Start-up Moneysmart to tackle personal finance
Cape Town start-up Moneysmart, due to launch at the end of next month, aims to provide a platform where people can manage all their financial matters in one place, from banking and expenses to insurance and investments.
Founders Zulfiq Isaacs and Tobie van Zyl came up with the idea for Moneysmart about two years ago, primarily in response to Van Zyl’s experiences as a broker and financial advisor. Van Zyl had a website that he used to generate leads for new business and found that a lot of enquiries he received were from under-30s wanting to learn more about financial products.
Isaacs says the two also realised that most South Africans have to manage multiple accounts on different platforms when it comes to their finances. “We wanted to create a single place online for people to manage their money and have access to financial products that suited their financial profile.”
Users can link their bank accounts to their Moneysmart profile and categorise their transactions. Isaacs says Moneysmart is intended to take the effort out of categorising transactions, present users with meaningful data about their spending” and “put control of their financial lives back in their hands”.
Those wary of sharing their banking details with Moneysmart — despite its “bank-level encryption” and the assurance that not even employees can see users’ account details — can upload comma separated value (CSV) files, which banks offer as a method of exporting statements from online banking.
Callan Vorster, chief technical officer and product manager at Moneysmart, says users can create budgets and set goals, tracking their spending with frequently updated data. The company intends launching applications for mobile devices to make this easier for users to track.
“People make budgets but often have a hard time sticking to them. Everyone has a mix of known and unknown expenses. The known ones are easy to track, but the unknown ones aren’t, which often means people draw up a budget with the best intentions but run out of momentum,” says Vorster.
“We use that initial momentum to get them to create a budget, which we see as 80% of the work required to benefit from Moneysmart.”
Users can then group individual banking line items, or any other expense, using the site’s categories.
Vorster says Moneysmart uses a “heuristic algorithm” that allows it to track how a user, and other users, categorise expenses. “If 75% of people categorise things the same way, we create a rule and treat it that way. So the system gets better as time goes on and more people join. Users can always override a rule, or create their own rules for unusual items.”
The platform is free to end users and includes a community area on the site populated with financial and lifestyle topics and moderated by “an expert panel” and covers topics such as how one finances a car that’s older than three years and what the difference is between a market-linked and a notice account.
“Users can also track their spending over time,” says Vorster. “We’re not showing them only their bank balances but we’re showing them their real balance after spending and what they’ve allocated towards saving or investment goals.”
Moneysmart includes a marketplace where users can look for financial products that meet their specific financial profiles. “Users can ask service providers questions and engage with them directly and they won’t be fed adverts that have no relevance to them,” says Vorster.
At launch automation, with a bank account will cost a nominal fee, but that there will be ad hoc and subscription models available. Other paid services will include the ability to request credit reports and similar services from site.
Isaacs says Moneysmart isn’t — and won’t — become affiliated with “any particular financial service or brand. Vendor neutrality is essential.”
Eventually, the company hopes to be able to integrate with customers’ insurance and investment data so that as many aspects as possible of a user’s financial life is available through the site.
Vorster says the one thing Moneysmart won’t be linking to is the SA Revenue Service. Nevertheless, the system supports categories and tagging of tax-related expenses and income and in due course Vorster says users will be able to take photos of invoices with mobile devices and tag and categorise them or link them to a specific line item, all of which should make tax returns easier to complete.
Isaacs says the company is also looking at integrating bill payments and a degree of social media and community functionality, such as the ability to review specific financial products and make these reviews available to other users.
Though Moneysmart is an SA initiative there are plans to take it to a global market. “The system has been built to allow for this and supports language conversion, currency conversion and so on so that it can be adapted to new markets easily,” says Vorster.
The company has had two rounds of funding so far and has “guaranteed backing” for its roll out and expansion path. It isn’t the only service to offer financial information, banking integration and tracking tools. US site Mint has been doing so to critical acclaim for almost five years. Other sites offer some of Moneysmart’s services, but aren’t as ambitious. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
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