Most people make big purchases not so much with the total cost of ownership in mind, but how much it costs them on a monthly basis. In fact, SuperMoney founder and CEO Miron Lulic told Karen Webster, it’s how 80 percent of Americans secure a car loan. Consumers are willing to negotiate the price of car down to the last cent, but the vast majority will not negotiate the charges, interest or fees packaged into their auto loan at all — provided that they get the monthly payment down to where they need it to be.
It is easy to wag a finger at consumers not price-shopping their car loans, mortgages or personal loans carefully, Lulic said — but only if one overlooks the fact that comparison shopping lending products is not nearly as easy as comparing consumer goods. It’s a less common experience — and those who try to educate themselves before shopping quickly find the FinServ information available hasn’t historically been great.
Two billion dollars in loan requests later, Lulic told Webster, SuperMoney knows a lot about that knowledge gap.
“SuperMoney actually started as a side project while I was working with friends on a different startup and had this idea that I wanted to build the Yelp of financial services,” Lulic told Webster. What consumers needed was a one-stop source of transparent data about FinServ products that offered both quantitative data in the form of interest rates, fees, loan terms, etc and qualitative reviews from consumers who have used the product. So he built one.
For years, he said, nobody really went for it, and they didn’t see a lot of traffic. But over time, through the magic of Google and organic search, users found them — and by 2016 they were ready to form “a real company with employees and everything.”
The goal now, he said, isn’t just to build the “Yelp of financial services,” but to create the AI-based financial advisor that Main Street consumers are sorely lacking.
An Information-Rich Marketplace
SuperMoney makes its money as a marketplace that matchmakes consumers to financial services products. It started in personal loans, Lulic told Webster, but has since branched out through a wide range: checking and savings accounts, mortgages, personal loans, investment accounts, etc. There are a variety of ways it monetizes that matchmaking relationship, depending on the type of product and its specific regulations — but ultimately, when the consumer signs on with the financial service they found through the SuperMoney platform, SuperMoney gets a piece of that deal.
As of today (Aug 12), SuperMoney announced its multi-lender marketplace platform matchmade more than $2 billion in loans.
But while matchmaking loans and financial services is its core business, SuperMoney’s secret sauce, according to its founder and CEO, is its information content about products for consumers. That includes all of the nuts-and-bolts data in a easy-to-see manner — interest rates, other fees, typical consumer credit range, average loan term and the like. Moreover, it has reviews which are not written by professional or paid reviewers, but come en masse from consumers who have used the product.
“We wanted the platform to be as neutral as possible, focusing exclusively on user-aggregated data. All of our reviews are based on community votes to recommend or not recommend. We think of it as basically similar to a net promoter score, and we pair the information with a data visualization so consumers can see exactly how the vote breaks down.”
The vote of the community doesn’t affect the consumer’s ability to access a product on the platform — services that are not recommended can still be accessed through the site. SuperMoney’s goal isn’t to be a gatekeeper for what consumers can and can’t access — it just wants to make sure every choice is as transparent as possible.
Transparency is a tricky goal, Lulic noted. By creating a soapbox for consumers to stand on, one is allowing any and all reviews through. A customer rejected by a company might be angry about it and write a horrible review, even if they were rejected for very good reasons. Plus, wherever there are reviews, there is the problem that they inherently run negative. Angry consumers never forget to complain, but happy customers often forget to say thank you.
This is why scale is and has to be a priority for firms like SuperMoney — because the reviews only become as helpful as they can be when there are a lot of them. A few reviews can be easily skewed, but over hundreds and thousands they tell a compelling story.
And, of course, financial services providers aren’t always thrilled about the firm’s attempts to keep people informed.
“We get cease and desists all the time. I am looking at one on my desk right now from a large provider. A surprising amount of companies don’t want that transparency out there. They either don’t want all of their data surfaced, or they don’t like their reviews and want them cleaned up,” he said.
SuperMoney won’t, he noted — instead it pushes back. Because editing reviews would hurt it today and make it unable to build what it wants to for tomorrow.”
For the platform to work, it has to scale up and offer lots of information across a range of services as well as a critical mass of review information. In lending it is there, Lulic told Webster, but in other more recently added areas like checking and savings the team is still building up data resources.
But in the longer term, he said, the firm’s goal is to take all they know and have learned about consumer lending from the platform and find the best way to feed it into the AI to build a digital financial advisor for their users. Human financial advisors exist as of now, of course, to help guide clients into the right portfolios and services sets. But they really only exist to serve high-net worth consumers because the business model just doesn’t add up for Main Street consumers.
“Our long term goal is to nurture the community members’ personal financial goals in general. We think we can leverage our AI to build a financial adviser to help the majority of Americans reach their most basic financial goals,” Lulic said.
Getting out of debt, putting away an emergency account, investing for the future — these are things that don’t have to be hard to figure out. Ultimately, Lulic noted, SuperMoney wants to be able to help customers navigate those steps by actually showing them the right tools and plan to achieve them.
That, he noted, isn’t an overnight goal, but the team at SuperMoney has a long, proud track record of patience — and a rather high bar to clear.
“We want to be the financial services marketplace where consumers just come to start shopping for any kind of product. The way Amazon started with books and became the everything store — we are also looking to become that kind of one-stop shop for financial services.”