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The company works in the background, analyzing the consumer's bills and negotiating on their behalf
Household debt is on the rise in America, topping $14 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2019, the twenty-second consecutive quarterly increase. Even worse, it's now $1.5 trillion higher than it was before the 2008 crash. Much of that debt consists of mortgages but credit card debt alone is more than $1 trillion.
To put it mildly, Americans, in general, are not in great financial shape right now (to say nothing of what's currently happening to the economy and unemployment thanks to the coronavirus) and they know it. The truth is that most people aren’t good at handling their finances themselves or just don’t have the time. Some are fortunate to consult with a personal financial or wealth advisor. But for most, there’s little time and resources to determine how to lower bills and where to earn savings.
That's where Trim comes in: it's a company that automatically reviews its users financial data to determine how they can save money and lower bills.
"Americans generally know what they should do to improve their finances. We all know that we should comb through our credit card bills every month and make sure that all of the things we’re paying for are the right ones. We all know that we should save a little bit more into a high-yield savings account. We all know that we could call Comcast and negotiate down our bills every year. This is all common knowledge but not that many people do any of those things," said Thomas Smyth, Trim's founder and CEO.
"Knowledge is cheap these days, you can find all things on the internet. The value that Trim brings is taking action and doing the heavy lifting.”
When the company started four years ago, he said, this type of service was considered radical next to a company like Mint, which gave people a pie chart of how much they were spending, or Credit Karma, which gave people access to their credit score.
"Your credit score is based on stuff that happened in the past. The real question people want to know though is: ‘What can I do to actually make my finances better?' That really is where we focus at Trim, on analyzing your transaction data to identify ways to save you money and then taking action to do that."
How Trim works
To use Trim, users just need to link their accounts, which they can do for free, putting in their credentials, just like they would with a service like Mint or any other online account aggregation service. Once they do that, Trim does all the work in the background to analyze their finances and figure out what can be done to lower their bills.
The service will generate a list of all of the subscriptions and recurring charges on a person's accounts, such as cable, internet, phone, wireless, home security and satellite bills (the company also recently started doing medical bills as well). Once Trim has identified a bill it thinks that the user might want to cancel, or if they think the customer is paying too much, it will ask the account holder to pick the ones they would like to cancel.
Subscriptions that Trim identifies includes all the typical stuff that people pay for monthly, such as Hulu, Netflix and Spotify, but also what Smyth describes as "rando, kind of shady websites online, that use a subscription model for something you’re not using every month, or hardly at all." For example, there's an online greeting card company called Blue Mountain that many people accidentally sign up for, paying them monthly when they are likely aren't even using it. That's a common one that Trim will cancel on the user's behalf.
"There’s all kinds of stuff like that where people sign up for subscription and then forget about it," Smyth explained.
In some cases, Trim will also contact the biller on behalf of the user and help them negotiate for a better price, such as with their cable or cell phone bill. We all know that negotiating with these kinds of companies can be a nightmare for consumers (remember that call with Comcast's customer service that went viral a few years ago?) and most people, even if they are overpaying, won't call just to avoid getting stuck in that kind of situation.
So, instead, Trim will analyze all of that billing data to figure out what the customer is paying, and what it thinks they could be paying, and helps to make sure that they get the lowest possible price, which the consumer might not have even been able to find about on their own.
"There may be prices that aren't listed on their website because it may be some kind of promo that they have or something that’s not publicly listed. Their pricing strategy is very, very complicated, and we spent a ton of time trying to untangle it. So, we would call or chat with Comcast on your behalf, and say, ‘Here’s the current plan, we'd like to get the best possible price for this set of services and help us to do that.’ And we can get them the best price," said Smyth.
"We’ve done close to a quarter million bills at this point, so we have a pretty good sense when you sign up of how much money we’re going to be able to save you based on other bills that look like yours. That enables us to run the most efficient negotiation possible, and try to get you the cheapest available price for the current plan you’re paying for."
The company is typically lowering people's bills for its users at least once a year, and continues to monitor them after that, as they tend to go back up after a certain amount of time, causing Trim to have to go back and renegotiate.
"The real value of the service is that we monitor all these accounts on an ongoing basis going forward to make sure that you’re paying the lowest price for everything that we can. We’ll monitor that Comcast or Verizon bill, and then if the price goes up then we’ll try to step in and negotiate it back down. Second, if there are more promos that come online during the course of monitoring your bill, then we can take advantage of those. It’s sort of like having someone sitting there every day just watching your bills, making sure they’re at the lowest possible price, and doing that for tons and tons of people," Smyth said.
Right now, Trim has roughly 500,000 users, and it saves them $180 on average per year when it's able to negotiate their bills.
Trim has two ways of getting paid: the first is that users can pay the company a percentage of when it negotiates their bills, where Trim will take a third of the annualized savings. So, if it saves someone $10 a month, then that’s $120 a year, so it will charge them $40 for that.
The second way is even more straightforward: it makes money through its premium subscription offering, where customers can get all of Trim’s features all in one package for $10 a month. For example, one of the features it offers is a high-yield savings account, which gives four percent interest on the first $2,000 deposited.
"We’ll look at your checking account and say, 'There seems to be an opportunity for you to be saving more money every month, do you want to set up this savings account? It’s an FDIC insured account, and you can set up a weekly transfer.' So people set that up and then, lo and behold, they check back a couple of months later and they’re like, ‘Wow, where did all that money come from?'" explained Smyth.
Another premium service that Trim offers is automatic credit card payments, where the company will transfer funds toward a user's credit card to help pay down their balance faster. This is specifically done for people who have credit card debt. All Trim does is take a little extra money that's in the user's checking account to pay down their credit card balance more quickly.
"We help people do bill payments on their credit cards to pay down credit cards more quickly, which can improve your credit score by having your utilization go down. Obviously if you’re in credit card debt it can help you pay off that balance faster," said Smyth.
So far, despite only launching its premium features last year, the company has already saved millions of dollars for people through its high yield accounts which "give them orders of magnitude more interest than they would be able to get from the major banks in the U.S."
Building a deeper relationship
Going forward, there are a number of features and subsets of the financial services space for Trim to enter from here.
For example, the company is currently looking at assisting people with getting better insurance rates, as well as setting up a system of alerts to notify them if they are charged over a certain amount on their credit card. The company could even be used to help people find better stock investments.
Those will come later, though, Smyth said, after the company has proven out its value to its users, actually helping them save money, so they know and trust the service to do more on their behalf. Basically, the company is walking now so it can run later.
"You have to show them some value first. You have to gain the trust of customers by displaying tangible value and results to them before you get permission to do more," he said, comparing it to the self-driving car, where "you have to get people comfortable with cruise control before you can even think about telling them they don’t even have to touch the wheel anymore."
(Image source: commercebankwyoming.com)
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We're building the future of personal finance: a fast-learning, AI-powered assistant that takes care of your money so you don't have to.
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In 10 years, we hope to look back and wonder: How did anyone pay monthly for a membership they had forgotten about? How could banks make $30 billion per year in overdraft fees? How is it possible that Americans paid $13 billion annually in credit card late fees? We estimate that if all Americans had a personal financial assistant, they could save more than $100 billion per year.