Online Bank Is For The Birds


Would you dump your hard-earned money into a savings account called SmartyPig? The online financial institution relies on Twitter to promote and drum up business, but with all the negative publicity surrounding impostors and fake accounts, it's a gamble for a bank to rely on it.

SmartyPig co-founder Mike Ferrari isn't too concerned. The company has been fortunate to build a loyal following filled with followers who tend to identify spoof sites before most know they exist.

Ferrari says SmartyPig encountered a fake account in 2008. The Twitter community learned about a Romanian company called TrustyPig, which ripped off SmartyPig's logo and site design. "At that point, your followers usually correct the issue," he says. "It's actually entertaining to watch. We had someone fake our Web site in Romania (yep the country) and in a matter of days, our fans helped take the site down via a 'brand hijack.'"

Unfortunately, it took Twitter nearly a year to put a verification process in place. On Saturday, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone wrote on the company blog about plans to test a service called Account Verification. Testing will begin this summer with public officials, public agencies, famous artists, athletes, and other well-known individuals at risk of impersonation.

When asked if Account Verification will increase credibility for its Twitter campaigns, Ferrari says he welcomes verification -- or certification -- of accounts. Authentication should help new, or not as well-known, companies entering twitter for the first time with zero followers or history. "I am hopeful the verification process is robust enough that in the end, users and other organizations can put their trust in the process," he says. "This will ultimately increase credibility and reduce fraud for any organization."

SmartyPig now runs Twitter campaigns in the third week of every month. Followers are asked a question. Those who send back the correct answer are put into a pool. Twenty people are pulled at random, of which three win one $100 SmartyPig gift card.

The SmartyPig gift card acts similar to an iTunes card. Campaign winners redeem the gift cards by starting an account or dropping it into an existing SmartyPig account. The interest rate runs about 3.05%, but fluctuates with the market.

But opening an account requires the person to set a savings goal and date to reach it. It also requires a minimum deposit of $250 into the account. Monthly withdrawals are required, but customers will soon have an option to deposit money weekly. SmartyPig looks at the goal amount and timeline, and then suggests a monthly automatic withdrawal from your regular checking or savings account that satisfies the goal. Customers can withdraw savings before reaching their goal, but they must take it all.

Ferrari describes SmartyPig as a "banking application." The company has licensed two financial institutions: Des Moines, IA-based West Bank in the United States, and ANZ Bank in Australia. SmartyPig will continue to seek financial services companies throughout the world for exclusive territorial partnerships similar to separate deals made with West Bank and ANZ.

Savings account holders range in age. All are online-savvy. The majority -- 41% -- are between the ages of 26 and 35; 24% are 46 and older; 18% are between 36 and 45; and 17% are between 18 and 25.

One-quarter of customers have more than one goal. Sometimes they have up to five. The average savings goal is $12,691. While the five top categories of saving accounts are Saving to Save, Misc., Travel, Emergency Fund, and Car, there are a host of others such as Motorcycle, Kids, and College/Education.

SmartyPig integrates with sites Mint, Wesabe Yodlee, Buxfer, Thrive, MoneyStrands Microsoft Money, and soon Geezeo and Rudder. The service also offers a mobile and a Facebook application.

And while the service has received positive reviews, if Ferrari had known the difficulties he would face interacting with an FDIC-insured bank, he would have opted to start a t-shirt company instead.

1 comment about "Online Bank Is For The Birds".
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  1. Maribel Lackey from Zuno Studios, June 11, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    I saw a presentation by Smarty Pig at this year's SXSW Interactive conference in Austin this year. They actually seemed to have everything really together. The panel they spoke on also included representatives from and it seemed the services could compliment each other in some ways. I haven't tried Smarty Pig yet, but after hearing them speak I wouldn't have any trouble trusting the site.

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