Why Wesabe Matters

I realize that I’m a little late in commenting on Wesabe, the money management community (?), which launched this past November, but…

It’s a shame that most banks will ignore this site. A former colleague of mine said “…interesting concept, but I don’t see how they make it into anything real.”

Reading about Wesabe reminded me of a report I wrote in December 2000 when I was at Forrester called “Personalizing Financial Services”, in which I said:

[Financial] firms will create a virtuous cycle of trust with customers through: 1) Preemptive customer service: Fulfilling service needs before customers ask for them; 2) Peer comparisons: Showing how customers how they compare with their peers; and 3) Contextualized advice: Explaining the differences between consumers, and offering advice that leads to a decision.”

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Bank marketers that ignore Wesabe are missing the bigger picture. Account aggregation hasn’t taken off because its benefits are skewed toward the firm — not the customer. Yodlee promised firms the ability to target customers with relevant marketing messages. Tell me again how that benefits the customer?

Wesabe’s value proposition rebalances that. While social media proponents talk about the community-building aspects of this new movement, the Cranky in me says that it’s still about me. Letting my voice be heard, validating my opinion. Wesabe holds out the promise to help consumers validate their financial decisions based on what other people like them are doing (sounds a lot like what Amazon’s been doing for nearly 10 years, no?).

What’s sad is that established financial firms already have the data to do what Wesabe plans to do. But they don’t spend their money to build the capabilities to do it, because they don’t see the direct ROI. That’s simply short-sighted.

Here’s my prediction: If Wesabe is successful at signing up (and engaging) a critical mass of customers, it will make more money from selling its data than through subscription fees. WAIT — DON’T CLICK AWAY. I’m not talking about selling personal information about their customers. I’m talking about selling macro-level behavioral data back to the FIs and other firms.

If successful, Wesabe holds out the promise of becoming a virtual market research laboratory on consumer’s financial behavior. Understanding how consumers react to advice, changes in rates, special offers, etc.

Yodlee might have been able to do this, but it’s business model isn’t going in that direction. And neither are too many financial firms.

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