The Customer Effect

How Credit Karma is using data to become a central finance hub

  • Credit Karma wants to build trust with customers through a chatbot
  • The chatbot will build a stronger connection to customers and provide an additional source of data for its product-recommendation engine
How Credit Karma is using data to become a central finance hub

Credit Karma wants to position itself as the only place to go for all things financial — not merely a way to check credit scores. It wants to become the financial nerve center for customers who want advice on what products would suit them based on their credit profiles. It’s not a bank, but it uses customer data to help banks find customers.

Currently valued at $4 billion, Credit Karma has 80 million customers — half of whom are millennials. The company joins a growing number of financial startups like Clarity Money, SoFi, Chime and Varo Money that are aiming to become one-stop shops for customers’ finances. The field is growing increasingly competitive. Meanwhile, banks are bundling personal finance advice into their mobile apps. But Credit Karma has two advantages its competitors often struggle with — scale and data — and it’s using a chatbot to lock in the relationship with the customer.

“Their whole business model is about data,” said Celent analyst Stephen Greer. “[The chatbot] seems a way to get a view on customers’ finances and get more data to power better insights and better product offerings; if they can increase click-through rates and success rates, it makes sense for them.”

The San Francisco-based company acquired personal finance startup Penny in March. Credit Karma uses customers’ financial data to offer targeted product recommendations, including credit cards, auto loans, student loans, mortgages and business loans. The company offers free tax preparation software and tools to monitor customers’ digital financial identities and manage their vehicle information. Credit Karma hopes the chatbot technology from Penny will help it engage customers about their finances in a new way and get a better sense of how they interact with their money.

“It’s hard to deliver empathy with the user interface we have today,” said Anish Acharya, vp of product management at Credit Karma. “Penny will guide [customers] through complex financial decisions like retirement and through their hopes and dreams; Penny can deliver on the nuances, as discussions about personal finance can get emotional.”

The company did not disclose the terms of the deal, but the five-member team of engineers at Penny will join Credit Karma this month, according to Penny co-founder Mitchell Lee. Though Credit Karma’s product-recommendation engine generates revenue from referral fees, interactions with the chatbot won’t always be designed to circle back to a product; Penny will be offering financial insights and advice to build trust with the customer.

“It’s in our members’ — as well as our own — best interest to help customers over the long term rather than drive a conversion every session,” Acharya said.

Penny, a Y Combinator-backed startup founded three years ago, tracks customers’ spending and provides insights through a conversational interface. It will shut down as a standalone app in June.

penny
Credit Karma reportedly earned $500 million in revenue in 2016 and has been growing “at a double digit pace” since then. It launched in 2008 as an online service where customers could check credit scores, and it has slowly grown its offerings. The company last week announced that private equity firm Silver Lake made a $500 million strategic secondary investment. Penny is the company’s fourth acquisition in three years, which includes notification center SnowBall, tax preparation service OnePriceTaxes and ClaimDog, a platform to help customers get unclaimed money from their state.

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