People don’t want aggregation?

I added the question mark at the end of my subject in order to add a bit of intrigue and a touch of drama to my post. You may have thought I was making a declarative statement, but then… ‘wha? a question mark? This is actually a question being posed by this person.’ you must have said to yourself… Blog tricks.

If I haven’t lost you yet –

When I began working on sites within the financial services realm I heard over and over again how aggregation of accounts was a dead horse to be beaten. I even found Forrester studies declaring the end of an ugly era:

From: The Account Aggregation Fiasco: Lessons Learned (2005)

“During the Internet golden days of 1998, account aggregation was heralded by vendors as the next killer app. There’s just one problem: Consumers weren’t — and still aren’t — interested. Yet few firms have admitted defeat and pulled the plug on the service. But, finally, five years after launching aggregation, Wells Fargo notified its small base of users that it planned to discontinue the service. Forrester hopes that other banks will follow Wells Fargo’s lead and focus their efforts on services that 1) consumers want; and 2) produce a bottom-line benefit.”

The fact is, people just didn’t want account aggregation done poorly. The trouble at the time was aggregation was a solution looking for a problem. None of the systems created were rooted in real consumer problems other than “I want to see all my accounts in one place.” Then the experiences would offer the same jumble they could have gotten at the individual sites… just in one place. Thanks. Then the thought was that people just wanted to log in to everything with one password. Once that was solved, surely people would flock to aggregation… nope.

Enter mint.com. A phenomenal solution to actual personal finance problems that happens to support aggregation. One of the most inspiring articles I’ve read in the last few years is this Interview with Aaron Patzer, founder of Mint.com.

The tool is rooted in a very simple problem. Personal finance is a pain in the ass and only a select few are wired to wrangle spreadsheets and tools like Quicken (before it ate up mint.com). The available features tell you things you never knew about your habits. It paints a picture in black and white. It had a business model from the very beginning with the goal of optimizing your savings and spending. It offered something in return for going through the pain of aggregation.

Once people realize that the world beyond a barrier is exactly the same as the one before it, they will stop trying to scale the wall. Mint.com offers a better experience past the wall. Early aggregation systems just offered a ladder… that almost went to the top.


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