Rob Heiser doesn’t remember the last time he visited a bank branch. It’s not that he doesn’t like going to the bank. He just doesn’t have the time or the need.
He does all his banking online or with a mobile device. He pays his bills with online bill-pay programs. He grabs cash at ATMs. He doesn’t even leave his house to deposit a check, instead opting for an iPhone app that takes a picture of the check and instantly deposits it into his account.
Heiser, 36, remembers when bankers knew everything about their customers’ needs and wants because they visited the branch office several times a week.
“When I was young, my father went to the bank,” Heiser says. “They knew my father’s name, they knew how many kids he had, they knew what to offer him because they had a relationship with him.”
Today’s disconnect exists, ironically, because banks use technology to make their customers’ lives more convenient. According to a survey conducted by the American Bankers Association last year, 62 percent of banking customers most prefer to bank online — a jump from 36 percent in 2010. Just 20 percent most prefer to go to a branch.
Heiser and his Akron-based company, Segmint, hope to use technology to reconnect banks with the details of their customers’ finances. Segmint has developed software that anonymously analyzes customers’ bank transactions and then offers customers advertisements targeted to their spending.
“Money doesn’t lie,” says Heiser, Segmint’s president and CEO. “Where you spend your money tells you what is important to you.”
Segmint was founded in 2007 by Heiser, Nate Shahan, Tom Tyrrell and John Cale. For Heiser, a Ravenna native who also founded WiredViews, it was his seventh tech startup.
Their first plan was to sell Web-based software that would help consumers with budgeting. “We really couldn’t make that work,” Heiser says. “With the Internet, it’s all about what can you give away? What is the model to make it free?”
That’s when they started thinking of the wealth of data that banks have.
From there, the focus was how to protect privacy. Heiser knew modern consumers worry about how corporations harvest their demographic information.
“Everybody is concerned about their data,” he says. “So we have to protect that at all costs.”
Segmint handles privacy concerns two ways. First, for larger institutions, Segmint installs its software at the bank itself and never sees any data at all. Smaller institutions often ship that data to Segmint, but not with a customer’s name or any other identifiable information.
“I can never trace back to who an individual is,” Heiser says. “The bank holds the key to that.”
When a bank sends data to Segmint, the transactions are attached to numbers, not names. For instance, if the software sees that Customer 56772 uses his debit card on a $400 transaction at Lowe’s, that customer might see an advertisement for a home-equity line of credit while visiting the bank’s website.
“We built an infrastructure that protects the consumer at all costs,” Heiser says. “It’s all about understanding customers, based on where you’re spending your money. We’re doing so anonymously, and that lets banks get to know their customers on a real one-to-one basis.”
The company uses something it calls Key Lifestyle Indicators to organize purchases into categories: major life events, such as having a baby or improving a home, or leisure activities such as travel or golf.
A bank could decide, for instance, that it wants to offer targeted customers auto loans. It can use the Key Life Indicators to identify customers who have taken out a loan at a dealership and set up automatic debits from their checking account. Then the bank can target that customer with a refinancing offer.
“This is a good opportunity to know the customer again,” Heiser says.
Segmint also allows banks to target their customers on the Web by using a device identification tag to push bank-specific ads targeted to them. “We don’t track,” Heiser says. “We do it for placement.”
The key, says John Relyea, vice president of marketing and implementation, is that advertising is hitting its target audience.
“Rather than a financial institution doing a mass buy of banner impressions across a geographic area, we can help them set up a campaign that targets that particular group of customers,” he says. “The population that sees the banner is much smaller, but it is much more highly targeted.”
Once they had the idea, the founders of Segmint obtained financing from several local investors. They also received a $100,000 grant from Lorain Community College’s Innovation Fund in 2008. “Without them, there was no catalyst to start the business,” Heiser says.
Segmint’s original software launched in May 2010, and has seen steady growth, Heiser says. He declined to share names of clients, since Segmint sells its software as a white-label product that other institutions rebrand as its own. However, this February, the company announced an agreement with IndyCar and Discover to deliver analytics for IndyCar’s Discover credit card program. Segmint also will be working with Discover Network and First Bankcard on a credit card program that rewards fans of the popular open-wheeled racing series.
Now Segmint is targeting social media. Its new software, Segmint Social, was released in October and is designed to help banks connect with their customers on Facebook.
“There are 800 million people on Facebook,” Heiser says. “That is where your customers are. The question is, are you reaching them where they are spending their time?”
Segmint Social essentially works as a Facebook app. Users who visit their bank’s Facebook page will be asked to allow the social media site to share information with the bank. If they agree, they’ll be greeted with targeted advertising on the bank’s Facebook page. Segmint Social also includes a private chat function for customers who want more information.
The customer could, for instance, see an ad for a credit card that offers travel miles and ask about it via chat. The bank employee on the other end can use Key Lifestyle Indicators to see what the customer values and connect them with the right product.
“Before, if I’m the bank, I have no idea who they are,” Relyea says. “Now I can see they are a domestic traveler and I can answer that the card offers miles for domestic travel.”
Segmint’s software turns traditional marketing on its head, Relyea says. Instead of advertisers building massive campaigns at traditionally designated times each year, banks can create more small campaigns that directly match consumers’ needs with its products.
This means that if a customer already has a service or product, they will never see ads for it in the first place.
“When you see banners that offer products that you already have, that is kind of irritating,” Heiser says. “You can’t get the free GPS [promotion] because you already have a checking account. Based on this knowledge, the financial institution can change out their messages.”
Segmint has grown to 32 employees and recently moved from a 2,800-square-foot office to 8,000 square feet in the Cascade Plaza in Akron.
While Heiser says various venture funds have tried to convince him to move Segmint to warmer climates, he’s resisted. “We’ve been very committed to keeping the business here and growing the business here,” he says. “We have a unique story in Northeast Ohio. We want to take this high-tech Internet firm to a large corporation.”
Heiser won’t share details about Segmint’s revenues. But he predicts big things for the company. “We’ve had steady growth,” he says, “and this is going to be an extreme-growth year.”