The Customer Effect

10 years on: Once a first mover, Mint must work to stay relevant

  • Mint was an overnight success when it launched, but like its younger competitors now finds itself trying to keep up with users expectations for speed, security
  • Recent data sharing agreements could help with the friction around data accuracy and flow, but they introduce new competitors in data aggregators
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10 years on: Once a first mover, Mint must work to stay relevant

Mint was an instant hit when it launched 10 years ago. It came out of nowhere, making something boring but important like budgeting kind of fun. It was easy to use, and best of all, it was free.

It was so full of promise it exceeded its new user acquisition goal of 100,000 in the first six months — by 10 times that. Two years in, it hit 1.5 million and was sold to the data aggregator Intuit for $170 million. It hasn’t had much in the way of competition — until now.

Mint today is a mobile app working to stay relevant in a sea of similar personal financial management (PFM) apps, such as Moven, Clarity and Penny. The popularity of such apps has increased over the last two or three years and will probably continue to do so with the rise of digital assistants like Siri or Alexa, automated savings and investment apps and an overall financial services shift toward customer self-service and control over their money.

Mint still stands out from the crowd, but it hasn’t been able to attract new users like it used to, said Stephen Greer, an analyst in consulting firm Celent’s banking practice. People who like managing and tracking their money carefully tend to check their accounts more frequently today than they did 10 years ago which is running Mint into the same wall blocking all PFM apps: getting secure real time data feeds from the financial institution.

“For a while, Mint was the best on the market because it was the only one on the market,” he said. “It did a good job for a while but the biggest issue for Mint, and one reason it’s gone downhill, has always been the aggregation piece. If the site isn’t accurately reflecting your spending – if it’s not live, it’s not real time, you see discrepancies – you’re most likely not going to use that service.”

Mint now has more than 20 million customers, according to an April 2016 blog post. It hit 10 million users around Aug. 2012. Mint did not provide growth figures over the last 10 years by deadline.

That friction also creates a sort of set-it-and-forget-it mentality, said Tiffani Montez, a senior analyst with Aite Group.

“One of the challenges is [PFM] is like a shiny toy,” she said. “If you try to combat the set-it-and-forget-it mentality you have to be able to provide some additional value that deepens the relationship.”

That may require a smoother flow of customer data between the customer’s bank and PFM app, like the ones Intuit just won from Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase. Earlier this year it reached deals with both banks that should theoretically help reduce some of the friction around data sharing. According to the agreement, Chase customers can authorize the bank to share their data electronically with Intuit’s apps: Mint, TurboTax and QuickBooks. Before, customers would give third parties their online banking passwords so they could log in and import customer account information.

Many banks have claimed that common practice compromises cybersecurity and in 2015 several of them, including JPMorgan, temporarily suspended customer data access to third-party data aggregators like Intuit.

However, how much data gets shared is unclear, Greer noted. The banks can probably share basic transactional information like how much money a customer spent in a given period or the current account balance, but might not reveal how much interest a customer is being charged on a credit card or what kinds of fees he or she is paying.

Mint said while it’s always been good at tracking and insights, it is now focusing on moving into transacting on users’ behalf, beginning with its bill pay functionality.

“In the past you got that insight but you had to take action yourself,” said Kevin Kirn, head of product for Mint. “Bill pay is just the beginning of that journey from insight to action. All our teams are looking for ways to connect that action experience through Mint.”

Perhaps the data sharing agreements will help Mint in creating more and more action experiences, but Greer is skeptical.

“Opacity is in their best interest and withholding a lot of that data works in the financial institution’s best interest,” Greer said. “My curiosity is in how much information they’re actually getting through this ‘direct connection’ and what that entails. My skepticism is around how much value that provides. I’m willing to say its not as much as it could be.”

That’s because even with the agreement, Mint is a direct-to-consumer product. Today there are plenty of companies that sell their PFM solutions to the banks themselves, aggregators like Yodlee, MX and Plaid that provide more value to the bank than Mint does. Mint makes money off its consumer business. When it comes to advice, it makes recommendations in customers’ best interest – and not necessarily in the best interest of the banks.

About a year ago Intuit shut down its financial services aggregation services, probably so it could access a market of direct connections – like those with JPM and Wells – and direct links to feed its specific services, like Mint.

“There’s just more value they can provide,” Greer said of the MXs, Yodlees and other direct-access data aggregators and infrastructure providers. “Mint hasn’t provided a whole lot of value to institutions and banks don’t want to play that game. They’d rather cut off the aggregator from getting data on consumers so the service will buffer – that’s essentially what’s happened.”

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