Apr 06

I almost titled this post Mint.com: grow a pair already. If Patzer were still running things independently he’d probably be down for the bold play of disrupting the banking industry but sadly under conservative Intuit management I doubt we’ll see this play from them anytime soon.

Banking sucks. It has all but become entirely commoditized and yet I don’t know a single person who actually is satisfied with his/her bank. The features and rates are nearly identical along with the frustrations across providers. The model with banking seems to be: get you in as a customer & sign you up for extra services so switching is a PITA. Pleasing the customer? Umm no… Convenience charges, statement fees, courtesy tax, ding-you-for-withdrawing-your-own-money fees… yep, that’s the norm.

You will remain with a bank you hate because there’s always just enough inertia to keep you from changing. The more surface area you have via extra services, the harder it is to leave. And besides, if you do leave the same dynamics are still at play so it’s not like you have anywhere better to go.

Here are some obstacles that keep the average person from changing banks:

  • the tedious process of applying for a new account and closing out the old one
  • the idea having to relearn a new UI for your banking interface
  • switching where your direct deposit goes
  • reconfiguring your personal money management software
  • reconfiguring auto ACH payments hanging off your account
  • reconfiguring auto debits on your credit cards
  • figuring out how to send and accept wires under the new system
  • learning new ATM habits and locations
  • recreating bill pay profiles

There are probably a bunch more but those are the main friction points that immediately come to mind. The banking scene is ripe for a startup to come along and disrupt it by taking these issues off the table and making it easy to switch. Of everyone that exists today Mint.com is in the best position of anyone to pull it off (but they also have the most bridges to burn and are no longer the rogue player to attempt daring feats). Here’s what a theoretical startup we’ll call AnyBank should do:

a) Abstract the major banking functions for the top 10 banks to a generic UI you work with
b) Store your info and automate the process of switching banks so it’s trivial to change.

This is a bold proposition. Banks, like any incumbent spoiled with the luxury of traditional lock-in aspects, will fight this initially because you’re killing the barrier to leaving. But the answer is: start with the smaller progressive banks who are willing to play ball to gain the new marketshare, grow a critical mass there and then move upstack and gradually sign up larger and larger players. Give me the Mint interface only instead of being limited to reporting functions, add the actionable banking functions into the UI and so I have a central banking app that works consistently agnostic of the underlying provider. This will force banks to compete for our business, re-introduce the concept of customer service and make them think twice next time instead of f&^%’ing us at every opportunity.

I think of banks as being almost like databases- I have no emotional attachment and could care less which one I use as long as it performs well. There are factors that make it advantageous to use a specific one given circumstances, but if a startup can move all the “logic” up to the application layer ala AnyBank.com, then the db can be swapped out at will and I’ll do so when it makes sense.

Mint if you’re listening: please grow a pair and go disrupt the banking industry. I already spend more time in your UI than all my banks combined. If you give me the ability to execute my banking tasks from your interface I’ll have zero reason to ever visit my bank’s site. Go the extra mile of making it trivial to switch and you will single-handedly coerce an entire industry to behave properly again.

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