The 10 Most Innovative Companies in Finance

01 / PayPal

For leading the charge on digital money. In November 2009, PayPal made the radical move to open up its system to third-party developers and allow them to integrate its payment system into their Web sites, mobile apps, and devices, which enabled all kinds of innovation in the past year. There are currently more than 15,000 developers working with its code, producing apps such as Bling Nation (tap to pay at offline merchants with an add-on sticker); iConcessionStand (order food and merchandise from a mobile device at sporting events); and IndieGoGo (fundraise for ideas or projects, a la Kickstarter).

02 / Citibank

For developing a new model for retail banking, and engineering the tech to make it possible. By focusing on user experience, Citi's innovation lab has developed multifunctional ATMs and interactive store displays that seek to attract younger, more tech-savvy customers and transform banks into a destination. In the past year, it has revamped seven branches in Asia, and doubled the amount of customers they attract.

03 / SecondMarket

For creating the largest "secondary market" for private-company shares. SecondMarket helps later-stage, fast-growing companies set up their own stock exchanges, where they govern everything from disclosure rules to pricing to market hours. Among the participants: Facebook, Twitter, and Craigslist.

04 / mPower Group

For committing more than $100 million to provide high-quality, low-cost financial services to the world's unbanked masses. In the past year, mPower has launched a mobile-payments credit initiative in India and a first-of-its-kind tap-to-pay system in Kosovo. Stateside, mPower took on the $106 billion alternative-finance industry—whose oft-predatory practices center on cashing checks amid bulletproof glass and neon signs—with the Mango Store, an Austin-based institution that aims to forge transparent, long-term relationships with the unbanked, instead of treating them like transient customers.

05 / Intuit

For its Mint-y fresh makeover. Money-management site Mint.com was last year's most buzzed-about Intuit offering—sorry, Quicken—thanks to explosive growth (its user base more than tripled to 4 million) and exciting new features (a data aggregator publishes spending reports in real-time). To lure younger, more international customers, Intuit also launched mobile app SnapTax (which has users snap a photo of their W2s to streamline tax-filings); and Nokia-powered Go Connect (an SMS-marketing system for small businesses in India).

06 / StockTwits

For building the Web's most comprehensive—and accessible—virtual trading floor. The site, which launched in 2008 and now attracts 300,000-plus unique visitors a month, lets users share stock-related ideas and data in real time without paying or registering (premium services deliver most of StockTwits' revenue). Last year, it expanded to include its own news feed, user-generated charts, and Web TV channel.

07 / Kiva

For applying its uber-successful microfinance model to student loans. Since its 2004 launch, lending network Kiva has helped more than 560,000 people fund $200 million worth of microloans—average size: $381.81—to needy entrepreneurs, both abroad and, as of October 2009, at home. In September, San Francisco-based nonprofit expanded into higher education, allowing people all over the world to give as little as $25 to fund student loans in the developing world, where student loans don't really exist. Kiva has already launched the program in Lebanon, Paraguay, and Bolivia, and plans to expand to at least 15 countries after the year-long pilot.

08 / BancVue

For arming long-struggling community banks and credit unions with better-than-the-big-guys perks. BancVue partners with indie financials to help them offer perks such as rewards checking, ATM-fee reimbursements, up to 4.5% APY savings accounts, online banking, proprietary credit cards and high-impact marketing campaigns. On average, its rewards-checking partners increase new-account openings by 30%—meaning that business is booming for the banks and for BancVue, whose revenues doubled last year to $80 million. Although it's still a ways from toppling Big Money, BancVue's 1,300-plus clients, if rolled up into one firm, would tout the nation's largest banking network.

09 / Yodlee

For developing a platform that serves as the back-end for 85% of all online personal financial management services. Yodlee claims some 17 million users in total, many of which access its platform via top U.S. banks, such as Bank of America, and leading portal sites, such as Mint.com. Last year, Yodlee continued to build out its FinApp Store, which is open-API so developers can build apps for the company's various program suites; in October, it announced the launch of Yodlee 10, it's most customizable platform yet.

10 / Wealthfront

For developing an investment-centric social network that's peeling back the curtain on the $10 trillion mutual-fund industry. Wealthfront gives professional investors a platform to share everything about their portfolios—including how much of their own money they've put in them—in hopes that others will pay to mimic their trades. Since launching as an SEC-registered investment advisor one year ago, the site has attracted more than $100 million in assets, and its managers, which undergo an intensive selection process, have collectively outperformed the S&P 500 by 6%.

Browse our list of The World's Most Innovative Companies 2011

[Photo Credit: Harry Kikstra]

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