This startup plans to take on CreditKarma by offering cash rewards for making smarter money decisions — here's what it says about the future of consumer finance

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  • A fintech startup is giving cash rewards for consumers who sign up for its account and then take active steps to improve their financial health.
  • Status Money is pioneering a novel approach to personal financial management, effectively sharing some of the referral money with customers that it collects from suggesting credit cards or personal loans.
  • The startup is one of the first to introduce techniques more akin to video games into the personal finance arena. JPMorgan is among other firms considering similar moves.

A startup plans to pay you for opening a credit card with a lower rate. Or moving your money into a higher-yielding savings account. Or using a coupon at your favourite retailer.

The service is the brainchild of Status Money, a relatively new player in an industry led by larger firms like Mint or CreditKarma that recommend credit card offers, high-yield savings accounts or online personal loans within free personal finance software. In return for sharing their data, consumers get access to offers. The tech companies receive what is effectively a referral fee.

Status’ rewards program, months in the making, aims to share some of that fee with users and also persuade them to improve their financial health in other ways that don’t necessarily mean revenue for the startup, according to Majd Maksad, one of its founders.

“This is the first program in this space that gives people cash rewards,” Maksad said. “These aren’t points or some weird currency, this is real money.”

Status and other firms are positioning themselves at the nexus of two prevailing global trends: the growing use of technology that’s spitting out vast troves of data to mine for valuable insights and the drive to use behavioural economics findings to create policies to help persuade humans to be more healthy. Those suggestions may include nudging them to walk more, signing up for a retirement program at work or, as of Tuesday, paying them to move money into a higher-yielding savings account.

The aim isn’t entirely altruistic. Status’ rewards are likely to distinguish it from competitors and encourage people to engage more fully with the sales leads on its site. If successful, that would mean more user growth and higher revenue.

Read more: ‘If you get to 700, 750, we’ll cut your mortgage costs a little bit’: JPMorgan is working on ways to reward you for improving your credit score, and it may be the future of consumer finance

The product works like this: an individual receives $US5 for opening an account (a badge on the homepage touts the cash value) and another $US2 for linking various bank and credit bureau accounts. Users can then earn additional rewards by signing up for other financial products that Status recommends, or engaging in other activity on the site. Like a game, badges identify opportunities and encourage engagement.

That could mean signing up for things like a high yield savings account or refinancing a loan, and even managing a budget. It could mean using a coupon at your favourite retailer, delivering rewards on top of the savings. And the firm is even in talks with a daily deals site to offer additional rewards to nudge consumers into using that coupon for a restaurant or sightseeing cruise that they bought months ago.

Once $US10 or more has been collected, Status allows user to withdraw the funds and drop them into a linked bank account. Some products may deliver $US20 or more in rewards; there’s no cap on the amount of rewards that can be earned and they don’t expire.

The idea is to turn a traditional technology model on its head. Rather than simply monetizing the data it collects through bank accounts and credit files and offering a free service in exchange Status aims to return some of that value to consumers. And adds transparency around how it’s being used. The firm doesn’t sell data or share it with third parties.

“If I’m the consumer giving you data and information, why don’t I get a share of that?” Maksad said in an interview. “What we’re trying to do is create a more of a shared business model.”


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Maksad, the former head of decision management for Citigroup’s digital payments group, founded Status with Korash Hernandez, a colleague from Citi who had left to become one of the first employees at Goldman Sachs’s online lender, Marcus. They joined up in May 2016, raising $US4 million in a seed round from AltPoint Ventures. The website was unveiled in September 2017 and there’s now a mobile app for the more than 200,000 users.

From the beginning, the two data scientists aimed to separate themselves from the larger competitors by using machine learning to make smarter recommendations – delivering better leads to its partners – and to return real value to consumers.

The initial product was a dashboard comparing an individual’s financial situation to peers based on factors such as address, age, or credit score. It delivers information about how they stack up to peers and, hopefully, persuades them to take action to save more or spend less, Maksad said.

“The equation between consumers and their tech companies is going to have to change,” Maksad said. “There is no doubt in our minds that open data and financial transparency is coming. We want to be one of the ones to lead that change.”

JPMorgan – the largest bank in the country – is also considering ways it can reward people for improving their financial health, CEO Jamie Dimon said in a July interview with Business Insider. The firm would provide incentives, like reducing loan costs, for lifting a credit score to a certain threshold, Dimon said. The bank is thinking about beta testing several tools around that idea, though it’s unclear whether those would be tied to improving credit scores, financial education, or other things.

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