Wabi Sabi is one of my favorite Japanese ideas: beauty in imperfection, roughly translated. Yesterday, it wasn’t wasabi spicing up a sparkling piece of salmon, instead a website called Wesabe bit the dust, charting the path for a new generation of tools that help us improve our personal financial behavior.
Personal Financial Management, or just PFM, became a Web 2.0 fad several years ago, when online darlings like Mint.com became the most beautiful financial applications man had ever seen. Along with Mint, Wesabe, Gezeo and a host of other sites offer users the ability to import their expenses, credit cards, bank accounts, CD’s, mutual funds, etc and see our entire financial picture: How much gas am I spending compared to others with my profile? What’s my monthly travel budget? Can I save big bucks with a different credit card? Last year, Intuit bought Mint for $170 million, despite amebic revenues.
Yesterday, venture backed, Wesabe, announced it is shutting its doors in a rueful note by CEO Marc Hedlund. Understandably in denial of shuttering his business, he euphemistically referred to it as “discontinuing the Account Tab,” instead. After five years and $4.7 million, generating revenue must have proven challenging.
This matters because not just are these companies on the vanguard of ever-lacking financial education, but they are about give way to a new generation of websites that help us change and improve our financial behavior, which we desperately need. No amount of financial reform can – nor should – replace our bad financial behavior. Wesabe, and easily a dozen other similar companies, that help us with our “financial management,” are giving way to a new breed of firms that go a step further and help us change our behavior.
We don’t just want to understand our finances. We want to understand our finances in order to… manage our expenses … reduce debt … save more … find errors … spend better. I’m guessing vanilla PFMs will give way to specialty PFMs that focus on some kind of specific behavior change. Like LendingTree’s Thrive – to help us find a better rate; or DebtGoal – to help us reduce our debt; or CreditKarma – to help us improve our credit score; or Outright – to help us with small business bookkeeping. These guys are all very targeted, not generic. This focus allows them to target lead gen sponsors or garner subscription fees.
The specialty PFMs owe a lot to the Wesabe’s. So there is some wabi sabi here, some beauty that comes from imperfection.