PFM: The New New Year’s Resolution

NetBanker notes that for personal financial management (PFM) sites:

Total September traffic was 1.2 million unique visitors compared to less than 400,000 a year ago. The big three newcomers last year: Mint, Wesabe, and Geezeo saw combined traffic increase by 450,000 users, up nearly three-fold increase from 2007. Geezeo was the star percentage-wise growing more than six-fold. But Mint accounted for three-fourths of the net gain across the existing players with 330,000 more visitors.”

My take: It used to be that come the end of December, we’d make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, stop smoking, etc. The increasing PFM traffic is a reflection of a new resolution to add to the list: Get one’s finances in order (or maybe start budgeting, or something like that).

OK, maybe this isn’t a truly new resolution for some people. But the number of sites that offer PFM functionality is growing, and there’s a confluence of forces coming together to make the firms offering these tools feel like this is their time: 1) the economy sucks; 2) entering account data into the PFM tools is less labor-intensive than in the past; and 3) Gen Yers are coming of age.

The combination of these forces is bringing us the new year a few months early — at least as far as making the PFM resolution is concerned.

Will the online traffic for the PFM continue to see strong growth? Sure. While the number are strong, there are still plenty of people who have yet to make their PFM resolution.

But as I’ve implied in a previous post, raw site traffic is a deceiving measure. The real key to this market is how many people keep to their resolution.

Over time, factor #1 will have a seesaw impact on this market. As the economy improves (which it will, it’s just a matter of when), people will feel less pressure to watch every penny — and be less inclined to use PFM tools.

The impact of factor #2 has a short-term effect. Ease of data entry (through account aggregation) makes it easy for people to start using the tool, but I believe that the gee-whiz impact of graphing and charting everything to death will wear off for many people, leading to diminished use.

Factor #3 is the key to success for the PFM market. Gen Yers display a much stronger desire to manage their finances than Boomers or Seniors did at that age. And research from one of the analyst firms found that a suprisingly high percentage of Gen Yers are already saving for retirement — something a lot few Boomers did at that age.

In the end, the winners in this space will be the ones that help the greatest number of people keep their PFM resolution. Not necessarily the ones with highest site traffic.

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