Financial services firm Personal Capital, which announces a $25 million Series A round in August of last year and debuted its personal financial management dashboard last September, is extending its product to another platform today via an iPad app. Alongside and as part of the free app, Personal Capital is also introducing a new stock options tracker service, also available free to anyone.
The iPad app allows users to view and track nearly every aspect of their personal financial picture, which users can put together by adding their own accounts, stock options and other investments. Just as with its web service, Personal Capital will offer most services for free, along with special options and access to a personal financial advisor available for paying customers, for which the company charges management fees of less than one percent of the total assets being managed.
The approach Personal Capital is taking is unique; it offers much more advanced access and information than something like Mint, and the in-app direct access (via FaceTime, iMessage or email) to an actual live personal financial manager has the potential to be very disruptive in terms of the way financial services are delivered. In an interview with Personal Capital CEO Bill Harris, who has previously helmed both PayPal and Intuit, he explained how the company and the app are looking to shake up the personal finances market.
Harris said that the problem with the way things are handled now at financial management institutions is that financial products are siloed, and different individuals are responsible for selling those separate products to customers. “The customer doesn’t really care about that; the customer only cares about his or her own money,” he said. “What we’re really trying to do is put the customer at the center and then surround that customer with the data and the transactional capabilities to do everything and anything so that they’re in control of their financial picture, and, thanks to the tech [of the website and iPad app], can control that picture in an easy way.”
Due to the way Personal Capital reaches customers, putting tools in their hands and operating remotely instead of via in-person interactions, the company can dramatically lower the barrier in terms of cost of entry for customers. In addition to the free tools it provides, Harris notes that the paid service Personal Capital offers is not something that’s generally affordable from traditional sources. “The premium service is true asset management,” he said. “The kind of highly sophisticated and personalized wealth management that would formally have been reserved for multi-millionaire households, but now available to anyone.”
The new iPad app was developed under the direction of Personal Capital VP of Software Product Jim Del Favero, who was formerly responsible for Quicken‘s online and mobile products, and in total spent about 17 years working on Intuit’s software offerings. Del Favero told BetaKit that the big hurdle facing financial software in terms of being genuinely useful has always been how much action you could actually take using the various programs.
“The big frustration in personal finance was always that we build these great tools and experiences, but at the end of the day, the customer had to go to their financial institution to actually execute anything,” Del Favero said. At that point, customers stop being under the purview of the software provider; the financial institution controls the experience after that point. Being able to offer a solution in which control over the experience is maintained end-to-end is what Del Favero found compelling about Personal Capital’s business model.
The Personal Capital team has developed the app around the idea that information should be accessible but not intimidating, and the interface reflects that. Even without extensive background in financial terms or much experience in asset management, the visual representation of the bulk of the information presented is attractive without being showy. Touch controls are also used intuitively throughout the app; pinching and zooming can deliver greater granularity in areas where you’d expect that kind of detail to be available, for example.
But the added personal touch of on-demand, face-to-face interaction is what really makes the Personal Capital app one with transformative power relative to its industry. It takes the appointments and trips to the investment firm out of the equation, making it possible for just about anyone to actually monitor their finances on a near-constant basis, and get feedback even without picking up the phone.
The Personal Capital app might still strike a good portion of customers are something more ambitious than what they need, but there’s no denying that the approach Harris and company are taking could change the way people look at asset management. They’re trying to bridge the gap between interpersonal and online, on-demand services, and if successful, that could have a big impact on how banks and personal financial advisors do business.