Plenty of ink has been spilled over Mint.com, the personal finance site that’s seen so much growth in the past year that its competitors are getting jealous. Its simple-to-use web-based and mobile applications for tracking personal expenses and investments appeal to 20- and 30-somethings, a generation that wasn’t really even in this market in the past. And this year at South by Southwest, the site’s sleek appearance helped put it in the running for an award for best use of CSS, or cascading style sheets.
But what exactly is the company doing with all that extremely valuable financial data it’s collecting? First, it’s using it to sell users potential deals on credit cards and other offers from banks, who provide most of the site’s revenue. When users visit a page called “Ways to Save,” the site pulls together bank offers suited specifically to you – your credit score, your purchase patterns, etc., and tells you how much you would save by making a switch. So far, 20% of customers visiting this page click through to the partnering bank’s site – by comparison, traditional display banner ads are lucky to get a 1% click-thru rate. Aaron Patzer, CEO of Mint.com, wants to take this model further. He’s in talks with insurance companies, who want to pitch similar offers based on the habits of potential customers. And he says telecom companies would be a a natural fit, since most Mint.com users enter their information on cable and phone bills.
A lot of lip service is given to data mining as a business model, but so far few of the big Web companies have come public with plans to turn a buck on information about their users — mostly, for fear of raising privacy concerns. Mint.com’s model is transparent and, most importantly, uses consumer data to help consumers.
Here’s a video I shot with Aaron.