Banks have failed to capitalise on interest in digital money management platforms, according to a Forrester Research report, thus missing an opportunity to target customers with personalised services based on their data.
As interest in digital banking increases, a range of major lenders and independent providers are offering tools to manage finances online and via mobile devices. These offer functionality such as allowing users to set budget goals based on account information, access financial advice or analyse spending by automatically organising transactions into categories such as 'rent', 'travel' or 'food'.
However, according to Forrester's 'The State of Digital Money Management 2014' report, which surveyed 13,000 online adults in Western Europe and 10,000 in the US, uptake has been slower than expected, and less than a quarter (22 percent) of respondents used a single digital management feature in the past three months.
Report author Stephen Walker claims that current management apps have failed to encourage regular use as they do not offer targeted and contextual services to customers when making purchasing decisions.
"People want to buy, and what they really want to do is buy better. If money management can exist here, in context, with real-time, relevant advice, it will get used and will help people make better decisions," Walker said.
This could mean offering pre-approved loans if a planned purchase would push customers over their pre-set budget, or offering a merchant-funded reward.
He continued: "The other money management - the one we have today, with its savings goals, its budgets and its good intentions - will always struggle for regular use. And because of that, it won't help you - the bank - or your customers."
Digital money management gained early interest with the introduction of independent providers including Wesabe and Mint.com in 2006 and 2007, opening the door for firms in the UK offering similar services such as lovemoney.com, Money Dashboard, Money Vista and OnTrees.
Many large banks now offer these services, either as part of a mobile app or separately, such as Barclays' Money Tools and Lloyds' Money Manager, as well as Bank of America, CitiBank, Wells Fargo in the US, and many others around Europe.
According to Walker, despite ongoing economic austerity and demand for financial advice, digital management services have failed to gain expected levels of customer interest for a variety of reasons.
For example, some banks, such as Lloyds in the UK, have received criticism for usability after rush-releasing software, leading to inaccuracies with automatic categorising of transactions, or relying too much on manual categorisation to provide feedback to users. Difficulty integrating information from a variety of accounts has also stymied demand, he said.
Of those users who do rely on digital finance tools, most use PCs (86 percent US and 81 percent Europe) to access this data rather than smartphones (35 percent and 27 percent) and tablets (20 percent and 11 percent), the report claims.
However, by focusing on providing management tools through mobile devices such as tablets, banks can overcome some of the usability problems in future and encourage greater uptake.
"Tablet apps present an opportunity to create next generation digital money management, free from the strait-jacket of older online banking platforms," said the report.