When Envestnet acquired banking feeds aggregator Yodlee a year or two ago, many of us suggested it was a strategy to add value on top of the screeds of data that Yodlee scrapes. The announcement of the new Financial Wellness Suite today proves that thesis was correct. The announcement comes a year or so after the companies rolled out the “Envestnet | Yodlee Financial Data Platform,” an offer that would see machine learning and data analytics applied to the existing pool of data that Yodlee has access to.

That platform was one that I would categorize as “data plus insights,’ since it identified patterns in order to deliver context within a transaction — a simple description, merchant name, category, transaction type, fixed or variable spend, frequency, and debit or credit transaction for example. But while that is good from a perspective of offering partners more accurate and cleaner data, it doesn’t really move the needle in terms of consumer information.

Bear in mind here the state of financial literacy in the US. While most citizens have bank accounts and access to data, many people would suggest that savings rates, and fundamental financial literacy, is very low. Which means that while people are drowning in data, they have no real way to make sense of that same information. Which is where the new solutions come in – the Personal Financial Wellness Solution is essentially a personal financial management (PFM) solution that third parties can leverage to deliver consumer-facing PFMs.

I spent some time talking with Katy Gibson, head of product applications at Envestnet Yodlee, about the solution and why the company is bullish about it. In terms of what they’re offering, the product is essentially a suite of applications and APIs that leverages enriched data and artificial intelligence in an effort to move beyond simply organizing historical financial data, but to offer financial guidance to end customers.

The solution takes the amassed data from the 15,000 or so data sources that Yodlee captures, and displays it in plain-English, actionable snippets. The idea is to move away from simply visualizing data, but instead to offer readily understood advice, that even financially alleviate consumers can understand. The two basic offerings are OK to Spend and Save for a Goal.

OK to Spend

OK to Spend, which can either be consumed as a financial application or a fully RESTful API framework enables financial service providers to create forward-looking forecasts that organize and predict recurring income and financial obligations along with personalized notifications for financial events and projected balances.

Basically, it’s about analyzing historical income and expenditure and predicting future patterns and, by doing so, detailing how much “spare” cash an individual consumer has.

Save for a Goal

The Save for a Goal application allows consumers to set and track savings goals. Essentially consumers set an end time and amount, and the solution helps them realize that objective with actionable advice and graphical depictions of progress.

MyPOV

This all sounds good, but with a huge caveat: almost every bank that I’ve worked with has tried to roll out a PFM product – either something home built or something white labelled from a third party. I am yet to see anything actually stick and gain customer adoption. Even Mint, arguably the best known PFM to date, and one which was acquired by Intuit, never really got mass traction.

I put this to Gibson whose response didn’t really satisfy my criticisms:

…current PFM tools work really well for 20% of the population – those who are financially literate and engaged and who understand net worth and cashflow. These tools, however, don’t do well at diagnostics – benchmarking against others across spending, saving, retirement planning, debt to income etc. New tools should be able to measure across short and long term goals. [By leveraging the data we hold, our tools] can provide customers with guidance. We can automate the process and increase likelihood of success. Existing tools are not prescriptive enough for those who are not financially literate. By improving and enhancing the PFM user experience to surface the insights better we can realize success

I understand her perspective, but can’t imagine this solution will deliver anything in the way of uptake secret sauce – I might be proven wrong, and customer success will be the indicator of that (it is worth nothing that this platform is being offered to FinTech organizations to create their own end-user solutions but that Envestnet has no customers to announce at this stage.)

This is an interesting continuation of the Envestnet move away from simply plumbing and more into data aggregation and analysis and is a validation of the “data is key” proposition that FinTech vendors are starting to understand. While data is certainly the future, as opposed to simply plumbing, organizations still need to resolve the adoption issues for consumer-facing applications – there is little here to indicate that Envestnet has yet cracked that nut.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

Leave a Reply