By Barbara O’Neill, Ph.D., CFP®, Rutgers Cooperative Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org
FinTech, short for “financial technology,” refers to a wide array of applications (apps) that help users manage various aspects of their personal finances. Specific uses include budgeting, bill-paying, credit monitoring, applications for personal loans, loan refinancing, and insurance, financial education, product comparisons, and automated savings (e.g., “rounding up” debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and saving the excess).
FinTech is one of the fastest growing industry sectors in recent years and is generally considered to comprise “disruptive” technology-based platforms that compete against traditional financial firms. It has grown along with improvements in cell phone technology and the maturation of the Millennial generation into adulthood. Most FinTech apps are free to use. Many make money by recommending financial products (e.g., credit cards).
Below are five key features about FinTech that financial education and counseling practitioners need to know:
- FinTech apps are available for both Apple (iOS) and Google (Android) devices and can be downloaded via their respective “App store.” Many apps are based on insights derived from behavioral finance research.
- The growth of FinTech has prompted many traditional “brick and mortar” financial services firms to also make more information (e.g., free credit scores) readily available to consumers online.
- A key audience for FinTech is Millennials, who are approaching their prime spending years. Many came of age during the Great Recession and dislike traditional financial institutions. In addition, they grew up with mobile technology and prefer to conduct transactions (including those for personal finances) online.
- A key advantage of FinTech is its immediacy. Users can get a real-time assessment of where they stand financially (e.g., credit score, account balance, budget category spending) and access their stored data. Users can also pay bills immediately without cash using “digital wallets” such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet.
- FinTech is constantly evolving as new apps appear and others shut down or get rebranded. Be sure to install updates that will inevitably be required. Only use FinTech apps that will actually simplify your finances.
Below is a description of some popular FinTech apps:
- Mint (mint.com)- Helps users with budgeting, goal-setting, bill-paying, credit, and money management. Spending can be tracked and monitored by various categories.
- GoodBudget (goodbudget.com)- Creates digital “envelopes” for expense categories (e.g., food) and provides alerts if a category is overspent. Up to 10 expense categories can be monitored for free. A similar service with a digitized version of the old envelope budgeting method is Mvelopes (www.mvelopes.com).
- Credit Karma (creditkarma.com)- Provides free VantageScore credit scores and credit reports from national credit bureaus, ongoing credit monitoring, and online tools such as a Credit Score Simulator. A similar service that provides free VantageScore credit scores is Credit Sesame (www.creditsesame.com).
- Acorns (acorns.com)- Allows users to automatically invest in low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs) by rounding up their debit card transactions to the nearest dollar and depositing the spare change. Costs vary from $1 to $3 per month depending on the number of user accounts that are established.
- Wealthfront (wealthfront.com), Betterment (www.betterment.com), and Robinhood (www.robinhood.com)- Provide so-called “robo-advising” investment advice by collecting information about users’ goals and investment preferences and providing algorithm-based recommendations.
For additional information about FinTech, review this blog post from America Saves called FinTech for Personal Financial Success.