hellowallet is an enterprise solution that employees can use to wrap their hands around their financial situation and improve it. i spoke with paul ballas, head of user experience at hellowallet, to understand the service and hellowallet’s mission to “democratize financial guidance.”
fm: why hellowallet? what’s the idea behind the service?
pb: matt fellowes, the founder and CEO of hellowallet, was working at the brookings institution, focused on consumer finance. he’d worked with the FDIC on 401(k) auto-enrollment, and he found that it was positive but didn’t go far enough. people opted out, people took loans and didn’t pay them back. matt wanted to offer a service that’s unbiased and conflict-free.
fm: how exactly do you help consumers budget better?
pb: let’s say you’ve created your online budget with hellowallet. we know you have a mortgage and see that you haven’t dedicated any money to home repair. we’ll remind you what to consider. or, let me give another example. you can emotionally flag transactions with hellowallet. if you wished you hadn’t bought a cup of coffee at starbucks, you can tag it: “wish i hadn’t bought this.” the next time you’re at starbucks, we’ll send you a reminder that you said you wished you hadn’t made the purchase last time. we nudge people from where they are and gently move them in the correct direction.
fm: the starbucks example’s interesting. does hellowallet recognize where i am?
pb: yes. our companion iphone app allows users to check into a location. when you’re in starbucks, the app will know you’re in a coffee shop, how much you’ve budgeted for coffee and how much you’ve spent to date.
fm: i outsourced the creation of our budget to my husband. he loves spreadsheets. most of us don’t. how easy is hellowallet to set up?
pb: we have two options. one automatically links to your financial accounts—your checking, savings, 529 plan—and pulls in your data. it’s read-only, so you can’t move money from account to account through hellowallet today, for example, but you can look at your budget. if someone doesn’t want to link their accounts, they can manually enter transactions to keep their budget and accounting current.
we provide webinar training to employees so they understand the tool. we also go onsite to train employees at benefit fairs.
fm: i assume there’s an additional setup step where i need to say what my today and tomorrow financial goals are. how does this happen? what’s involved from the employee’s perspective?
pb: we help employees create their budget and retirement goals. we’ll ask about income constraints, such as mortgage, car loans, other debt. over time as we see trends, we’ll see where someone is overspending or over-budgeted. we’ll ask if they want to shift money from where they’ve budgeted too much to where they’re overspending, or to cut back on overspending.
this isn’t static. we’ll nudge employees forward. we do what employees want first and then bring in other goals that are equally important down the road.
fm: are you finding that this tool works better for one group of employees than another?
pb: we launched in april 2011, so it’s too early to tell. however, it’s designed so that someone with a high school diploma or a person with a graduate degree can easily use it. today only 20% have access to financial consultants. our mission is to democratize financial guidance. to that end, we donate a subscription to hellowallet to a family in need for every five subscriptions we get.
fm: since you’re an enterprise solution, do you customize the tool based on the employer’s known data? for example, would your tool reflect whether i’m enrolled in the dependent care flexible spending account (FSA) or if there’s a health plan that’s best for my budget and health needs?
pb: we’re starting to. we can say, “fran, we know you’re spending $X on child care and we know X company offers an FSA.” we also have a dedicated research team that’s focusing on how to link hellowallet with health care guidance.
hellowallet will be joining the february 15, 2012 #co_health chat.