It's simple 'apponomics': Cash is no longer king

Elaine Pofeldt, Special to

Is your wallet becoming obsolete?

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Even if you haven't dived into paying for lattes using the Starbucks smartphone app or tried to make purchases with the money-alternative bitcoin, chances are you're already participating in the cashless economy. Consumers made only 27 percent of all purchases in stores using cash in 2012, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, based in Pleasanton, Calif. And collectively, we spent $20 billion last year using mobile apps and browsers, the research and consulting firm found.

"Mobile payment has changed people's lives," said Jim Bruene, founder of The Finovate Group, which offered a glimpse of the financial and banking innovations ushering us into the cashless economy at its show FinovateFall2013 New York on Tuesday and Wednesday. (It was at one of Finovate's spring shows that the personal financial planning site put itself on the map). Here are some new technologies that may change the way you handle your money in the increasingly cashless society of the future.

By Elaine Pofeldt, Special to
Posted 17 Sept. 2013

Easier-to-open bank accounts

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Mitek Systems was a pioneer in enabling consumers to deposit checks in the bank by taking pictures of them by smartphone and transmitting them securely using its Mobile Deposit service. Today, customers of 1,059 banks use that application through the institutions' digital sites. "We're seeing a level of consumer delight that I don't think has been seen since the ATM was launched," said Scott Carter, chief marketing officer at the San Diego based firm, who was previously managing director of global analytics and fraud solutions at the credit bureau Experian.

At Finovate, Mitek—which trades on Nasdaq and has a market cap of about $167 million—announced a new application called Mobile Photo Account Opening, which will make it easier for consumers to open bank accounts from mobile devices—an often cumbersome process that Carter says at least 25 percent abandon midstream because of problems like trouble typing detailed information into the tiny keyboards.

The app lets users snap a picture of their driver's license and transmit it securely to the bank. They can also fund the account using a balance transfer technology that Mitek also offers. Mobile Photo Account Opening became available this month. Banks will pay to license the technology, so it will be free to consumers. Demand could be high: According to a July report by Javelin Research, 88.5 million Americans tried to open a bank account online or from a mobile device in the prior 12 months. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Mobile Photo Account Opening won the "Best of Show" award at Finovate.

Turbocharging your savings rate

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Many consumers put off socking away any money—and many of us don't do it at all. The International Monetary Fund found that only 52 percent of Americans saved any of their income in 2010. SavedPlus, a Silicon Valley start-up, hopes to turn that situation around with a free mobile app that lets users who provide their credit card numbers to automatically send a set percentage of the daily amount they spend with merchants to a preselected account at a bank or IRA every time they make a purchase. They can also tuck away a small amount every day toward bills like a monthly car payment.

The app was conceived by co-founders Nikita Brodskiy, CEO, and Paul Sorokin, president, who met at Stanford Graduate School of Business, after they researched why consumers weren't saving more—and discovered that the prospect of tucking away large amounts at one time was daunting. So far, SavedPlus which launched in May, has logged $2.5 million in transactions by letting users "save little and often," according to Brodskiy. It can be used with any bank account and is available in iPhone and Android versions. The founders hope that for those who are put off by commitment to save, say, $300 at one time, this may be an answer to procrastination. "If you save, say $5 or $10, you will reach higher results by the end of the month," said Brodskiy.

Digital allowances for kids

Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Akimbo makes it simple for parents to pay their kids an allowance with the click of a button. The San Antonio-based firm's technology, initially introduced in May 2011 and released in a final version about six months ago, enables you to move money from your checking account to the Akimbo Visa prepaid debit card from an application that's accessible on your digital devices or the Web. Akimbo isn't just for paying your kids. Those who open an account can create up to five "sub card" accounts to pay others, such as babysitters or friends to whom you owe your share of the dinner bill. You can find out who else in your social network is using it by linking it to your Facebook account.

Founded in 2010 and ready with a final version of its product about six months ago, the company has 5,000 active customers and has done 25,000 enrollments, according to Houston Frost, CEO and co-founder. "We've had an incredible response to the sub cards," he said. There's no fee to get a card. The company makes money by charging transaction fees. A domestic point of sale transaction using a pin costs 99 cents. The company has recently begun negotiating deals with banks to offer their own versions of the Akimbo card, Frost says.

Raising payday loans from your employer

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Many low- and moderate-income Americans turn to pricey, short-term payday loans to borrow small amounts of money because they lack emergency cash. The maximum fee per $100 typically ranges from $10 to $20 in many states, though some states have no limits, according to an April report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. On $100 borrowed over a 12-day period, $10 in fees would represent an annual rate of 304 percent, the agency says.

Think Finance, a tech firm based in Fort Worth, Texas, that was founded in 2001 and is and backed by venture capital firms such as Sequoia Capital, offers an alternative in its new product Elastic, slated to become available in October. Users whose employers have signed up to offer the service can take small loans—in the $200 to $1,000 range—through the company's website. Their loan payments are deducted from their paychecks on a schedule they select, in up to five payments. The company charges consumers a fee that, for instance, would amount to $30 for a $200 loan that was repaid in five installments, says Kathy Boden Holland, executive vice president of corporate development. Elastic is integrated with payroll providers' software, and employers are not notified about the loans, she says. "The employer has nothing to do, once they make it available to you," she said.

Motif Investing 2.0

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Former Microsoft executive Hardeep Walia has attracted Wall Street luminaries like former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt, and Sallie Krawcheck as board members to the high-profile start-up Motif Investing. The company allows investors to buy into groups of stocks that fall into themed groups, called motifs—such as "Biotech breakthroughs" or "No glass ceilings," firms run by women CEOs—and track their performance against the S&P 500. Users trade fractional shares in these groups of stocks though Motif Investing, an online brokerage that requires a minimum $250 deposit, for $9.95 per transaction. Buying and selling a stock within a motif costs $4.95. Investments are insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC), as well as a surplus insurance policy from Lloyds of London.

There's a social component: Users can share their picks with friends and in the site's investment "circles." "Think of us as TD Ameritrade meets Facebook meets," said Walia, Motif's co-founder and CEO. Investors have been trading on Motif since February. Those who want to get creative can form their own motifs and offer them to other site users. So far, investors have built 15,000, he says. Motif pays them a royalty if people use the motif. "They can make money not just from their investments but from their ideas," Walia said.

Get a snapshot of your financial health score

Jason Gordo founder of FlexScore speaks with a potential client at Finovate 2013.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

In running the financial planning practice Valley Wealth in Modesto, Calif., Jason Gordo and his partner Jeffrey Burrow realized that many Americans don't have a good sense of how well they're handling the money they earn—and are unsure if they're making the right spending and investment decisions. To address that knowledge gap, they came up with the concept of a free digital tool that provides an overall financial health score, known as a FlexScore, which in May became available to the public in beta form and is now being tested by thousands of users, according to Gordo.

FlexScore uses a proprietary algorithm to evaluate users according to criteria such as asset allocation—and allows them the voyeuristic pleasure of comparing their financial habits to those in their zip code. It also recommends action steps, like refinancing a mortgage, referring users to its partners, like Lending Tree. The target customers are adults ages 25 to 55, who aspire to saving and investing but don't yet have sufficient assets to hire Wall Street pros to manage their money. "We found if we can educate them a little bit through our learning center, and can teach them how to get out of debt, and how to put money away, then we can help them," Gordo said.

Safeguarding digital transactions

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Right now, consumers who want to protect themselves from online fraud need to bear a lot of the burden themselves by, for instance, downloading software that protects a PC from malware infections or watching out for fraudulent emails "phishing" for personal information like our bank account number. Versafe aims to take the burden off of consumers with its TotALL Online Fraud Protection Suite, an enterprise product currently used by about 30 large institutions, such as banks in Europe and Israel. "We do this by taking the fight to us," said Jens Hinrichsen, vice president of marketing and business development at the Israel-based company, which, he says, has revenues "under $50 million."

Using advanced encryption and malware-detection technology, Versafe protects consumers' information throughout their interactions with its clients—and uses code implanted in its clients' Web and mobile sites to immediately detect it if online fraudsters are targeting their customers. Versafe, founded in 2009, has attracted a $5 million investment from Susquehanna Growth Equity and is now trying to penetrate the Americas. It could be a tough fight. Trusteer, one of the firm's competitors, got acquired by IBM in August. Versafe thinks there's plenty of room for growth, given the large number of institutions looking for a better way to keep users' credentials from being compromised. "You cannot put any onus on the end user to better protect themselves," said Hinrichsen. "Even the most educated people will become infected. We assume everything is infected."