Personal Finance Tracking for People Who Won’t Buy Personal Finance Software
I’ve been using Quicken and Turbotax to manage my finances for so long that I don’t even blink at spending the $30 to $100 that Intuit extorts every year for the newest version of the programs. But for an entire generation of younger adults, spending that much on a piece of software that comes in a box —indeed, spending money on home-PC software, period—is unthinkable. (Though, paradoxically, they don’t seem to have a problem plunking down $60 for Gears of War on the Xbox 360).
This 18-to-34 age group is the target demographic for Geezeo, a personal-finance website and mobile-data service launched in January by Shawn Ward and Peter Glyman, veterans of tax-acccounting software company Gainskeeper. “For a lot of them there’s an expectation that you can find what you need on the Web, and there’s also a psychological thing where they say ‘I’m not going to use my parents’ Quicken,'” Glyman told me yesterday. Yet these people do have checking accounts, debit and credit cards, student loans, plenty of daily expenses, and lots of debt—all the ingredients that make for financial disaster, if managed carelessly.
Glyman and Ward, who have offices in Framingham, MA, designed Geezeo to help users control their spending, reach financial goals, and get advice from peers, using just their Web browsers and mobile phones. Once you’ve provided Geezeo with your personal information such as checking account numbers and banking passwords, the site’s back-end software will grab the latest transaction records from your bank and credit card companies and automatically tag each purchase; it will figure out that the $40 you spent at the Exxon station, for example, should be tagged “Gas.”
The automatically generated tags, which are analogous to the spending categories in Quicken, help users determine whether they’re spending too much on certain items, such as dining out. Because the same tags are used for all members, individual users can compare their spending in each category to average figures for other Geezeo users.
Geezeo’s mobile component allows members to access their accounts from their cell phones. If you’re out shopping and need to know whether you can afford that beautiful 42-inch high-definition TV, texting “geezeo” to 4-1411 will elicit a return message with your current account balances.
Ward and Glyman say they started from the premise that young people today need help managing their money, especially given their propensity to pay for everything using a debit or credit card. “Debt levels are astronomical, savings rates are at an all-time low, consumption is at an all-time high, and there are just more and more creative products to buy, which helps people get deeper into debt,” says Ward.
Geezeo earns revenue by generating sales leads for banks and credit-card companies, based on its own analysis of how members’ accounts are performing. “If you have a savings account and you’re getting a bad rate, for example, we’ll identify a better product for you, based on product data we have and feedback from other users,” Glyman explains. For every member who switches to a new financial institution, Geezeo collects a bounty.
Glyman and Ward launched their service in October 2006 under the name DebtFolio. At first, the business focused only on helping users manage their credit card debt. “But we realized that you can’t just look at the debt side—you really need the whole picture, all of a person’s finances, to help them with product recommendations,” Ward says. The company quickly rebranded itself early this year under the more playful name Geezeo—a riff on G for Grand, as in “You owe me 10 G’s”—and added the ability to track bank accounts, loans, mortgages, and (coming soon) brokerage accounts.
The company also launched mobile and social features to capitalize on the interactive “Web 2.0” trends attracting so many users to online services. In addition to seeing how other members spend their money (in aggregate—no individual data is revealed), users can submit personal goals such as “Pay off my American Express” or “Stop buying useless s–t” and exchange advice and encouragement with others who’ve listed the same goals. They can also join discussion groups with themes like “Broke Photographers” and “Boston on a Budget.”
Ward and Glyman won’t say how many members Geezeo has signed up so far. But because of its huge student population, the Boston area is an ideal launching pad for the company, says Ward. “With all the colleges in the Boston area and close by, you couldn’t ask for a better demographic,” he says. “But what doesn’t get recognized is that there’s also a really strong entrepreneurial movement going on in Boston, with lots of events and energy and investment. Those two factors together make it a perfect time for us.”
The company is in the final stages of arranging angel funding and will soon enter a venture funding round, say Glyman and Ward. And while the company’s current focus is on acquiring more members and rolling out new features, hopes for a liquidity event sometime in the future are certainly on the minds of the co-founders. They point out that credit-reporting giant Experian purchased debt-consolidation site LowerMyBills.com in 2005 for $330 million. “Certainly, there is an opportunity for Geezeo to be the next Intuit,” says Glyman. Just without the boxed software.
CORRECTION 10 Aug. 2007: The original version of this story, Shawn Ward’s name was misspelled Shawn Ford. The author regrets the error, particularly because his hard-of-hearing great-grandmother used to call him Ward.