2019 Top Apps: Personal Finance, Banking, Hotels, and Lodging

Mobile and in-app engagement is increasingly important for brands. But which brands are actually doing this really well, personalizing their user’s experiences, and seeing tangible results in the process?

Others have attempted to draw your attention to the best apps out there, including PCMag (helpfully broken down by category) and Digital Trends (helpfully broken down by device, i.e. Android vs. iOS, and by month). 

We’ve ranked the  top 40 apps using our “Stages of Personalization” model, which takes into account:

  • Audience
  • Message
  • Timing

We’ve previously outlined how you can move from Stage 1, which requires you to move away from broadcast messaging, to Stage 2. 

When we analyze these apps, it’s through a prism of how effectively they personalize their in-app and overall mobile experience for users. We will often link to their app review page when linking the name of the brand, in case you want to read a slate of reviews before adding it to your phone. 

We know looking at all 40 apps and the background/reasoning at once might have been a lot, so we broke this into two posts of 20 apps each. The first 20 apps come from personal finance/banking and hotels/lodging. The next 20 apps (later this week) will be from retail, quick-service food (think Chipotle), entertainment, and wireless/telecommunications. 

Finance, Banking, Personal Finance Apps

Coinbase: This is basically the app for people who have heard of crypto currency, are not exactly sure what that is, but know they might need to understand it as they get further into adulthood. You can view prices and charts for different cryptocurrencies and broadly understand the market. The push notifications are targeted to news and information about what’s happening and what you should consider doing with your own money. 

Bank of America: Mobile banking is increasingly a huge area for long-standing financial institutions, and following a few app redesigns, BofA has seen huge jumps in mobile users. (Their AI application, Erica, already has 6M+ users.) During the fourth quarter of 2018, mobile users logged in 1.5 billion times. The 2017 redesign was largely focused on personalization, allowing users to choose the up-front functionalities and notifications most important to their stage in life.

Mint: Long a favorite of the millennial world, Mint is also inherently personalized: You’re looking at your budget, your spending categories, your areas of potential improvement, your credit score, and your bills. Every message you’re receiving from them is about ways to spend money better. In most of America, real wages haven’t budged since 1978, but the cost of goods and services continues to increase. You need to stay on top of your money in order to make those bigger life purchases and decisions, and Mint is a beautifully-personalized way to do that.

Scotiabank: They actually partnered with Sensibill a few years ago to personalize the financial experience, including having access to customer purchase history at the item level. That allowed them to offer targeted banking products based on what their customers were already spending money on. Easiest example: lots of money on things you need before a baby? They will personalize triggers to College Savings Plans. They know their audience, the right message, and the right timing. That’s how the formula works best.

Qapital: This app is about bringing gamification to budgeting. Members can invest with personalized portfolios, and set rules and triggers for their spending. We all sometimes need that Thursday happy hour because it’s Baby Friday, but can we actually afford it? This is a way to know -- and you’re quickly able to learn in-app via your existing information and rules.

Capital One: They have cool ads with mascots, for sure. And they sponsor a lot of college football games. But how’s the app itself? It’s actually great. It’s been No. 1 in customer satisfaction among mobile banking apps for the last two years via JD Power and Associates, and here’s a cool little feature: You can customize credit cards with family pictures and the like right in-app. Capital One also sends personalized notifications for way more than fraud; for example, they’ll tell you when your Netflix bill goes up.

Venmo: Not much we need to say here. Popular app and it brings the “friend graph” (people you actually know in your day-to-day life) into your finances, complete with emojis and the like. Sharing money feels easy and it feels like a big game, which is an awesome user experience and highly-personalized psychologically because the “What’s it for?” (the expense) is often based on jokes between you and your friends, strengthening those bonds and making you feel good about the app.

Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo also added AI recently (early 2018), which provides increasingly-personalized banking insights. They’ll push message you on recurring bills that have changed, and also (somewhat shamefully) encourage the transfer of money from savings to checking to avoid any potential overdraft. The app also offers personalized financial guidance in-app.

HSBC: HSBC has also tested smartwatches as a way to cut customer wait times in-branch, and their Connected Money app, which is currently available mostly in the UK, has gained 300,000 new users since the start of 2019. Connected Money is a money management app that simplifies expense tracking and personalizes reports and suggestions for users.

Chase Mobile: In 2018, Chase’s CMO actually said “you can kiss traditional marketing goodbye,” noting that digital and mobile channels brought about a hyper-targeting, hyper-personalized rise. Chase has been near the forefront of mobile financial personalization for 3-4 years, including push notifications for any number of situations ranging from overdraft to bill changes to bill pay prompts to easier sharing of money with friends. 

Hotels and Lodging

AirBNB: This is the grand-daddy of mobile disruption market threat apps. In fact, we just wrote about this recently: “By March 2019, consumers spent more on AirBNB lodging than on Hilton, meaning AirBNB -- founded in August 2008 -- owns about 20% of the world's lodging market in 11 years.”

Caesars Rewards: This is a great app for exclusive mobile offers at their resorts in Vegas, Atlantic City, New Orleans, and worldwide. The essence of modern marketing is “turn data into loyalty,” and that’s what Caesars aims to do with this app. If they see a specific customer always playing certain tables, or visiting certain in-casino bars, or requesting similar rooms, they can customize their next experience and even trigger the purchase of the experience with mobile offers. In-app, you can keep track of your points, rewards, and offers. Caesars themselves have noted that “tens of millions of people” constitute the middle of the gaming and lodging market -- so not the high-rollers -- and those people need to be taken care of well and keep coming back. The app and its personalization is a core tenet of that strategy.

Kayak: We put this under lodging because while many consider it a flight-purchase app primarily, it has great hotel selection as well. They even partnered with Amazon Echo for voice-powered hotel booking! Talk about making what can be a painful process into one that’s fun for the family. 

Hyatt Hotels: This one has all the normal features you’d expect from a hotel chain around booking, viewing bills, upgrading, etc. But you can also request items to your room, book Uber to/from hotel, and communicate with on-site staff via Facebook Messenger and Twitter in-app. As they get increasing data on your travel preferences, Hyatt subsequently will personalize offers around your next lodging needs.

Marriott: Little bit freaky, maybe, but Siri can unlock your door in this app. Marriott’s got an ambitious growth plan of 1,700 new hotels in the next three years, and to consistently fill those hotels, they need uber-personalized experiences for their guests. They realize that power comes from mobile. And in fact, in mid-2018, one publication noted they were “changing the hotel game with personalization,” noting:

“When someone checks into one of our hotels, we want to be able to wow them,” said Linnartz. “We want to be able to say, ‘Hello, Henry — welcome! We know you just flew in from Dubai, where you stayed at our property last night. We’ve put a lovely amenity in your room to help you get over your jet lag. We also know you love running, so we’ve mapped out a great route that you might want to explore.’ Our digital platform is the tool that allows us to have all that information in the hands of our front-desk staff, so we can pull off that kind of experience.”

Hilton Worldwide: The Hilton Honors app is at the center of Hilton’s new focus on “connected rooms,” which can bring in personalized streaming (think Netflix), room opening in-app, and even preferred temperature setting. As we’ve said before, intelligent digital and mobile engagement begins with four pillars, and strategy and data are the first two legs. Hilton is leveraging both to create personalized, “I-want-to-come-back” experiences for their guests.

Choice Hotels: We worked on a mobile marketing playbook with them a bit ago, so check that out.

MGM Resorts: Like competitors, they’ve launched mobile check-in at 13 Las Vegas locations, and The Drum recently described them as going “Vegas-style big on personalization,” including boosting the M-Life Rewards program to include more customer data. That data becomes the backbone of offers, entertainment, room options, transportation, and more that guests can be pinged about in-app or via push.

LateRooms: This is a way to find hotel deals. They offer exclusive mobile app rates, for one. Many of their users are inherently thinking this will be “one and done,” i.e. “Oh, I need a quick hotel room in Boston,” but LateRooms engages and personalizes based on a limited amount of data from the initial hotel selection and a user experience to keep the user returning with additional hotel needs.

Expedia: Expedia is an apex predator in the bundled-travel world, and for much of 2019, they’ve been discussing the importance of personalization for hotels. Voice bookings, cancellations, and rewards are now tied to Google Assistant and in-app, and their Scratchpad concept allows users to build a perfect trip (across all Expedia’s offerings) without having to jump between 40+ travel sites, as can be common. Everything you’ve saved and researched will be there when you return. All your personal info is there, and Expedia can make recommendations based on what you’re thinking so far.

Stay tuned for the next round up of great apps! We’ll cover quick service restaurants, retail, wireless companies, and entertainment. 

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