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‘We’re going to go where we need to go to solve the customer problem’: Inside Mint’s renewed push into personal finance

  • Mint was a pioneering personal finance app that faded to the background over the years.
  • After years of learning, corporate owner Intuit is out with a new update and strategy to expand beyond the firm's 25 million users.
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‘We’re going to go where we need to go to solve the customer problem’: Inside Mint’s renewed push into personal finance

As a pioneer in personal financial management, Mint was a star. But after getting acquired by Intuit in 2009, Mint kind of dropped out of the public eye. Years passed and so many new PFM apps and challenger banks have entered the market.

But Mint is back with a new ethos for addressing the challenge of helping consumers with their cash flow. Mint no longer stands alone as a consumer offering at Intuit, a firm with deep roots into serving small businesses. Intuit bought personal finance leader CreditKarma last year, giving Mint more of a home and strategy at the firm.

Intuit’s head of consumer finance Varun Krishna joins me on the podcast to discuss where Mint has come from and where it’s taking its 25 million users in the future with a new product update and renewed push to help individuals manage their money.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

From business to consumer

Simply put, our vision at the end of the day is to create financial freedom for all consumers. That is the overall vision for our consumer division. We started to get more serious about our investment in consumer when I started. Our DNA as a company has been very much focused on bookkeeping and small business, as well as tax.

And then more recently, we have really made a big investment in building out our personal finance strategy, vision and organization, because we see a major opportunity to do more for consumers. We see how much pain there is when it comes to debt, when it comes to financial habits, when it comes to emergency savings.

We think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to be an advocate for consumers.

Mint’s evolution

I want to acknowledge that over the past several years, we’ve had a lot of different strategies and teams and organizations that have been focused on Mint. And we’ve tried to do a lot of different things. More recently, we basically have a new leadership team that is overseeing the direction of Mint. We brought in an influx of talent into the organization that has burst in the space.

The big thing that we realized is that Mint is an incredibly powerful product. It was kind of the originator in the space. But it also has a great brand, and it has a very loyal following of users that are incredibly engaged. We wanted to capitalize on that, and take the product to a different level.

Product updates

So we’ve been working hard over the past year on a major update to the Mint product experience that we launched in January that we called internally, Project Mercury. And in this, we did a couple things. We obviously addressed some of the biggest requests that we’ve heard from our loyal Mint users — things like how we show net worth, how we show spending over time, better ways to view your spending month over month.

In building this update, we made sure that we really listened to our customers. We were very careful about not doing things to disrupt the aspects of the product that customers really, really liked. And that was a really good learning experience for us.

We have the iOS product in market right now and customers are loving it. They love the fact that we now have fullscreen data visualization. We’ve made it easier for them to get access to what we called MintSights, which are basically data driven insights that are built into the product. We’ve added the ability to bulk edit and improve categorization,. We’ve added a new tab that allows you to access all of your spending trends and budgets with just one tap instead of a long scroll. We’ve improved usability. We also have support for things like crypto aggregators. We’ve added automated subscription tracking.

This is really just a first step. I think you can expect that over the coming months, we’re going to continue to add more and more functionality and richer features to the experience and really build out that experience further. We’re putting the finishing touches on our Android platform as well, which is going to be launching soon.

Learning from the past for the future

Part of this is just the process of learning. On some level, I’m really grateful to all of the efforts that we’ve made in the past years because it really allowed us to learn around what problems we can go after, what works and what doesn’t work. The personal finance space is quite broad and it’s quite diverse. One thing that we realized is that there’s a big problem out there that really not a lot of players are really focused on: helping consumers with discretionary spending and habits.

One of the biggest challenges that consumers face when it comes to finances is just how they think about the consequences of the habits that they have around their money. For some people, when they have a certain amount of money in their bank account, they will spend that money, no matter how much it is. For others, they have natural human nature-type cognitive biases when it comes to things like short term versus long term needs –understanding the difference between a decision that they make now and what impact that decision may have on their future.

What we did this time around is we really honed in on that particular problem around spending: how do we help consumers unlock lasting money saving habits? How do we help them spend less than they make? And how do we actually help them spend smarter? For example, we’ve launched models to help predict and warn customers if they’re heading toward an overdraft. And in the first year of this launch, we saved our customers a million dollars.

We launched the capabilities to monitor subscriptions and bill repricings that customers may not be aware of. And in the first three months of the launch, we found $25 million in new subscriptions or price increases for almost three quarters of a million customers.

It is just really trying to understand how people spend money. What are the habits that they have focused on from a day to day or week to week perspective? And how can we actually help them with those particular habits in service to their goals? That’s become a dedicated focus for us and an area where there’s not a lot of other products out there that are really focused on helping consumers spend less. It’s also something that we think Mint is very naturally attuned toward, and it’s something that we think we can make a big impact.

Gamification and finance challenges

What’s also awesome is there’s an opportunity for us to really introduce things like gamification and really help consumers think about spending as a challenge, right? Like, can I can I take on a particular spending challenge this week or this month? Can I try to go into a no spend day? There’s lots of interesting ways that we think we can influence consumer behavior. That is an area that we’re really excited about focusing on.

Moving into consumer banking?

The way we look at the space is we’re going to go where we need to go to solve the customer problem. One of the great things about Intuit as a company is that we have a number of key capabilities that we’re investing in to build out our fintech platform as a company. So while I can’t share in detail exactly what we will and won’t do, I think a big part of our strategy is to continue to invest in growth.

So it’s one thing to intervene on behalf of the consumer, and say, hey, we think you should be spending less in this particular place or to provide an insight — we think we can go a step further. And obviously, it’s greater if you can actually just move the money on behalf of the consumer. And so the nice thing is we do have a number of capabilities as a company that allow us to basically do more in this space. And we also think that the combination of Mint and CreditKarma really becomes more of a powerful combination when you think about the breadth of all the things that we can do together.

There’s a set of key problems that exist for customers that we think we can help them with. On one end of the spectrum, there are things like high cost debt, where consumers get into the wrong kind of financing, they get a high interest credit card, they get a high interest mortgage — they end up having to deal with things like payday loans or pay advances. In that case, we want to focus on helping them with automation and artificial intelligence to reduce that debt by basically getting into lower cost interest situations. This is a problem space that we think companies like CreditKarma are perfectly suited to help with, because a big part of that is the DNA of what CreditKarma does so well.

The other thing that we think is interesting here is leveraging artificial intelligence, leveraging machine learning, and just automating the process, right? Instead of making customers understand compound interest and have to fill out complex forms, why don’t we just pre fill the data, make things one click, and just get you to a better debt situation without a lot of heavy lifting on your part?

In the middle, there’s this area that has to do with savings. There’s a lot of functionality and products out there that aren’t necessarily helping you with your particular situation, especially when you look at banking type products. One of the favorite things I like to point out is that there’s a reason why your bank doesn’t go out of their way to remind you that you’re going to overdraft your account when they probably know that you are. That’s because their business model is built around things like overdraft fees. We think that we have a moral obligation to create offerings that can actually help you with a different kind of checking account or a different kind of savings account, one that maybe is more similar to a product that has no fees, or that it has reminders and notifications that really try to help you avoid overdraft fees.

The third problem that we’re really focused on is just that day to day, habit forming: how do we help consumers build good financial habits? A big part of our strategy there is obviously connecting to their spending, but then also helping consumers protect themselves from themselves — whether it’s moving money or helping consumers sign up for spending challenges and things like that. And then just fundamentally educating them from a content and financial literacy perspective on how better habits basically will allow them to achieve their long term goals.

The Mint revenue model

Today, the Mint offering is free for customers. And it is the most functional personal finance app that’s out there. And we’re really proud of that because our monetization strategy allows us to deliver a highly functional product to customers that they engage with and that they enjoy.

Now, that being said, you know, we have a monetization model (we call it beyond user paid) where we offer financial products in our marketplace. If users are interested in a particular product, whether it’s a credit card, personal loan, or mortgage, they can shop for those financial products. And that’s been our only monetization strategy.

This coming year is going to be the first year where we’ll be testing into a couple of new areas. We’ve heard from many customers that they don’t like the ads. Many customers are saying, hey, I’d be happy to pay a small fee for a version of Mint that has no ads, that just allows me to focus on my finances. So we’re going to be testing some ideas there.

And we’re also testing into more advanced functionality, leveraging freemium type business models that we’ve learned from other offerings in the space. We’re also going to be testing things like services — offering financial advice, for example.

It’s still really early days, but this year, we are planning to experiment into some diversification strategies around monetization.

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