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22seven comes out of beta

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The personal financial management service, 22seven, which caused a stir in the local banking sector when it launched in January, is officially coming out of beta today.

The service links to users' online banking accounts and draws the information into a single “smart statement”, with detailed categorisation of spending, and mechanisms to assist in meeting savings goals.

Created by former 20twenty CEO, Christo Davel, 22seven uses a combination of gamification and behavioural science to assist users to gain a holistic picture of their financial situation and improve their ability to manage it.

Since its January launch, the service has been in public beta testing phase, and it is now officially open. Users will have 30 days' free access to 22seven; thereafter it will cost R70 per month.

22seven initially ruffled the feathers of major banks, with Absa even going so far as to block Yodlee (the financial data aggregator used by 22seven). However, after some initial apprehension, FNB became the first bank to officially support the service, allowing its customers to make use of the “read only” online banking profile option.

In a message sent to users yesterday, 22seven said it has been using the last three months to test the service “technically, practically and philosophically”.

“We've been fixing bugs, getting feedback from users like you, and gauging how much 22seven is helping people do more with their money. What's been overwhelmingly clear is that the answer is: a lot.”

The new version of the service features a number of enhancements. These include a fresh design - aimed at making the site brighter and simpler. The homepage also has a “conversations” section that is open to non-users as a platform to ask questions and discuss the service. The site has “user stories”, which include testimonials from well-known tech personalities.

Another key update is a change in the way users' balances are displayed. “Banks like to show us our 'available balance'. But money we can spend often isn't our money. Once you've logged in, you'll be able to see exactly how much money you have, already owe and can borrow,” says 22seven.

“22seven's tools haven't changed, but the way we've presented them has: they're arranged in a way that helps you look at what you did, are doing and can do with your money. It's a small, but significant, shift that helps you use your past to explore choices and changes right now, while being more mindful of how you want to use your money in the future.”

* 22seven will reveal all the details of the updated service at an event in Johannesburg later today (Thursday, 10 May).

Update

Speaking at a press briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday, Davel said the latest release maintains all the same tools that users are used to, but the contextual user interface has been upgraded.

Davel added that 22seven is constantly adding support for new providers. Current providers supported are Absa, FNB, Capitec, Discovery, Edgars, Investec, Kulula, Nedbank, RMB, Standard Bank, Virgin Money and Woolworths.

“The most important thing is that we proved to ourselves with our beta release, that people want a service like this,” says Davel.

“Despite the noise that initially surrounded the security concerns, thousands of people still signed up and started using the service. Now the noise has been dying down because those concerns have been proven to be incorrect.

“At this point the concern from the banks has shifted from that of security, to that of the message that is sent out to customers. We've had and are having discussions with banks about alternatives to coming through the front door.

“When the message starts to be adopted by banks that there is a smarter way of using the service [rather than providing online banking credentials], that doesn't breach the banks' terms, then thinking will change,” says Davel, citing the success FNB's approach and the possible use of APIs instead of login details.

Davel says looking ahead, the key focus for 22seven is going to be mobile due to the high demand for it from users. To this end, Davel says it is likely that the “A Bit More” (ABM) machine (which shows the user's three categories of highest expenditure and sets savings goals) will be one of the first elements to become available on mobile devices.

According to Davel, 22seven has already begun upgrading elements from Flash to HTML, and it will continue to do so.

As the service starts to move towards a subscription model, Davel says the 22seven team has “some hopes, but no predictions or expectations” as to the number of users the service will have. “We know though that if the service adds value, users are far more likely to use it, so that is our focus.”

“We are just beginning to understand how powerfully this product can help people change their relationship with money,” says Davel. “This plan is not simply to get people out of debt or help them save more. It's our intention to fundamentally and permanently alter our relationship with money for the better.”

Related story:
22seven: the real story

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