Last week in Banking as a Platform, I discussed how banks might use the platform concept (for example as discussed by Tom Steinthal in a post called Some Thoughts on Platforms in Financial Services) to support radical improvements in customer experience and service.
Tom has now replied. In a post called Platforms - Are They Coming, he mentions a banking product called PNC Virtual Wallet. [PNC Bank Takes on Mint & Quicken with PNC Virtual Wallet, NetBanker, July 14th 2008]
The NetBanker article mentions several companies offering financial management platforms that apparently sit on top of (and aggregate) online services from regular banks. These financial management platforms include Geezeo, Jwaala, Mint, Wesabe. I haven't studied these in detail, but from a quick review of the material on their respective websites they look fairly similar, and a lot more like real platforms (according to the criteria stated in Tom's earlier post) than PNC Virtual Wallet. Although PNC deserves some praise for innovating at all, I can't see anything very radical in the PNC innovation.
Among the comments to the NetBanker article, I note contributions from Aaron Patzer (CEO of Mint) and Andrew Taylor (CTO of Jwaala). This is not the first time these two have clashed in public: in September, Andrew put a post onto the Jwaala blog called Hi I'm Mint. Ugg., which prompted a robust reply from Aaron.
Behind the rivalry between Mint and Jwaala is a fundamentally important difference in platform strategy. Mint appears to be selling to customers - "use our platform to get a better service over and above your existing bank accounts and other financial service providers". Whereas Jwaala appears to be selling to banks - "use our platform to provide better services to your customers". (Back in 2005, I noted a similar dilemma for software billing specialist LaCayla - whether to market its services upwards or downwards. There are some complex questions of platform strategy here, as I indicated in my post on two-sided markets. There are also questions of trust.)
I really hope that innovations like these are successful, but there is a lot of work to do. Big banks like PNC may offer a watered-down and "safe" version of the innovation, but they might possibly have mixed feelings about the outcome. Meanwhile we can expect a lot of exciting stuff to be produced by small energetic companies with disputatious senior management; but it will be interesting to see how far they get with or without the active collaboration of any of the big banks.