lack of adoption really just a function of consumers “who aren’t the Quicken junkies”?
I’m not buying it. To me, the problem is the data. As many readers of this blog know, I bank at Citibank (and, of course, I have no idea why — I’m an “inertia” customer). Citi added Yodlee’s PFM platform late last year. While I am on citibank.com often — I make perhaps one (reluctant) trip to a bank branch per year — I would estimate that I have looked at the PFM app three times since it went live. Why? Because it doesn’t tell me anything. It relays the data in my Citibank account, but does not even include the data from a Citibank credit card I hold, never mind include data from beyond Citibank’s walls. Oh, I have a Mint account, and a PageOnce account, too, but Mint cannot facilitate transactions and PageOnce is not my bank, so it has limitations.
In short, either the data in lacking, as is the case with Citi’s PFM, or the functionality is lacking, as is the case with the non-bank service providers. You want people to use PFM? Make the data extensible. PFM must tell the full data story, not just the data story from one financial institution. Until it does, only 27% of American consumers will find it “useful.”