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Finovate wrap-up: Mobile, incentives & seals of approval

Consumer Reports News: September 21, 2011 06:08 PM

If many of the presenters at Finovate Fall gain the attention of financial institutions, you can soon expect to do virtually any financial transaction—transferring money, redeeming rewards, applying for credit, and of course, buying stuff—through your mobile phone. That theme isn't new, but it took on novel iterations at the financial-services conference, held today and yesterday in New York.

A company called oFlows offers consumers the opportunity to open a new bank account or apply for a loan anywhere, using an iPad or Android tablet. "Grip," a product introduced by T8 Webware, lets you photograph a paper receipt at point of sale, and immediately add that transaction to a ledger entry to be used in your personal bookkeeping. CashStar lets a consumer send a gift or incentive—translation: coupon—directly to a friend's mobile phone; the app then locates where in the area the recipient can redeem that gift.

Other themes on view at Finovate:

Tools to incentivize—and monitor—consumers. The success of local-deal businesses like Groupon has spurred a number of new ventures that target coupons or rewards to consumers fitting niche demographics. Once those consumers take the bait, the software collects ever more information to help create even more targeted marketing. Swipely, for example, is described by Angus David, CEO, as a "loyalty program for Main Street." You the consumer get a message about point-of-sale discounts plus rewards points at local establishments; you can then load those incentives onto any card you've registered with the Swipely site. Once consumers start to use the incentives, merchants can monitor in detail whether the cash-back offer is making them money. In Swipely's demonstration, the report to the merchant showed not only only key information such as how often consumers visited and how much they spent, but their photographs as well. Hmmm.

Consumer-focused personal-finance tools. Planwise, which will launch in public beta shortly, is designed to show in very simple graphics how your spending, savings and borrowing decisions today affect your future financial state. It looks like the site will make money linking to potential lenders and other financial institutions. LearnVest, a two-year-old site meant for women between ages 20 and 60, offers an attractive portal that looks easy to use for money management. (CEO and Founder Alexa von Tobel says sponsored ads on the site aren't connected to content.) ReadyForZero offers a promising way to encourage consumers to pay down debt. Among other functions, it sends an e-mail or SMS notification to a consumer whenever his or her bank account receives a new deposit, recommending that a portion be used toward debt reduction. Rod Ebrahimi, co-founder and CEO, said regular users of the six-month-old site are paying down their debt twice as fast as more casual users.

Digital seals of approval. Two sites offered consumers and small businesspeople the equivalent of CR's red circle (in-house, we call it a "blob"). Credit Sesame's "Certified Badge" program authenticates a user's identity online and uses a number of criteria, including your credit score, to certify to vendors and lenders that you're financially responsible and trustworthy. MiiCard promises to certify to participants on eBay and other sites where you're likely to transact that you're truly who you say you are.

Tobie Stanger

   

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