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Major US bank tries to capture hearts of young generation through banking app for millennials PART 2

March 28, 2019

How do you manage your daily expenses for food and transportation and your monthly payments for rent, mobile phone bills, and utilities? Maybe some of you use envelopes or clear folders to allocate money for different purposes, and maybe some use a household bookkeeping app. Millennials in particular, who go through major changes in lifestyles as they go from living alone, finding a job, or getting married, have most likely been through the experience of searching for a good mobile app for managing their money.

In the last few years, US banks have been focusing on capturing the millennial demographic. As an example, in the previous article, I talked about JP Morgan Chase’s new mobile app called Finn by Chase (hereinafter, Finn) targeted at the millennials. In this article, I will report on my actual experience using the mobile app developed by major US bank Wells Fargo called Greenhouse by Wells Fargo (hereinafter, Greenhouse).

What is Greenhouse?

Image source: Greenhouse

Greenhouse is a mobile banking app that Wells Fargo launched as a trial version for a limited rollout period on November 2017. Like Finn, accountholders have access to the standard banking services, such as debit card, remittance, and ATM services. It also does not charge maintenance and ATM use fees. Unlike Finn, however, which has functions for analyzing spending habits and for small-scale savings, Greenhouse is based on a different approach, as a service that is focused on the management of daily expenses and payment of monthly bills.

Peggy Mangot, head of Greenhouse development, in a press interview said, “In a large-scale study we conducted to understand millennial customer behavior, we learned that many of them devised their own unique ways to manage their money; they used notes apps and calendar reminders for important bills, some of them used prepaid cards and multiple bank accounts to separate money from spending.” Wells Fargo, therefore, created Greenhouse because they realized that these customers are looking for a way to manage everything (payment deadline management and payment processing) in one place.

According to Business Insider, the US bill pay market, which includes monthly payments for loans, housing, utilities, etc., is growing every year and was estimated to be worth 3.9 trillion US dollars in 2017(1). Thus far, people have used checks and cash to pay bills, but more and more people are paying bills online using apps offered by banks, billers, and financial startups (FinTech companies). For the bill pay market, half of all bill payments are now made digitally, a ratio that is seen to increase to 75% by 2022. Most banks already offer bill payment functionalities, and this shift to digital payments is seen as an opportunity for banks to capture more customers. In reality, however, banks are losing ground to billers and FinTech companies.

Greenhouse appears to have been developed to respond to these customer needs and adapt to the changing times.


Main functions

As mentioned above, Greenhouse has functions for separately managing ”money for daily expenses” and ”money for paying rent, utilities, and other monthly bills.”

Image source: Greenhouse

Specifically, users create two accounts for different purposes upon signing up for the service; namely, for ”Spending” and for ”Set Aside.”

  • Spending: Account that is linked to a debit card and used for paying daily expenses (food, transportation, entertainment expenses)
  • Set Aside: Account for managing payment deadlines and payment processing for loans, housing, and other bills

Users can also easily transfer funds between the two accounts. Also, setting a weekly Spending account budget will automatically transfer any insufficient amount from the Set Aside account to the Spending account at the start of the week. For example, if you set your weekly expense budget to 100 dollars and you are left with a 5-dollar balance at the end of the week, 95 dollars will be automatically transferred from your Set Aside account at the start of the following week. This function does away with the need for the user to manually allocate money every time, wherein you only need to check your weekly budget and balance through the app.

Larger view

The Set Aside account for paying loans, housing, and other bills, has a function for managing payment deadlines. To manage payment deadlines, you specify the amount, frequency, and due date for each type of bill (rent, mobile phone, electricity/gas, etc.). For example, you can set $80 for your mobile phone bill to be paid at the end of each month. Users receive reminders and advice from the app when funds are insufficient as the due date approaches, or when payment has not been made by the due date. Payments can of course be made directly through the Greenhouse app if the user adds the biller’s information into the payment settings. (Users must submit a copy of the bill to set payments through the app.)

Greenhouse, therefore, offers a solution to users who are managing their weekly and monthly payments on their own (and feel burdened by it). Like JP Morgan Chase’s Finn app, Greenhouse also promises to continually enhance and add functions to the app. We will be watching out for what new functions will be added and which new customer bases will be targeted by the app in the future, as well as how FinTech startups will respond to these moves by major banks.

Hiroshi Yamaguchi

NEC Corporation of America
Business Development Manager

After working as a system engineer involved in development and system planning of business applications for financial institutions, starting June 2016, Hiroshi Yamaguchi has been based at Silicon Valley to engage in research on new technologies and services from the U.S. and the planning and promotion of the use of these technologies and services.

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