A quick scan of the top downloaded free PFM Apple iOS apps overwhelmingly demonstrates customers choose big bank offerings.

Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo comprise the top three, in that order, according to data analytics firm App Annie. Among the top 10, the only digital upstart is Everydollar, at No. 4. 

There’s a simple reason why, says Jim Del Favero, chief product officer at online RIA Personal Capital. Favero spent 17 years at Intuit tackling what he says is personal financial management's biggest problem: choice versus necessity.

“The thing with traditional financial institutions is that they are transactional -- if you want to pay a bill or write a check, you can go to their website, or do it through their app. You want to deposit, you can go to their website or ATM.

"But PFM outside the financial institutions is still a choice that someone has to make. That’s why Capital One still has more customers than all of [PFM-only apps] combined.”  

The app for Del Favero's Personal Capital, is 199th on the overal downloads list. (Rankings change almost daily).

For some folks, it's a trust issue, he grants. There's a comfort sticking with the big bank brand you know, even if it is a big bank brand that isn't very personal.

But for most, he says, it's because they think about finances only in simple terms.

"The No. 1 problem in personal finance is, 'My rent is due Friday and I don't get paid until next Friday, so how much money do I need,'" he says. "PFM could help them but they don't realize that. People make the choice not to manage their money."

PFM apps continue to generate only modest enthusiasm. Researchers at Aite Group found that just over 20% of a sample of Gen Y consumers used a PFM tool to manage their finances (for boomers, that figure is less than 10%).

It's like trying to lose weight, says Sophie Schmitt, senior analyst in Aite's wealth management practice.

"Just as it is hard to get started on a fitness program, consumers find adopting healthy financial habits difficult," she says. "I personally believe that PFM tools would be much more valuable if an advisor motivated clients to use them, or if an advisor used these tools on behalf of their clients to identify savings opportunities."

Now that doesn't mean that bank apps make it easier for people to make that decision to more actively control their finances, Del Favero adds.

In fact, he has few kind words for the banking industry's approach to PFM thus far.

He detests how banks have made PFM a clickable tab in their websites rather than more integrated part of the platform. It's a shared hatred among many who worked in the early efforts to develop PFM tools.

Schmitt says most consumers that do use PFM tools on their bank’s site are just getting a snapshot of their total financial picture, a service any number of places can provide.

As a result of the industry's approach and the ongoing attitude of most consumers, Del Favero sees little value for PFM in digital bank offerings.

"If you are in the financial services industry, you can engage people at a deeper level, get stickiness, cross sell; PFM is great for that. But people are not going to come to your bank for PFM." 

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