‘Couch to 5k for savings’: Why Fifth Third acquired personal finance app Dobot

  • Fifth Third has invested and partnered with leading fintech firms.
  • With the purchase of Dobot, it's the first time it went the acquisition route.

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‘Couch to 5k for savings’: Why Fifth Third acquired personal finance app Dobot

Fifth Third Bank is relaunching Dobot, a personal finance app it acquired in early 2018. Dobot enables people to automate their savings to achieve specific financial goals, like a child’s education or a vacation.

To work with Dobot, a user sets a specific goal, uploads a motivating image, and sets a deadline. The app uses a personalized algorithm to automate savings by analyzing a user’s cash flow to find opportunities to sweep extra money into a savings account. As money rolls into savings, dots representing dollars appear within the UI of the app and users can move them around using the phone’s accelerometer.

Early user research conducted by the Dobot team focused on discovering the right UI/UX to help users reach their goals. This lead to numerous discussions with millennials about their financial lives. When presented with the option, millennials found it much easier to spend than to save.

According to Andy Zurcher, Fifth Third’s senior vice president of product for Dobot, users were looking for a ‘money jail’ — a way to put money away in savings and not touch it.

A second takeaway from user research was the need to engage people more emotionally in their outcomes. “We recognized that if you are emotionally connected to your goal, you are more likely to achieve it,” said Zurcher.  “So we added the goal element to Dobot’s UI. A dream trip, a 16th birthday present — if I have to tap into that picture before I open my wallet, then I’m less likely to spend money and not save.”

Dobot uses text messages to communicate with its users. Once a week Dobot sends out a short form ‘Tuesday Tip’. When the app finds an opportunity to save money towards a goal, it notifies users over text and a user can simply text back ‘apply’ to move money into savings.

“We want to change the relationship users have with their banks,” said Zurcher. “We want users to communicate with us the same way you would chat with a friend.”

Fifth Third’s own user research showed that its clients suffered under a massive student debt burden. For many people, this stress prevented them from saving money. Fifth Third began thinking about developing its own personal finance app to gently nudge people towards setting long term goals.

“How do we make savings feel small and achievable for our clients?” said Melissa Stevens, Fifth Third’s chief digital officer. “It’s almost like we needed to create Couch to 5k for savings.”

Fifth Third employs a “build, partner, or buy” innovation strategy. After meeting the Dobot team at a conference, the Cincinnati-based bank decided to go with the latter and acquire the firm . The firm has invested over $100 million in fintech firms and rolled out a variety of partnerships. But this would be the first time it had outright acquired a company, team, and technology.

“We started looking for a solution through the lens of building it ourselves,” said Stevens. “We met the cofounders of Dobot and what we loved about them was that we shared the same philosophy about helping all generations across all levels of wealth improve their finances.”

Going forward, the bank believes the Dobot relaunch is just the beginning of the technology rollout. “Is there customer value in simple, easy to use pics and small dopamine hits to remind me not to spend money on things i don’t need? Dobot absolutely hits on customer value and technical feasibility,” said Stevens.

Stevens wouldn’t share Fifth Third’s specific plans for Dobot’s future, but she did allude to a few use cases. The bank has helped its clients pay down $1.5 million in student loan debt and Dobot could help users decide between adding money to savings versus paying down debt. She could also envision Dobot providing the connective tissue between a user’s personal finances and Fifth Third’s OptiFi robo-adviser that launched in 2018.

“At the end of the day, our customers have a problem and they need a solution,” said Stevens. “We think about what problems we can solve — whether it’s savings, investing, or moving money. When we can really get down to the job to be done, we can advance the emotional certainty and security to ensure our customers have the best choices.”

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