Mint.com is a free platform that uses gamification and data to help people manage their money. Founded in 2006, Mint currently helps 10 million people manage 17 million financial accounts at 16,000 North American financial institutions.
Blogger Ann Carns explains:
“Mint allows users to track multiple financial accounts, including bank and credit card accounts, in one place. To do so, users register at Mint and enter account information and passwords, so the program can obtain the information electronically and aggregate it. (Mint.com was acquired by the financial software company Intuit in 2009.)”
Mint aggregates data from multiple financial accounts and presents it in one place. The platform is accessible across devices including web, mobile and tablets, and built its user base around the promise of convenience. As Mint user John Stevens commented at the Google Play store:
“I have been using Mint on two devices and really like having [access] to all my accts in one place, especially when traveling.”
Mint also promises automation: after a one time set up, the platform automatically pulls transactional data from people’s bank accounts, auto segregates it into different spending buckets like auto and groceries, and reminds people to pay bills on time.
Blogger Tim Murphy said:
“No matter how responsible we try to be, everyone forgets to pay bills from time to time. Rather than hoping our memories get better with time (unlikely), why not leverage technology when you can?”
As a result of the automation, Mint users share they feel secure about their transactions and financial well being.
Mint user Charlene Hapeman commented:
“[Mint] connects to my account securely and adds transactions so I don’t have to worry about forgetting to write them down.”
Mint user Timothy Beldock commented:
“[Mint] provides a nice financial summary across multiple accounts. I don’t always use the advice, but it’s nice to know that account activity is monitored.”
Blogger Jill Tooley notes that Mint is always looking out, “kind of like a parent who’s never fully satisfied with accomplishments and always pushes their kids toward excellence:”
“It’ll sometimes warn you that you spend too much on X, Y, or Z. It’ll inform you if you fell short on your budgeting goals. It’ll suggest ways you can cut down on expenses whether you ask for that or not.
“And even if you’re doing great in every aspect, it’s still involved in your business. A sparkling credit score and zero credit card debt doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on Easy Street, because there may be something you could improve.”
Mint uses gaming elements such as goals, points and rewards to guide people’s actions and keep them motivated. People can choose from a preset list of financial goals, like “Buy a Home” or “Trip to Hawaii,” or create their own goals. Their progress is then monitored and presented visually through bars.
The editorial team at LaptopMag notes:
“You get scores for how financially fit you are, a list of tasks and specific points you need to consider in order to achieve this fitness and bars showing how far along you are in your budget for the month.”
Upon completing a goal, Mint encourages people to share their achievement on their social networks. Mark Henricks, a contributor to the Mint blog, explains:
“In the final screen, Mint.com verbally slaps you on the back with a congratulatory, “Boom!” Then you get some good advice: make your commitment more public by posting details via social media. It’s been shown that people do better sticking to goals when others get involved.”
In addition to the gaming elements woven into the platform design, Mint also creates challenges to engage people and encourage good behavior.
In his review of Mint’s “Financial Fitness” feature, TechCrunch’s Jason Kincaid notes:
“Yes, it may sound like a bizarre combination at first – personal finance and fun aren’t exactly two things that go hand in hand. But it’s also a smart move on Mint’s part, as it looks to turn the mundane and often confusing activity of getting your financial affairs in order into something a bit more tolerable while increasing Mint’s engagement in the process.”
Beyond recognition, Mint also occasionally hands out tangible rewards, like cash prizes. Gamification.co’s Jeff Lopez shares:
“A great example was 2010’s “Drop Your Debt Challenge” that rewarded players who had the greatest declines in personal debt.”
Mint uses data and comparisons to motivate people in two ways.
First, Mint tracks people’s behavior and draws comparisons to their own past behavior.
Second, Mint aggregates users’ data to draw comparisons, both between Mint users themselves, and also between Mint users and non-Mint users. This helps people plan their expenses better and to see their progress.
Personal finance blogger Erik Folgate said:
“You can compare your own saving and spending habits to trends that other Mint users are setting. Using this data, you might realize that you’ve set an unrealistically low food budget for your neighborhood, or that you’re overspending on your gym and fitness costs. “
Data and comparisons also encourage people to evaluate and share their own experiences, resulting in active discourse and sharing of tips and financial strategies.
Mint remains a free service by recommending financial products to people, and earning a percent of sales. The recommendations are tailored to people’s spending behavior and usually help people save even more money – resulting in many favorable reviews.
Mashable’s Lauren Drell said:
“Mint makes money by helping you save money — based on your spending and saving habits, Mint can recommend thousands of products. If you switch those products, Mint earns a kick-back, so it’s a win-win for Mint and for the user.”
PCMag’s Jill Duffy said:
“It’s free and ad-supported, but even the ads add value to a fantastic tool for managing your money.”
Quite a few people have avoided using Mint because they are not comfortable with sharing their bank passwords and account details.
YouTube user augustuslxiii shared his skepticism of third party web platforms:
“I’m a bit wary about giving away any passwords to anyone else. I know Mint.com isn’t a scam, but even so. It’s my bank password. I feel like I’d be whispering my vault combination to someone I just met.”
Another commenter highlighted the increase in online security breaches:
“What with all the security breaches and leaks these days, I’d never give out account information to some third party, no matter how secure or not it is. I’m not keeping my savings tucked under my mattress, but there is a certain degree of distrust with extremely sensitive information like that.”
Yet another commenter stressed that web platforms must guarantee protection of data to make new users feel secure:
“I [don’t] trust anyone’s cloud until they start defining the damages they are willing to cover for violated data privacy and provide a means to validate the my data is secure online.”
Increasingly, people are also worried about ownership and usage of their data.
NYTimes blogger Jennifer Saranow Schultz wrote:
“Even if a site promises now not to sell aggregate data about customers, it could change the agreement at any time and go ahead and sell the data. In addition, if such sites go bankrupt, even if they currently don’t sell data, trustees may decide to sell it to maximize the value of the assets.”
The recent global outrage over the US National Security Agency’s collection of personal data will further fuel privacy and security concerns in the future.
As brands and organizations continue to collect user behavior and transaction data with new and existing digital properties, they will need to become more effective and proactive in creating, co-creating and communicating their policies.
People are also increasingly skeptical of acquisitions of their favorite web platforms. For many, acquisitions imply a change in operating policies or mission, and –more seriously – the eventual death of the platform.
Several Mint users have complained of usability issues following Intuit’s acquisition of the platform.
Xconomy’s Wade Roush commented:
“The trouble, for me, began about 18 months after the Intuit acquisition, when the Mint.com team decided to stop using Yodlee as their data provider and switch to Intuit’s own back end. The reasoning behind the change was understandable, but for users, it was a huge pain.”
Others noted a drop in quality of customer care and product upgrades. Mint user Acitrano commented:
“The #1 biggest problem with Mint is that Intuit seems like they’re trying to kill it by resource starvation. The support is terrible and they seem completely unwilling to improve the product.”
Acquisitions are now becoming a red flag for savvy internet users. We have seen this at scale with the recent Yahoo acquisition of Tumblr: Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced the news with a promise not to “screw up” Tumblr, and TechCrunch’s Matt Burns noted that 72,000 blog posts were transferred out of Tumblr within a single hour:
“Tumblr users are afraid Yahoo is going to ruin it. After all, Yahoo has set that precedent after scooping up sites like Geocities and del.icio.us only to abandon development and let the sites rot in the Internet sun.”
Several platforms like Payoff.com and Save Up, integrate elements of data collection and analysis, and gamification to help people manage their money. We are also seeing niche money management platforms, like Simplee which helps people manage their medical expenses.
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