The 2016 Tradestreaming Awards winners: Online Banking

Online banking offerings are enjoying somewhat of a renaissance as incumbent financial players work hard to provide the functionality and experiences their customers expect.

The Tradestreaming Awards recognize the talent, energy, and vision that are required to create great digital financial products. The following are our inaugural winners in the online banking category.

Best Online Consumer Bank

Awarding the top online consumer bank or bank-like technology that touches customers, provides a rich and innovative user experience and has found a way to scale. Pure play digital banks and online arms of incumbent banks are both candidates.


WINNER: Chase Mobile Banking

JPMorgan Chase has done a great job of creating one of the best online banking apps by enlisting the help of top designers and technologists. The user-friendly Chase app gives clients of the bank access to bill pay, money transfer, account management, and check deposit.

Best Online Banking Tools

Awarding the best tools that complement online banking experiences, including personal finance managers, savings apps, and similar technologies.



RBS DigiDocs is the UK’s first omnichannel document solution. Customers of the bank don’t need to enter a branch to sign account docs. Instead, they can use DigiDocs to sign and return important paperwork. Internally, DigiDocs offers RBS a streamlined way to process their customers’ docs. 92% of RBS customers polled said they were “statisfied” or “very satisfied” with the solution.

Best New Entrant Into Online Banking

Awarding the most transformative and creative new offering in the online banking arena.



Digit is a fintech app that proactively monitors spending to find opportunities to squirrel money away to a savings account. After connecting to a user’s bank account, Digit saves a little bit of money every few days. Through an automated chat interface, users can transfer money out of their Digit accounts for spending on big ticket items.
Come join these award winners at our first Tradestreaming Money Conference as we explore the impact technology is having on big finance.

Top 10 fintech startups vying to be your next bank

top 10 banking apps

It’s very likely that the bank of the future is light on branches and heavy on technology. There are a variety of these new banking apps floating around. Only a few are traditional banks in the sense that they take insured deposits and operate with a banking license. Instead, they provide easy-to-use technology that people can use to access various banking functions directly via their smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

For the purpose of this list, we’ve included only standalone startups. A few of the early online banking movers, like Moven, Holvi, and Simple, have been acquired by more traditional banks and we didn’t list them. That’s not to say they’re not worth paying attention to — they definitely are. They just weren’t considered startups for the sake of this list.

Top 10 banking apps

1. Acorns
Getting underinvested people to save more isn’t a trivial feat. That’s because, as humans, we aren’t really wired to save for our future; We’re preprogrammed to ensure we’re well fed and satiated today. New banking apps like Acorns address our biology and make it really easy to round up our coffee bills, sending the remainder into an investment account.

You can preprogram the Acorns app to automatically sweep spare change from a mobile purchase into an Acorn account or do it manually by swiping a few cents at a time through the app.

The California company was founded in by the father and son duo, Jeff and Walter Cruttenden. Acorns has done a good job convincing investors of its app-centric banking model, raising over $60 million.

2. Atom Bank
The UK has proven to be a fine breeding ground for many of today’s top banking apps and Atom Bank is a good example of the work being done there. Upstart UK banks are called challenger banks, and Atom Bank was one of the first of its kind to launch a product into the market. It did so by first getting a banking license, so, while its initial app launched with just a savings account, the firm will eventually roll out full banking functionality, including current accounts, overdraft, debit/credit cards, and mortgages.

Spain’s BBVA, which also owns Simple, led a 2015 funding round that totaled $128 million. Atom Bank has an executive roster that’s primed to disrupt traditional banking services: Founder Anthony Thomson was the co-founder of Metro Bank, a low cost financial services firm in the UK and CEO Mark Mullen previously headed HSBC’s telephone/online-only bank, first direct.


sesame street
Banks with large physical branch networks at a cost disadvantage in a business that’s becoming increasingly digital. founder Ben Katz certainly believes that to be the case and that’s why he’s built a platform that provides banking-like services with just a website and debit cards. Customers can pimp out their credit cards with their favorite music artists or sports teams with literally thousands of cool designs to choose from. Then, customers use technology to load up their cards with cash or transfer it to family and friends. has a good list of investors including fintech powerhouse, QED Investors. Founder Katz has payments industry experience from Green Dot and PayNearMe and carries a Sesame Street Design Prepaid MasterCard in his wallet.

4. Chime
Chime is another new banking app that leads with a debit card experience. The banking app appeals to millennials in an effort to help them save and budget regularly. Chime focuses a lot on automation — if a user chooses to use the firm’s automatic savings functionality, each Chime card purchase is rounded up to the nearest dollar. Those funds are added to a savings account which the company sweetens by paying users an additional 10% bonus on the money they save.

The company raised over $20 million and has been working on its banking app since 2012. One in three millennials are open to switching banks in the next 90 days, according to The Millennial Disruption Index, a three-year study commissioned by Viacom Media Networks. Who knows, they may be headed on over to Chime.

5. Coin

Coin credit card
Some of today’s top startup banking apps are trying to replace or compete with credit cards. Others, like Coin, were designed to make existing solutions better. Coin bills itself as a payment device: it loads up all your credit cards onto a single Coin card. So leave all your other credit cards at home and when it comes time to make a purchase, just choose which card you’d like to use by pressing a button on Coin. The technology combines credit, debit and gift cards into one card that can be used for magnetic stripe and NFC tap-to-pay purchases.

The firm claims over a quarter million Coins have shipped.

Based in San Francisco, Coin’s raised $15.5 million from Redpoint, Sherpa Capital, and Spark. It recently sold off its wearable payments assets to Fitbit in a transaction in May 2016.

6. Digit
Like Chime, the key to Digit’s appeal is its simplicity in moving money between spending and savings accounts. Because, as a species, we’re flawed when it comes to savings, Digit helps users save without thinking about it. Sure, setting automation rules for savings is hard and to counter that, Digit proactively scans user spending habits, finding limited opportunities to sweep some spare cash as it builds up. Once Digit finds an opportunity to save, the banking app asks for an approval from a user to move money into savings. As micro-savings build up, users can have the app transfer money back to a checking account, as well.

Digit was founded by Ethan Bloch and Michael Murray, and raised nearly $14 million so far for its buildout and marketing. The company sports some major angels as investors, including Alexis Ohanian and Eric Ries.

7. Final
Final is another credit card-first technology for people who want more control over their payment relationships. The app provides a disposable one-time use number that users can issue to the merchants they do business with. Instead of jumping through hassle hoops of despair when trying to cancel a service or dispute a charge, users can simply deactivate that card number and move on with their financial lives.

Compared to some of the other top startup banking apps on this list, Final hasn’t raised boatloads of money (yet) but if its any indicator, its early rounds have some heavy hitters participating, including DRW, KPCB Edge, Ludlow, and Y Combinator.

8. Number 26
This European fintech startup is backed by Paypal founder turned uber venture capitalist, Peter Thiel. Founded in Berlin in 2013, Number 26 allows a user to open a bank account using video-identification in just 8 minutes. Once open, users can transfer money, make ATM withdrawals, and track their spending with personal finance statistics and analytics. A fresh partnership with Transferwise will give Number 26 account holders in-app access to cheap international money-transfer service.

The company has raised almost $13 million worth of venture capital, which includes Thiel but also Axel Springer, Earlybird, and Redalpine.

9. Prism

Prism Money
It’s a pain to have different apps managing different parts of personal finance. Prism brings together money, bills, and payments into one interface. The app connects with billers and notifies users when it finds a new bill that needs to be paid. The Microsoft Ventures-backed app has raised $3.5 million in investment since 2012. The firm’s two cofounders bring together the fin and tech for their fintech startup — one is ex-Microsoft while the other is ex-JPMorgan.

Where other apps have focused on creating a better savings experience, Prism definitely appears to be honing in on bill payments as core to its app. The technology works on pretty much all mobile devices including iOS, Android, Windows, and Kindle.

10. Qapital
Qapital takes a goals-based approach for its banking app. It’s hard to save, and some people just find it easier to save for specific ends in mind (like vacations or college tuition). Users can create these goals, associate monetary objectives with them, and create automated triggers to sweep cash towards them. Behavioral economics has shown that creating accountability for one’s savings actions makes us more likely to hit our goals and Qapital makes it easy to share our goals and the progress towards them with family, friends, and teammates.

Qapital offers FDIC insured deposits on the money saved within its mobile platform. The firm has raised nearly $7 million from a series of seed and venture investors, and has offices in Stockholm and Manhattan.

Photo credit: pkdon50 via / CC BY

‘Slack Finance’: The rise of the message-like interfaces in financial services

rise of message like UI in financial services

Could 2016 go down as a tipping point year for chat technologies in the financial industry? Facebook users can already make person-to-person payments via the social network’s Messenger and soon will be able to pay for for services like Uber and Get Taxi directly from the chat function. In Asia, Chinese giant WeChat offers personal loans in minutes, using only a chat function.

The trend towards expanded use of text messengers is apparent even with automated savings apps like Digit, which uses an algorithm to automatically move spare change out of a user’s account and deposit it in a Digit virtual savings account. The app “communicates” with users via an interface that mimics text messages, informing them of weekly or monthly activity and to ask for authorization on some transactions. In the other direction, users have the ability to withdraw money from their accounts with a simple SMS.

Digit's savings app uses text messages
Digit’s SMS-like User Interface

The digitization of financial services

In some ways, the move towards chat functionality represents a reversal for the finance industry. For more than a generation, banking, investing, payments and other facets of the money economy has been moving steadily towards DIY service. Prior to the 1970s, banking, investing and other financial services were typically conducted via close interpersonal interactions – deposits and withdrawals were made by standing in line at your local branch,where your account was overseen by an account manager who knew you well. Stock trades were made with a phone call to your broker, who was typically a middle-aged man you’d developed a relationship with over your adult years and who knew your investment patterns and preferences.

Later came drive-through banking, followed in the 1980s by ATM machines. By the turn of the century, the internet gave individuals the ability to shop online as well to administer their financial lives, essentially rendering human contact in this area irrelevant. Online, bank clients could decide when and how they’d like to interact with their financial provider.

This gave way more recently to more fully set-and-forget type services. These rule-driven technologies give users the ability to automate their banking. But banks found their users had a hard time setting global rules to their banking relationships (like deposit $50 on the 2nd Thursday of every month). Yesterday’s self-service banking website is now being slowly replaced by automation and algorithm-driven banking services employing SMS and internet chat technologies to simulate person-to-person interactions for users. Though they’re prompted by an automated bot, services like Digit require users to lightly participate in decision making.

The move away from 100 percent automation serves two functions: first, to improve mobile financial security by requiring user input.  Second, it caters to banking and savings app users’ need for communication. They use text-based communication tools like Slack at work to communicate with their colleagues and Whatsapp to talk with their friends and families. Today’s banking clients want that same level of interactivity from their banking apps, too.

In addition, the effort required to confirm orders and payments by SMS reduces the chance of mistakes by an inadvertent thumb-click to a “yes” pop-up button.

There are also social/sociological benefits to using chat technology for internet transactions, in addition to tangible reasons for apps to “interact” with users via text messages.

How do your students relate to all of these issues? 

We asked James Berman, founder of JBGlobal and a faculty member in the Finance Department of the NYU School of Professional Studies, how his students relate to technology interactivity.

“I teach traditional in-person classes at NYU, as well as on-line courses,” explained the finance professor. “Many of my 20-something students choose to take my classes in person, even thought they cost more. They say the reason is simple: ‘I can’t learn that way,’ is a common refrain. ‘I need the face-to-face interaction with other people to really learn well.’

“So I’d say something similar here. Of course, the millennial generation wants banking and financial services online to be quick, efficient and easy, and that trend isn’t going anywhere. But they aren’t willing to completely forego the elements of human communication.”

When the future of savings accounts is a mere swipe

savings apps Acorns and Digit

We’re not wired to save money. Behavioral economics demonstrates that human beings, all things being equal, would rather consume their money today than save it and have more money to spend in the future. Today’s average American saves 5.1% of his or her personal disposable income. This number is close to a historical low — the only period since 1959 that clocks lower than this was recorded during the financial crisis of 2007-2008.

Our inability to sufficiently save is caused by poor behavior. Western culture encourages consumption — that’s even how growth is gauged in economic terms. The result is that millennials have historical amounts of debt. So, if behavior is part of the problem, it must also be part of the solution. Smart entrepreneurs have found technological ways to overcome our behavioral biases to make it easier to increase our savings.

One way to do this is by encouraging people to make micro-deposits. Instead of asking for a percentage of a paycheck or to transfer large sums of money, these micro-savings apps make it easy for users to make repeated small deposits.

Acorns is the most popular of these apps. The award-winning app makes it as easy as a swipe on a smartphone to save spare change from purchases. It works like this: an Acorns user makes a purchase say at a coffee shop and after completing the transaction, the Acorns app asks the user to round up the purchase (like from $3.25 to $4.00) and deposit the remainder in his or her Acorn account. Users can schedule bigger, more periodic transfers of money into their Acorns account but the mechanism to round up seems to be the most salient part of the user experience. It’s here that our struggle with saving for the future is met head-on and dissected into small, repeated actions, making it easier and habitual to sock money away for the future.

“People generally associate investing with lots of dollars,” said Jeff Cruttenden, CEO and co-founder of Acorns in an interview with CNNMoney. “Once [people] find out that you can invest spare change, it’s a really attractive concept.”

Digit takes a more automated approach than Acorns. For this mobile savings app, there’s very little interaction with the user. Every couple of days, Digit scans a user’s checking account and if a user can afford it, deposits $5-50 via a transfer to Digit’s savings account. There’s no need for a user to swipe as the monitoring and action of depositing money happens in the background. By scanning spending and income history, Digit takes away the need for any human decision making by automating the savings process.

“I’d never struggled with understanding the importance of saving, but hated the exercise of doing it regularly and having to anticipate changes in my spending and income. Thankfully, now the trustworthy robots powering Digit do all that for me,” said Alexis Ohanian, executive chairman of Reddit. He’s also an investor in the young company.

Getting money into the savings account, from a financial planning perspective, is the hardest part because you’re going against the grain of human nature. But once the money is deposited into these accounts, users have different options. For Digit users, their Digit account is a way station, a bucket to keep dollars saved for the future and ensure they aren’t spent. With a simple text message to the company, users can transfer that money back to their checking account. Acorns, on the other hand, is really an investment platform at its core. Once a user deposits money into his account, much of the experience is similar to other online investment advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment. Acorn users can choose from a handful of different portfolios and begin investing their spare change in the stock market with a particular investment horizon.

Both savings apps are transparent with their fee structures. Digit doesn’t charge for its service (yet) while Acorns does. Acorns charges a flat monthly fee ($1) for accounts under $5k and a 0.25% fee on assets for accounts bigger than $5k. The AUM fee is typical in the roboadvisor world. And as this article points out, the small nominal monthly account fee for smaller accounts ends up being kind of expensive if the account stays small.

What’s different about this generation of savings apps is that they’re mobile only. The entire savings process, from depositing to asset allocation to transferring back to a savings account, occurs on a smartphone. The user interface has to be clean and simple for a small form factor and much of the success these apps have had in attracting new users has come in no small part from their good design. If successful, the market potential is large for savings apps and that’s why both Acorns ($32m) and Digit ($14m) have raised a lot of investment capital.