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Big banks battle startups with new apps and services

Jacqueline Emigh | Jan. 4, 2016
While plenty of new financial tech companies are capturing the hearts – and mobile devices – of customers, established financial firms are fighting back.

SoFi. SoFi is a service geared to younger adults. The startup is focused on providing graduates of colleges and universities with financial services – and an array of unique related offerings – throughout their lifetimes.

Early on, SoFi provided student loan consolidation and refinancing services to these promising young stars.  However, offerings have expanded to include career coaching, first-time home mortgages and upscale networking dinners in brick-and-mortar locations throughout the U.S.  

LearnVest. Also geared to people just getting started in their careers, LearnVest is a multifaceted mobile app for tracking spending, setting financial goals and working toward them, building budgets, viewing personal net worth and accessing articles about stock market investing and an assortment of other financial topics.  Consultations with human financial planners are also available.

Yet while the app itself is free, you must pay for the financial consultations.

Betterment. “Startups like Betterment or Wealthfront have been quicker than most established firms [to adopt technologies like] open source software, the public cloud, developer SaaS, and HTML 5,” says Ensor.

Known in the financial business as automated investment services (or less flatteringly as robo-advisors), these services avoid the need for human advisors by using software systems to create portfolios for investors based on risk tolerance. Investors are then provided with exchange-traded funds (ETFs) appropriate to these risk tolerance levels.  In contrast to WealthFront, Betterment charges smaller account fees and no trading fees.

Established firms defend their turf

CBW Bank. The Moven app contains similar features for tracking spending as LearnVest, with color-coded categories for various kinds of spending. Like LearnVest, Moven can be linked to multiple debit and credit card accounts. Moven, however, also comes with its own MasterCard debit card, which is issued by CBW.

Although Moven is a separate company, the app actually originated at CBW, says NGData’s Notell.  Capabilities recently added to Moven include a new Lock Away Savings prompt to urge users to save money when they are below their typical spending patterns, plus a link for operability with an Apple Watch.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the technologically aggressive, Kansas-based bank introduced a new debit card called OneCard, which lets a user send money to another OneCard user free of charge. Reportedly, money can also be send to a debit card at another bank for $3 in just a few minutes. And for $4, to a checking account with another bank in the same day.

Stearns Bank. At first glance, Stearns Bank’s websites might not seem revolutionary. However, unlike most other community banks, Stearns views (and treats) lending as a process that shouldn’t be a paper-based ordeal.  Stearns supplies online application forms for home mortgages and SBA loans, for example, along the same lines as you might get from specialized lending startups.


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