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How Wells Fargo is letting customers take back control of their financial data

  • Next year Wells Fargo customers will be able to view their financial digital footprint in their mobile banking app and control where their information is used
  • Wells Fargo's latest move in the crusade to give customers control of their data signals the overall industry shift to building emotional loyalty by offering customers' choice of how they use their money
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How Wells Fargo is letting customers take back control of their financial data

People store card information in a lot of places. Netflix, Spotify, Uber; various apps for their favorite workout, lunch, shopping apps. There’s sensitive financial data flying all around us; it’s the risk people take in exchange for convenience.

Now, Wells Fargo is rolling out a tool that lets customers keep track of it all, an aptly named “Control Tower,” within its mobile banking app that gives them a single view of their digital financial footprint — which includes recurring payments, third parties, mobile wallets, subscriptions, different devices where they’re signed into their banking account — and lets them turn on or off the sharing of their bank account information.

For the bank, it’s about meeting customer expectations, which have evolved. People pay for things and manage their financial lives with other non-bank financial services providers just because they like them (and they’re usually free). Instead of trying to retain customers by replicating those other offerings — which is unrealistic for an institution of Wells Fargo’s size and scale — or somehow preventing customers from buying into their allure, Wells is letting them go about their financial lives as they like and incentivizing them to at least come home at the end of the day for dinner.

The bank is piloting the product with employees later this year and plans to launch it for customers in 2018.

Through a number of moves over the last year, Wells Fargo has positioned itself as leader of the crusade to give customers control over their financial data and how it’s used, but none so pronounced as the introduction of the Control Tower. Ben Soccorsy, head of digital payments product management at Wells Fargo, called it a new type of interaction model for customers — one based on control and trust.

“There are fintechs and other types of companies that can deliver pieces of this already,” Soccorsy said. “It’s not those pieces or the inherent technology that are new, it’s this new way of putting it together in a way that delivers new value to the customer. It’s not just data sharing here and turning your debit card on or off there, device management there. It’s one place.”

That customers expect self-service — ATM withdrawals and deposits, online bill pay, mobile money transfers — from their bank is perhaps the most visible way technology has changed banking. The Control Tower takes that a step further. Giving customers control over how their data is used is the holy grail of digital identity, and the bank has been taking steps toward that goal over the past year by signing agreements with Xero, Intuit — owner of QuickBooks, TurboTax and Mint — and Finicity that allow it to share customer data with the third party using application programming interfaces.

The Control Tower will be rolled out in stages as the bank pursues similar agreements with more third parties; they need to connect with the bank through an API in order for the customer to get the full benefits of the offering, Wells CEO Tim Sloan said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen last week. That implies Wells Fargo is about to get pretty aggressive in its partnering strategy.

The first ambition of these arrangements is to move away from the commonly used screen-scraping method — where the third party “scrapes” the necessary information when customers log in with their bank credentials and hold onto it for future use. Wells has also been speaking out about the need for banks to take a stand against screen-scraping by creating industry standards for data exchange.

Beyond data security, the move by Wells is a sign of the industry’s new willingness to break down their silos and partner or collaborate with third party providers and in some cases products that could be considered competitors, like Apple Pay — all in the name of offering customers choice and developing emotional loyalty.

“We want our customers to have their financial relationship with Wells Fargo. If you want to use another payments provider because that’s your choice, that’s fine, as long as you come back to Wells Fargo,” Sloan said. “We want to offer our customers convenience as long as, ultimately, they come home.”

That’s similar to what JPMorgan Chase said when it announced its data sharing agreement with Finicity two weeks ago.

“Our customers really want to use these financial apps and they do use them a lot,” Trish Wexler, a JPMorgan spokeswoman, said at the time. “We want them to find a safe, secure and private way for them to be able to do that without having to hand over their bank password.”

How personal financial management apps like Moven, Clarity or even old timers like Intuit’s Mint survive in a world where all banks can show customers their entire financial snapshot beyond just their bank accounts is unclear. It’s too early to say, but there’s probably room for both types to exist, Wells Fargo’s Soccorsy said. Of course, the startups also provide a lot of inspiration.

“It’s a good thing we have companies out there looking at creative and innovative ways to help customers be more financially successful. They do it in a way that’s focused on probably one use case, one type of problem, one very specific need a customer has,” he said. “Our company has learned that they’ve been successful in doing that in pieces and parts; we are putting it together in more comprehensive ways.”

That’s one of the reasons innovation appears more difficult to execute at banks than at startups. Small announcements like credit card toggling and direct fraud alerts seem insignificant when they land in customers’ inboxes, but banks are often working to solve broader problems before customers even realize they’re problems. Whether Wells customers begin to care about who has their financial data and how it’s being used once they have the ability to control it remains to be seen.

“That’s part of the role we play. Control is about making you feel comfortable and it comes back to trust,” Soccorsy said. “Our company wants to build trust everyday with customers. This is a forward looking opportunity to do that, recognizing that customers aren’t asking for it by name today.”

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