What is the Customer Journey Map for Personal Financial Management Apps?


During the initial awareness phase, apps can connect with potential users by utilizing content marketing and/or referrals. Both of these build familiarity and trust with the brand prior to asking the user to download any app. Additionally, they capitalize on the motivations of users whom are generally looking to achieve better financial management. However, potential users may become confused or sidetracked by the mass amount of competitors in the personal financial management app market.


  • Both You Need a Budget and Mint relied heavily on content marketing in order to make users aware of their apps and to convince them to move to the installation phase.
  • For example, Mint utilized blog posts to create 20,000 potential customers prior to even launching their budgeting app. On every blog post that was written prior to launch, users could sing up to join the wait list for the “personal finance solution”, Mint. These blog posts helped them build trust and create anticipation with their potential customers prior to asking them to download the app.
  • Additionally, they used SEO to attract people searching the internet for help with budgeting, for example with the search terms “monthly budget template” (5,600 visits), “monthly budget spreadsheet” (3,600 visits), and “household budget template” (2,900 visits). Mint still relies heavily on SEO to attract potential customers looking to improve their finances.
  • Mint built their content specifically for their target audience and then utilized social media channels to connect with this target consumer.


  • Apps can also use referrals to connect with their target audience, such as Robinhood and Acorns, two investment platforms, have done.
  • Robinhood achieved impressive app growth (over 1 million active users in one year) through their unique referral program, in which users were encouraged to refer friends to the applications before they had even received the application themselves.
  • The program worked like this: “you join Robinhood’s waitlist. Like in any other line, you start off at the end. But you’re offered a deal — invite a friend to join the waitlist behind you, and you will move up in line a few spots. The more people you refer, the faster you move up.” By encouraging users to share in order to improve their own position, Robinhood received many referrals, thus reaching new audience members and building trust with those new members, because the referral had come from a close, trusted friend.


  • As there are already many personal financial management apps, potential users may be overwhelmed by the number of competitors. 
  • You Need A Budget (YNAB) was able to stand out among competitors by maximizing all channels with top-notch content to attract new users (blog, resource center full of long form content, classes, YouTube channel, and podcasts).
  • In each of these channels, they posted clear calls-to-action, provided discounts, or trial opportunities, spurring users to move to the installation phase with YNAB, instead of with competitors.


In order to get users to move from knowing about an app to actually downloading it, apps must demonstrate their value to potential users as well as build trust.

Providing Free, Low-Barrier Tools

  • In order to motivate users to actually download an app, some companies first provide free, low-barrier tools that anyone can use.
  • Credit Karma is a great example of this, providing “free tools [that] have become a significant driver of both traffic and user acquisition for Credit Karma,” such as their Debt Repayment Calculator or their Credit Score Simulator.
  • By providing these free tools to potential users with no required sign up or download, Credit Karma can attract users via Google searches as well as builds trust with the brand, because users tend to trust sites that appear at the top of Google Search results. Then, once the potential value of the product is clearly demonstrated (by use of the free tool) and the trust is established, Credit Karma can upsell their product. According to the experts: “These simulation tools and calculators have a layer of value that is accessible to anyone coming to Credit Karma for the first time, but Credit Karma also offers another, deeper, data-driven layer of value that’s only accessible if you become a Credit Karma user.”


  • Trust is a crucial element in getting people to download a personal financial management app, as they will need to trust that app with their financial data.
  • Many companies that are already trusted in the financial industry have created their own financial planning apps, which users are then more likely to trust since they already have trust in the creator, for example Mint by Intuit and EveryDollar by Dave Ramsey.
  • Mint helped build user trust in the app simply through design of the app. Design is the most cited cue as to if a website/application is credible or not, according to Stanford’s BJ Fogg. According to the lead design for Mint, the credibility of the design was top-of-mind when creating the app: “A big part of it was just, does it look credible. Does it feel credible? A lot of it’s visual. A lot of it’s being a good copywriter, writing friendly copy, making people feel comfortable as they go through the process … It’s our job really to figure out what makes it trustworthy.” In order to make the design trustworthy, the “gradients and airbrushing were all tailored specifically to appeal to people’s sense of visual credibility” and the colors, green and orange, were chosen to remind users of money and provide a strong visual contrast.


During the onboarding phase, apps must ensure that the process is simple and provides immediate value, as users find time-consuming onboarding strenuous and may not see it through to completion.


  • When onboarding, apps should keep the process as simple as possible to ensure users follow through and provide value on the first use.
  • Level Money was able to provide users with a simple onboarding experience that provided a lot of value in the first use. According to experts, “Often, loading up a new personal finance app means dealing with tons of permissions and passwords, followed by being dumped into an unfamiliar dashboard that it takes days or weeks to feel fully comfortable using. It can take a while to begin really getting value out of it. Level Money’s first-run experience is designed to show you that value right away.”
  • The Level Money onboarding process worked like this: when users signed up, they would connect their bank accounts and the app would detect recurring income. The app would also detect recurring expenses and bills. Finally, the app would ask the user how much they wanted to save per month, and from there, it would calculate how much money the user had in their pocket to spend that day, that week and that month, based on the upcoming expenses, income and savings goals. This provided a simple yet engaging onboarding experience that immediately provided value to users the first time they used the app.


  • Expensify offers one of the simplest onboarding flows of any financial app by only having users provide an email address. Users can then create a password later from an email the app sends.
  • The Expensify app then prompts the user to set other preferences and become familiar with other parts of the app as the user begins using the app. For example, after the user uploads their first receipt, the app then clarifies the type of notification preferences for receipts that the user would like to have. The app also prompts users to create a username and upload a profile photo at later visits to the app.

Relationship Development/Activation

After initial onboarding, use of financial management apps drops dramatically. Research found that a week after downloading, only 14.9% of users remain. This is because the apps may be too time-consuming to manage, or because they are providing delayed financial information which is not live, and therefore, not valuable for real-time decision-making. Apps can overcome these challenges by providing personalized nudges to increase engagement within the app, and by assisting with goal setting and achievement.

Personalized Nudges

  • In order to get users to fully engage in the app and help them become habituated to it, apps must get users to utilize the app long enough and with enough features to see meaningful change, whether those changes come from sticking to a budget or from the app suggesting and securing a way to lower a bill.
  • For example, Credit Karma provides personalized financial nudges to remind people to continue using the app and to fully use all features offered.
  • Credit Karma recently launched “stories“, which provides users a notification with a piece of personalized financial advice or a reminder to take action (like, for example, pay a bill that is due). The app uses AI to analyze the information users have already provided to the company in the onboarding phase in order to personalize these messages so they provide value to the user.

Goal Setting

  • For example, Qapital found traction in its second release by applying psychological principals to the way the app helps users manage their money, all tied to goals.
  • Qapital was able to breakdown larger goals into many micro-decisions that help to motivate users to continue working on the goal, and thus using the app. After setting goals, users can then set up a set of rules to achieve the goals, like, for example, a “guilty pleasure” rule so that when a user buys something they have been trying to cut back on a little extra is also deposited into savings, or a rule that lets users save the difference every time they come in under a budgeted amount for an expense. According to experts, these extremely customizable set of rules and the fact that the app is based on goals “is informed by behavioral science — and it’s helping the app to grow despite fierce competition in the space.”

Time-Consuming to Manage

  • One challenge in getting users to continue to use financial management apps once they have completed the initial setup is the amount of time it takes to effectively manage a budget, even using the app. If the vast majority of transactions are not correctly categorized by the app, then users will have to put in too much work re-categorizing to maintain usage of the app.
  • For example, one expert financial adviser who has seen clients try to work with budgeting apps states: “in the end, just tracking expenses… that doesn’t come to top billing, they just don’t want to put the time for it.”
  • For example, Mint’s automatic categorization tool, one of the first to automatically categorize transactions, helped the app provide value to consumers over traditional budgeting methods.
  • By automatically categorizing transactions, Mint can remove 100+ hours of work for users, thus proving their value and making it less time-consuming to manage a budget.

Inaccurate/Not Live

  • As people become more familiar with personal financial management apps and mobile banking in general, they have begun to check these apps much more than they used to. They rely on their personal financial management app to provide real-time, up-to-date information so they can make financial decisions. If discrepancies or lag exists, then users will likely stop using the service and look for an alternative.
  • For example, as more banks released mobile apps and more personal financial management apps came onto the market, Mint began loosing users and potential users due to the lag in the transfer of transaction data from a user’s bank to the app.
  • In 2017, Inuit, the creators of Mint, worked with Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase to smooth this transfer of data for customers of these specific banks. Customers of Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase can now give their bank permission to share information directly with Intuit, instead of having to give Intuit online account login information, therefore speeding up the data transfer process.
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