Key features to consider when developing a personal finance app

11 min read
August 17, 2022

Did you know that 90% of Americans now use fintech? That means more people use fintech than video-streaming (78%) or social media (72%).

And finance apps are one of the fastest-growing niches in fintech.

That statistic should come as no surprise. Many people aren’t adept at handling money, so they rely on apps to manage their finances.

Any app that promises to help users tackle this issue is a hit in the making.

If you’re aspiring to build the next big personal finance app, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we lay out the seven features we feel that every personal finance app should have. We start with the most crucial one.

Bank account integration

A fundamental feature of every personal finance app is the ability to link the user’s various bank, debit, and credit accounts.

This allows the user to manage their finances effortlessly in one location.

For instance, they can instantly know their overall balance instead of gathering and adding it manually from various sources.

In addition to the convenience, account integration can also provide insights into a user’s spending habits. It can help them spot patterns that would be difficult to see otherwise.

Bank account integration

Source: Pinterest

Indeed, account integration is the main appeal of having a personal finance app in the first place.

That’s because it helps solve a common complaint among bank users—a disconnected experience.

You’ve probably experienced this if you have multiple bank accounts that you want to manage effectively.

CTA fintech

Unfortunately, doing so tends to involve opening two to three different banking apps and then using a separate app for tracking your overall expenses.

It’s such a huge pain point that 57% of consumers say they’re willing to switch to a financial service that provides a more holistic experience, according to a Mulesoft study.

57 of consumers say theyre willing to switch to a financial service that provides a more holistic

Source: Mulesoft

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to implement bank account integration in your app. You don’t even have to code it from scratch—instead, you can use an Open Banking API.

An Open Banking API (application programming interface) is a tool that gives third-party apps access to a bank’s data.

From a developer’s perspective, they simply insert the API call into the code whenever the app needs to access the user’s bank details.

open banking

Source: Fortunesoft

The main benefit of using bank account integration APIs is flexibility. You don’t need to account for every bank when integrating—the API usually does that for you.

For instance, the Plaid API supports connecting to hundreds of financial institutions and platforms with a single API call.

Of course, connecting with a user’s financial information is risky without proper security and privacy protocols in place. That’s your next priority.

Secure user authorization

If there’s one thing in any personal finance app that should work flawlessly 100% of the time, it’s user authorization.

That’s because the finance industry is one of the most commonly targeted by hackers and financial criminals.

And one of the top techniques they use is social engineering, according to the Verizon 2022 Data Breach Investigation Report.

social engineering statistics

Source: Verizon

Social engineering involves the use of human errors to breach systems. For example, phishing attackers will attempt to steal a user’s password by pretending to be a bank representative.

To combat this threat, your app should have multiple layers of authentication. That way, when one fails, the attacker won’t be able to get through.

For personal finance apps, the two that you must have by default are biometrics and two-factor authentication.

Biometrics uses a person’s physical characteristics, such as their face or fingerprints, to authenticate them.

It’s effective because it’s difficult for hackers to steal or replicate them, especially online.

biometric login sample

Source: Android

Luckily, it’s easy to implement biometrics in your app because Android and iOS have them by default.

It’s a matter of inserting a piece of code in your app to call them—no need to create them from scratch.

Two-factor authentication (2FA) requires an additional login credential apart from the user’s password.

Ideally, it’s something that only the owner has access to, such as a temporary code from their mobile phone number.

a temporary code

Source: DECODE

2FA is one of the more effective authentication methods, blocking up to 99.9% of automated cyber-attacks, according to a Microsoft and Google study.

Of course, these authentication protocols are just one piece of effective app cybersecurity. For other ways of securing your fintech app, check out our article here.

Push notifications

Push notifications are a crucial strategy for personal finance and fintech apps in general—more so than any other niche.

According to a Kahuna study, apps in financial services saw the highest engagement from using push notifications.

push notification engagement by industry

Source: Kahuna

That’s because push notifications play a vital role in a financial app.

They’re the ones that alert the user of any important financial activity, such as receiving money in their account or an urgent bill they need to pay.

It can help users know if they are overspending in real-time, instead of at the end of every month.

When done right, push notifications can also be great motivation tools.

We all know that sticking to a budget can be a huge challenge, so it’s a good move to congratulate users when they stay on track.

Just see how the Level app did it (and how users appreciate its feel-good messaging).

2 level money notification

Source: Andrew Chen

Push notifications are also crucial for security. They can tip users about suspicious activities, such as when someone else is trying to log into their account.

Alerting users early enables them to do something about it, potentially preventing a breach.

suspicious activity

Source: Infobip

However, it’s crucial not to overdo push notifications. When you send too many irrelevant messages, it can annoy users and cause them to disengage.

The best approach is to ask their permission before pushing notifications to them. Here, it’s best to explain the benefits they’ll get for opting in to increase their chances of doing so.

Push Notifications 1

Source: Telerik

When used in context and with restraint, push notifications will be one of the most appreciated features of your personal finance app.

Real-time spending

The best personal finance app should let users track their spending in real-time. That allows them to correct mistakes immediately, thus improving their chances of sticking with the budget.

This is a big improvement over traditional budgeting, where you’ll only realize you went over at the end of the month.

For example, the Mint app connects to all your financial accounts, thus allowing it to track balance changes in real-time.

When you swipe your credit card, the Mint app automatically reflects that in the app by subtracting the amount from your outstanding balance.

There’s no need to wait until your credit card statement comes in every month.

You’ll know immediately when you’re overspending, so you can refrain from using your card further for that month.

iPhone displaying Mint monthly budget

Source: Mint

With apps that track real-time spending, it’s also best to organize expenses into categories. That will allow users to have more granular control over the budget.

For example, the app should enable users to categorize a credit card transaction as a food expense. That way, they can determine which aspect of the budget represents the problem.

Using visuals to display these categories, such as pie charts, can help users spot spending patterns even more easily.

Insights

Source: Wally

Smart budgeting features like these are yet another must-have in any personal finance app. Let’s discuss that in the next section.

Smart budgeting features

Telling users how much they spend every month is relevant information.

However, good personal finance apps go one step beyond and actually help users by suggesting ways to stick to the budget.

Through the use of artificial intelligence, you can turn your app into a smart financial advisor.

One great example is the Cleo app.

turn your app into a smart financial advisor

Source: Moneycheck

Cleo is an AI-powered app that can automatically analyze your spending habits and give suggestions to improve them.

Its iconic conversational interface can tell you how to save money or spend less. It’s like talking to a friend or a sassy financial advisor.

Using natural language (as Cleo does) is highly effective at making a seemingly boring topic like personal finance seem more exciting and even funny.

This can make users look forward to using the app, dramatically improving retention rates.

But you don’t need AI or advanced machine learning to make your personal finance app appealing. Even simple analytics will be highly appreciated by users.

Take the smart personal finance app NerdWallet.

While its interface isn’t as natural as Cleo’s, it can still give users wonderful insights into their spending.

insights into spending app

Source: NerdWallet

NerdWallet offers an analytics dashboard that allows you to spot trends in your spending.

It also gives you useful insights, such as which particular category or vendor is your consistent big spend every month.

The bottom line is that your personal finance app should do more than just simple accounting. It should be more like a smart advisor invested in the user’s financial wellbeing.

Recurring payments tracking

Most people have a big issue keeping up with recurring payments like rent and utilities. That’s why any personal finance app should help users in this area.

At the minimum, you should let users set the due dates on their monthly bills. Then, the app should send a reminder automatically a few days before, so users have time to prepare.

One example of an app that does this is Monefy, a no-frills budget management app.

due dates on monthly bills

Source: Monefy

The good thing about their payment reminder feature is how flexible it is. You can set recurring payments in various intervals, from monthly to yearly.

You can also provide an end date for payments that only last for a period, such as mortgages and insurance premiums.

But you can take it one step further and have the app pay the user’s bills on their behalf. This is the best way to ensure they’re on top of their monthly obligations.

One good example of an app that does this is 1Bill, a personal finance app focused on bill management.

Automatic bill payment app

Source: 1Bill

Users can assign a payment method (such as a credit card) to a selected bill, and the app then pays that automatically.

It does remind users days before to ensure they have sufficient balance to pay the bill. But for the most part, 1Bill provides a set-it-and-forget-it experience.

Indeed, 1Bill is one of the better personal finance apps out there. And one thing we like about it is its rewards program.

Reward points system

A rewards program is perhaps the best component of an engaging personal finance app.

Let’s face it—budgeting and saving money isn’t exactly fun. Most people would rather spend it on things that make them happy.

If you want users to engage and stick with your personal finance app, it needs to be fun and rewarding. And that’s what a reward points system can deliver.

A good example is the 1Bill app we mentioned above. It will reward you with 1Bill points every time you complete a task. You can then exchange these for gift cards and other rewards.

manage my bills app

Source: 1Bill

A key consideration when designing a rewards program is the type of prizes you offer. You must ensure it’s something that your target market desires in order to create the proper motivation.

For instance, the money-saving app Streak is geared toward teens. Thus, their rewards program includes items that people in that demographic would want.

money saving app Streak

Source: Streak

A rewards program is a smart move for the Streak app, because teens usually have minimal motivation to save money or manage their finances.

It helps make the process fun, which helps foster good financial habits in the long run.

The next steps

Now that you know the seven must-have features in any good personal finance app, you should have a fairly good idea of what your app will look like.

However, that’s just the first step. Implementing these features is what truly matters—and where things get tricky.

The reality is that personal finance apps can be one of the most challenging niches.

The competition is usually fierce, and there are many obstacles to face, from compliance and security risks.

But partnering with an experienced team like DECODE can make the process much smoother.

Interested in working with us? Get in touch today, and let’s talk!

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Written by

Ante Baus

Senior Team Lead

Ante is a true expert. Another graduate from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, he’s been a DECODEr from the very beginning. Ante is an experienced software engineer with an admirably wide knowledge of tech. But his superpower lies in iOS development, having gained valuable experience on projects in the fintech and telco industries. Ante is a man of many hobbies, but his top three are fishing, hunting, and again, fishing. He is also the state champ in curling, and represents Croatia on the national team. Impressive, right?

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