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Citi's Bundle.com Lures Consumers With Spending Data, Comparisons

With spin-off financial planning site Bundle.com, Citi finds a unique way to reach a new audience.

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Since Bundle.com -- a site sponsored by Citi that allows Americans to compare their spending habits to their neighbors' -- launched in January, it's attracted more than 250,000 unique visitors and one million page views. "Until Bundle, nobody knew how much they should be spending on eating out, on clothes," says the company's CEO, Jaidev Shergill. "You had budgeting software that told you you should be spending no more than 20 percent on a car, no more than 30 percent on a mortgage, but the reality is those numbers could be different based on where people live, how old they are and what their income levels are."

To spell out for users what others in their towns and income brackets are spending on items such as healthcare and travel, Bundle.com gathers data from several sources, including government reports and databases; normalized, aggregated transaction data from Citi, such as debit and credit card transactions; and third-party market research. "When you combine those three things, suddenly the numbers start making more sense," Shergill asserts. "Some of the details you would typically miss in publicly available records start coming out."

Shergill says he came up with the idea for Bundle while working in Citi's growth ventures group, which incubates new business ideas. Sometimes these are launched as new lines of business within the bank or spun out as separate businesses. Bundle is a spin-off. The New York-based bank is a strategic partner and investor in the business.

But what is Citi ($1.86 trillion in assets) getting out of the venture? "Citi realizes that the business model in banking is fundamentally changing," Shergill says. "Bundle.com is a way by which it can engage in a completely new and different business model."

AN UNBIASED PLATFORM

Over time, the site will offer financial products, and Citi will have the option to partner on some of those products, Shergill reveals. But Bundle.com also is open to working with other banks. "If you're going to negotiate and work on behalf of the customer, you have to be an unbiased platform and therefore work with all the banks in the ecosystem," he explains.

Shergill notes that Bundle.com also is thinking about building a money management platform or partnering with a firm such as Intuit. "The ecosystem is changing so rapidly that we've got to make smart choices about what we build, what we buy and who we partner with," he says.

In its research, Shergill relates, Bundle.com has found that while consumers want banks to offer an aggregated view of all of their finances in one place, they don't necessarily want to place all of their accounts with one bank. "People are saying, 'Maybe I don't want Bank A to see I've got X amount of money in Bank B because they'll start hitting me with a lot of product offers,' " Shergill contends.

Nonetheless, banks have several advantages over non-bank competitors in the personal financial management space, Shergill suggests. First, banks already have established, trusted brands. In addition, they already have an installed customer base.

But Bundle.com and other start-ups do have an advantage over banks that are tied to legacy systems, Shergill adds. "Developing a PFM tool or a site like ours is difficult to do internally in a bank because the technology and product development folks have got other priorities -- compliance needs, regulatory needs, what have you," he explains. "And even if a bank does build everything internally, it's probably going to cost a lot more to build and maintain."

Banks also are are finding it hard to deal with social media, according to Shergill. "The potential liability of a banker Tweeting wrong information about an investment is huge," he says. "Social media hasn't picked up within banks, but we view it as core to what we're doing."

Of course, Bundle.com has Facebook and Twitter pages. But more important, Shergill notes, the Bundle platform acts like a social media network. "People can go to our site, share data insights across Facebook and Twitter, and start conversations around those insights," he says, adding that the site's visitors typically are between 27 and 40 years old, evenly split between men and women, and primarily from large cities.

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