Student Finance: Five useful products
When it comes to managing bills and expenses, there’s a variety of products available on the market. Some are not amazing, others are good, but there is still a gap for an offering tailored to student needs.
Remember Truebill? I briefly mentioned the aggregation service in my previous blog post. Truebill is especially useful for forgetful students who struggle to keep track of their subscriptions and recurring payments, both are presented in calendar and list format after connecting a bank account. A standout feature of this service is the notification of opportunities to renegotiate contract terms for bills to save money. Although, if you do access a better deal and save through their service, they take 40 percent of the amount saved. The functionality offered by Truebill is incredibly useful for personal management of an individual, but not relevant for the management of a group’s finances.
Splitwise, available on desktop and as a mobile app, keeps a running total of shared expenses and IOUs in a dashboard, which can be paid using Venmo or PayPal. As Splitwise cannot access your bank account for you to pay expenses and bills, it only helps you to keep track of them. Although this is underwhelming, it is helpful for those who just need a reminder, but terrible for those of us who’d get sidetracked after reading a notification. Still, remembering expenses owed to others was the least of students’ worries (see above graph), and given the limited functionality of Splitwise, it definitely will not transform how they manage their expenses.
Monzo’s Joint Account offering allows users to keep a close eye on finances by viewing upcoming payments and payment deadlines. Monzo makes keeping up with recurring payments easy, as upcoming direct debits are displayed at the top of your feed. This means that you’ll be able to know what is coming out of your account the day before, which leaves enough time to make sure that you have enough funds. A nice touch is the ability to forecast future spending based on the previous month’s outgoings, which definitely helps with budgeting. Still, unlike personal accounts, Joint Accounts do not yet have access to Pots, which is a saving feature that allows specific funds to be put aside separately from spending money. Once available, managing account funds will be much easier.
It would only be fair to consider a product offering from a utility provider to see how they help their customers manage their expenses. E.ON promise to make account management easy using their mobile app, by allowing customers to submit meter readings, to track energy usage, to pay for energy bills and to access bill statements. This is great, but these are expected hygiene features for them to offer. Aside from this, they offer savings advice and tips on how to reduce energy usage. Surprisingly, a considerable amount of students indicated that they wanted to be more aware of energy bill costs (see above data). A utility provider product would be most suitable in this case, as it would allow them to see previous statements which break down energy usage and charges.
The strongest solution that I’ve come across so far comes from Acasa, a free application that sets up and sorts utility bills for households. Acasa partner with the likes of Octopus Energy – a challenger service – Origin and Virgin Media to offer an all-inclusive bills package. Acasa also set up a water account and TV licensing for households. The majority of respondents were most worried about creating and managing budgets as a household (see above graph), and Acasa would definitely help in this area. The highlight of this service is the joint billing feature which automatically splits bills between housemates, this has two main benefits. Most importantly, one individual doesn’t have to take on all the credit risk and also reach out to other housemates to collect their share. That said, Acasa does require a ‘lead tenant,’ but this is just a formality. In my opinion, Acasa is sort of like Huddle Utilities in an app, with the added functionality of being able to split expenses between housemates. Even then, what’s missing here is broader user connectivity; the ability to connect and interact with other households. How useful would it be to connect another Acasa-using house to send the 70p for a borrowed pint of milk? Extremely. The market calls for a product that accommodates managing the expenses of multiple individuals under one account, as the number of students living under one roof can range from two to twelve. Evidently, Acasa meets this requirement but it appears to be a bills inclusive offering in the form of an app. It is definitely useful but in no way allows for students to actively manage or even remotely prepare them for things that they will have to sort out for themselves one day. Being able to view and cancel subscriptions and payments is the handiest feature of Truebill. The ability to track energy usage is key when it comes to managing household expenses (E.ON got this right), but this doesn’t have to be done by integrating with an energy service as the user could manually input their meter readings monthly. This functionality, alongside the ability to forecast future spending, would be helpful for students wishing to take control of their expenses. Keep an eye out for my next post, which will be my idea of what an expense management product for students should be like.