If you’re confused by banking and financial jargon, you’re not alone. In fact, most consumers have poor financial knowledge, and the secrecy that surrounds banking products does not help. That’s where consumer-friendly online financial site MyBankTracker.com comes in.
Just like how Cardhub.com helps users to deciphers information about credit cards so they know which to choose, New York-based MyBankTracker.com provides a free, easy-to-use web portal that lets consumers rate and review banks, compare interest rates and learn more about the savings and investment options available to best meet their goals.
MyBankTracker’s founders created the site to present banking and financial information for everyday people. “We realized that there were thousands of banks and tens of thousands of banking products, while the majority of consumers did not even know what their own bank offered,” says Alex Matjanec, co-founder of MyBankTracker. “We wanted to introduce transparency into a system that was complex, secretive and legalistic. We wanted consumers to be able to make informed banking decisions to optimize the value of the money they have invested or that they held in accounts.”
The idea for MyBankTracker began in early 2008, when Alex Matjanec and fellow co-founders Tadas J. Nikulin and Jason Reposa were developing online consumer interfaces for several major financial institutions, including Van Kampen, ING Direct, and TD Bank (formerly Commerce Bank), and saw a disconnect between the experience banks were providing as opposed to what they purported to offer consumers. It was then that they recognized a need to present banking information in a more consumer-oriented way.
Their timing was also near uncanny – the financial meltdown and recession would hit the US just a few months later.
“Many people saw the value of their ‘real property’ decline, jobs eliminated and investments losing 20- and 30-percent of their value”, Alex says of the economic depression. “People had become accustomed to instant credit (at whatever cost) and now had high debt with high rates of interest that would take years to pay down.”
This spawned an entire generation of cost-conscious consumers, who now scrutinize their every dollar spent. “(There is a) new awareness by consumers to take control of their personal finances needs to be supported through education and information that will allow them to manage their debt and become financially independent.”
Empowering Consumers Through Information
Alex says that MyBankTracker aims to provide consumers a platform to ‘equalize banks’ by presenting information grouped under various criteria – tracking over 50,000 banking products – so that a consumer can use to find the best rates, to reading real consumer reviews to see if a particular bank is a fit. More information is provided through a daily news section, with “How-To” articles, as well as a “ask a question” platform, launched at the beginning of this year, where consumers can go to find answers on money questions from peers and the MyBankTracker community.
Alex reveals that MyBankTracker – which gets over 200,000 unique visits a month – tends to attract users in their mid-20 to late-30s, with household income (HHI) of between US$75-125K. Its business model revolves around niche advertising partnerships, as well as providing competitive research services on bank products.
“It is important to point out that we only partner with brands that fit our mission and messaging,” Alex insists. “Banks choose to advertise with us because of our transparency and reporting integrity; they want to be associated with our brand and are not afraid of positive or negative reviews. Banks understand that we have a direct relationship to their target audience.”
Lessons, Challenges And Opportunities
One of the biggest challenges facing MyBankTracker is in growing their brand, admits Alex, and is looking to focus on creating awareness for the site. “In the beginning we made the choice to focus on SEO and can proudly say, we have seen great success, but overall our brand is still undervalued.”
Alex says a number of MyBankTracker‘s key challenges are based on its choice to stay lean as a company. “Averaging five to nine employees, depending on current projects, we are sometimes faced with making decisions on what products (features) we should roll out first, knowing that a delay could result in one of our competitors beating us to market,” he explains. “(But) staying lean is a strategic decision; it forces us to only take on work that produces quality results for our clients and quality information for consumers.”
One of its biggest achievements has been the company’s evolution from a concept to becoming a growth company it is today. “We’ve been profitable every year since we launched, and this has given us the freedom to take on new challenges and launch new features without the pressure that financial constraints bring.” Now this is all the more amazing because the company is fully self-funded, and has not received a single dollar in funding from outside investors. “MyBankTracker is 100-percent organically grown, and we are extremely proud of this fact,” Alex reveals.
One of the key lessons that the MyBankTracker team has learnt is the importance of hiring right. “We take hiring very seriously and we will work long hours to complete projects instead of bringing someone in that we don’t feel is a right fit for our team,” Alex says. “We have been fortunate enough not to hire the wrong person, but we understand that rushing this process can be costly both in money and in time. We also want to ensure that people join our team for the right reason and if they leave it is also for the right reason.”
“Hiring is a skill, and one that we have to excel at as a team.”
Another lesson learned, Alex shares, is that designing a new feature, function or platform that you believe is a winner or killer application may not be. “As a startup, we don’t have the flexibility to run large focus groups or costly studies to understand how an audience will accept a new feature. It is a fine balance then to spend money on development work that the audience may not adopt or appreciate.”
“Over time we have become smarter with our rollout strategy and created a checklist of deliverables (success factors) that need to be completed before introducing a new feature,” Alex adds.
A philosophy the MyBankTracker team lives by in and out of office is: never make the next person’s job harder. “That way everyone is more productive,” explains Alex.
Thriving On Creating Value
“Coming from the go-go-go mentality, which is the advertising world, our drive to create something of our own grew with every campaign that we launched as employees of someone else’s company,” says Alex,on their decision to strike out on their own. “My partners and I one day realized that three of us had a rare synergy in that together we have the necessary skills and talent to develop, launch and succeed in our own business.”
“It is this thing – an entrepreneur’s ability to create value – that gives us satisfaction. We have stressful days, but they are our days and it is our stress. We have the opportunity to focus on our objectives and success or failure results from the decisions we make. We embrace the challenge of starting from nothing and growing to something.”
“It is this drives us every day.”
Alex offers a word of advice to startups or anyone launching or running a product in a competitive vertical. “Recognize that your competition is probably thinking of 80-percent of the same tools as you. So do not become discouraged if they release the feature or product before you.”
“Just remember that the best product will win. Apple did not create the cell phone.”