piggy bank money

Vincent Turner remembers when people were excited about personal financial planning. It was that sweet spot after the recession first hit, but before things started to slowly recover, when budgeting for the future seemed not only prudent but necessary. Turner came up with an idea for a personal financial tool then that was good enough to snag him a coveted presentation slot at the Finovate conference in 2011 and a TV interview on Fox Business. That was all before he had ever built his product. “It was a time when everyone wanted to talk about this,” Turner says.

Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital and former Intuit CEO, went on before him on the Fox News segment. “He’s a seasoned veteran, with a fully put together product, fully funded,” Turner says. “And then I come on, this Australian guy with a good idea and a product that doesn’t work.”

Now, two years later, Turner’s application has come of age. Planwise is a budgeting tool that lets users input both their current financial information — salary, savings, cost of rent — and their future plans — buy a car, go on vacation, see the Superbowl. It’s sort of like Mint + dreams.

You can turn your dreams on and off, to see how much money you’ll have one month, two months, or a year down the line if you choose to take that vacation to Hawaii. Or if you’re living on a journalist’s salary with student loans like me, it will show you how broke you will still be in a year regardless of what you do. Your money is visualized in a line graph over time. Strong. Unbending. Depressing. For journalists, that is.

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The site is fully functional, and the company is expanding its initial $200,000 seed round, raising money from angel and institutional investors. Turner says 25,000 people have used the technology to date. Planwise has over 3,500 registered users, who spend an average of 10 minutes on the tool and come back two to three times a month.

Personal finance apps need to delight the user with pretty design. Planwise could definitely use an upgrade in the beauty pageant department, because at the moment it looks like what it is: a budget app. It’s interface is uncluttered and easy to understand, but it reminds me of 8th grade math class, not the dreams of my future.

Planwise has a long, hard road ahead of it. It’s not 2011 anymore, and making people want to use budgeting apps is an uphill battle, a fact that Turner recognizes. Planwise has a few tricks up its sleeve, like embeddable widgets. “For example, you’re on a travel website trying to decide if you can afford a trip,” Turner says. “Planwise could be embedded into the website, and show me immediately in the sidebar how it would impact my finances if I added going on this trip to my load.” Planwise is already demoing widgets like these with real estate sites.

Financial middleman Yodlee, who acts as the intermediary between banks and startups like Planwise, accepted Planwise into its incubator program in March. “We were immediately impressed with [Turner's] skills as a businessman who works at a very high level of skill and sophistication,” Joe Polverari, General Manager of Yodlee Interactive, says.

Planwise will get to use Yodlee’s API for free, which means the startup can synch its users’ accounts with their bank account information automatically. People won’t have to manually input their savings or the amount they spend on food every month — it will be extracted automatically from their bank. This is the same thing Mint does, except Mint runs on Intuit’s API instead of Yodlee’s.

Turner is banking on the behavioral hypothesis that people are excited and optimistic about the things they haven’t done, the adventures or perks that could happen in the future. Its differentiators to apps like Mint are that it’s forward looking and allows users to “test out” how their dreams would impact them financially.

In contrast, a lot of the budgeting apps out there adjust for what you’ve already spent. “Other apps might tell you how much you spent on alcohol for the month,” Turner says. “Thanks, but I’ve already done that. Thanks for reminding me what I did.”

[Image courtesy: OTA Photos]