Personal Financial Management – The need for resuscitation

Until a year or so ago, PFM (Personal Financial Management) was the blue eyed boy of every channel banking head. In an age when bank account portability is still fiction, PFM was expected to incentivise customers to switch banks. It still is, in some emerging economies, but if the state of PFM in matured markets is anything to go by, it is in a state of coma and badly requires resuscitation.

Studies conducted around the year show an alarming decline and stagnation in PFM usage in mature markets. A Sept 2012 report by Aite Group – Strategies for PFM Success shows that 72% of users hadn’t used PFM and worse, 58% of them were not kicked about using it. Of the rest who had used it, only half did on a bank site.

While there are multiple reasons for this lack of adoption, some are glaringly obvious.

  1. While pretty graphs and pie charts are important to provide a visual representation of my income and expense, it is simply not enough to encourage me to return. Static representation of data without any insightful analysis does not help me.
  2. Budgeting and Cash Flow is important but when I have an operative account, a couple of savings accounts, a mortgage loan and a couple of credit cards help me with what my affordability is in specific contexts rather than telling me I just busted my budget.
  3. Help me with relative importance of each budget category so that I know it is fine to go over budget on books for my daughter as against going over budget on eating out.
  4. Budget over runs and spend analysis are post facto and I am informed of my sins only when I return to online banking. That too, only if I decide to come to the PFM area.

Fundamentally, PFM should be a part of my banking engagement rather than an analysis tool. It should be contextual so that I can make insight based decisions.

So what can be done to resuscitate PFM?

Amalgamation with banking activities – In most cases, PFM tools are integrated into online banking pages and they are like chapter 37 of a long story. PFM needs to be a way of banking rather than a tool. Available balances should shift to Spendable Balances. Budget and goal related insights should be integrated with transaction sessions to drive pre-event financial decisions.

Personal Financial Guidance - Banks need to think ground level and see if their PFM offering is really helping customers achieve self actualisation. Banks need to recognise that most customers out there are non-proficient about making the best value of their money. Customers return when they know that they are being guided rather than being just informed on their finance. Integrating contextual financial offers and financial planning into PFM is one way ahead. Yet another way is to help customers tag unwanted spending thereby encouraging sound savings habits.

Mobile PFM – Most banks have left all those numbers on online banking. With access mostly having moved to devices and the success of apps, moving PFM on to devices will give it a much needed shot in the arm. This is not only about presenting the same wine in a new bottle but also about leveraging the power of the device in pushing real time notifications to make pre-purchase decisions. The pursuit should be to analyse spend, budgets and financial goals real time and push them pre-event on to the device. So next time, I should know that I have over run my eating out budget before walking into that burger joint and not after.

Increase participation and collaboration – Peer group experiences and comments are valued above those offered by the bank. Integrating social media into PFM engagement will let customers share and solicit their financial management experiences with their peer group. Peer comparisons help benchmark one’s savings and spending habits with those of the peer group and increases stickiness.

While mature markets have gone through this learning in some way over the last one year, banks in maturing digital banking economies increasingly seem to be falling into this trap. Best practices lie in profiling and segmenting customers, being where they are and contextually guiding them to identify and achieve their financial goals. Banks could look at the likes of Simple and Movenbank to draw inpiration from.


Absolutely agree with you, Salil. You have definitely hit the bulls eye.

There are two major practical dimensions, as I see them:

Bank point of view: What's in it for the bank? Is it conversion of a service channel to a sales channel, additional fee or interest income due to differentiating services or basic survival kit in a competitive world. Its also a belief that categorizing and analyzing financial information will help customer insight and thereby lead to business outcomes.

Customer point of view: Relationship with the bank starts with a great competitive product but soon gets measured using a different yardstick of quality of service. And PFM by no means is enhancing the quality of service of the bank. Quality of financial service in my view is a combination of customer's attitude, bank's intent and personalized guidance. And often this goes beyond a single tool such as PFM and across a spectrum of channels, customer interactions. There are 3 kinds of customers:
- Already good at managing their finance
- Interested in managing their finance better
- Don't care about it

Its important to segment your customer in the above categories to understand where they really need help from the bank.

Enabling a greater dialogue between the client and the bank is the key to a successful and mutually beneficial relationship. Lot of banks have a misguided belief that PFM is a customer engagement tool and marketing tool that will eventually lead to a win-win situation.

Posted by Vishal Shah on December 19, 2012 at 04:27 PM CET #

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Banking seriously needs a facelift. It cant be achieved by putting lipstick on a pig. The change needs to occur bottom up even if that means locking horns with regulators. Sustainability needs to be at the center of the mind map


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