A Startup Takes Aim at For­got­ten Card Perks

Mod­ern credit cards are loaded with fea­tures and re­wards — of­ten so many that con­sumers can’t keep track. And by help­ing con­sumers make bet­ter use of their re­wards, Sift can also nudge them to­ward other ac­tiv­i­ties.

ISO & Agent - - INSIDE 11/12.2017 - BY DAVID HEUN

Loy­alty is vi­tal to any mer­chant or is­suer’s strat­egy, but so many perks go un­used. One startup uses mo­bile tech­nol­ogy to rekin­dle con­sumers’ use of re­wards — and nudge them to­ward other valu­able be­hav­iors.

Credit card ben­e­fits aren’t worth much to a con­sumer who has no idea what the card of­fers, or has for­got­ten about them over time and sim­ply never uses them. That’s money lost in the eyes of Sift, a Sun­ny­vale, Calif.-based startup that has de­vel­oped an app to strengthen mo­bile wal­lets by keep­ing track of card ben­e­fits.

Sift alerts card­hold­ers to use ben­e­fits, but en­gages with card is­suers on be­half of the con­sumer be­hind the scenes to make good on ben­e­fits that may have gone un­claimed.

It’s that po­ten­tial to save money that should lure most mo­bile wal­let users to down­load Sift from the App Store as a mon­i­tor­ing tool on IOS de­vices, said Sift co-founder Janne Salmi­nen.

“Peo­ple use Sift for get­ting money back, to re­view what the ben­e­fits or poli­cies are for spe­cific pur­chases, such as how many days to re­turn a prod­uct,” Salmi­nen said. “But it looks like many peo­ple have started us­ing Sift it as their go-to ship­ment/pur­chase track­ing tool.”

That fea­ture is not some­thing Sift ac­tively markets or pro­motes, but it does track ship­ment sta­tus with re­al­time up­dates. “It has been a pleas­ant sur­prise to see peo­ple re­ally dig­ging for those hid­den fea­tures,” Salmi­nen said.

But it’s the “hid­den ben­e­fits” of credit cards that Sift wants in the fore­front of a mo­bile wal­let, as the app de­liv­ers an easy- to- read ta­ble of each card’s ben­e­fits. While con­sumers gen­er­ally un­der­stand and uti­lize cash-back or re­wards points pro­grams, they are not as keenly aware of ben­e­fits a card may have like trip can­cel­la­tion pro­tec­tion, flight de­lay in­sur­ance, car rental in­sur­ance, lost-lug­gage in­sur­ance, ex­tended war­ranty, theft and dam­age, re­turn pro­tec­tion and price pro­tec­tion.

In that re­gard, Sift says its ser­vice can map all of the ben­e­fits for 90% of all credit cards in the U.S. In do­ing so and also fil­ing ap­pro­pri­ate claims on the user’s be­half, Sift es­ti­mates it can help con­sumers get back “tens of bil­lions of dol­lars left on the ta­ble ev­ery year.”

Sift’s big­gest hur­dle will likely be

en­roll­ment, since the con­sumers who would ben­e­fit most from its ser­vice are the ones who don’t know what they’re miss­ing, said Richard Crone, chief ex­ec­u­tive of San Car­los, Calif.-based pay­ments con­sult­ing firm Crone Con­sult­ing LLC.

“But you’d have to say an app like this would be a plus- one fea­ture on a mo­bile bank­ing app or on an is­suer’s own app,” Crone said, hint­ing that the tech­nol­ogy could be valu­able to a fu­ture buyer. “As a stand-alone app, it can be hard to get an en­rolled base.”

From a “scrappy startup” stand­point, it is easy to ad­mire Sift in what it is try­ing to do to ben­e­fit con­sumers, Crone added. “It will be hard, but hard is good if you are a startup that can solve a prob­lem.”

That “prob­lem” in many cases, Salmi­nen said, is that con­sumers aren’t al­ways aware that a trans­ac­tion should have re­sulted in sav­ings, based on their card ben­e­fits. If a ben­e­fit was not used on a cer­tain trans­ac­tion, Sift files claims to re­tail­ers or credit card is­suers, de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances of the trans­ac­tion and the com­pa­nies they are deal­ing with.

“Most of the re­tail­ers and some of the credit card is­suers ac­cept email claims, and we pro­vide all of the rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion in that way,” Salmi­nen said. “Oth­ers typ­i­cally have on­line forms and we fill them out on be­half of the card user.”

Sift usu­ally needs to pro­vide only a per­son’s name, ad­dress and the last four dig­its of the card — all data that is col­lected when Sift makes its first claim for a user.

Sift also pro­vides the trans­ac­tion re­ceipt, and then proof of a lower price avail­able.

“Sift puts all of this to­gether with­out the users’ in­volve­ment,” Salmi­nen said, not­ing that the com­pany looks out for the card user with­out be­ing asked to do so.

The app tracks all pur­chases in one place, matches the ben­e­fits to that pur- chase and then uses a bot to proac­tively de­liver claims and alert con­sumers when they have money com­ing back.

Re­tailer re­funds are di­rect charge­backs on the card used, while credit card re­funds are charge­backs on the card or mailed checks, de­pend­ing on the is­suer, Salmi­nen added.

Af­ter a user signs up with cloud-based Sift and pro­vides an email ad­dress and re­tailer ac­count in­for­ma­tion, Sift is able to ob­tain dig­i­tal re­ceipts, de­tect pur­chases and au­to­mate claims. Sift does not have ac­cess to card user email pass­words on some plat­forms, but those they do have are con­verted to to­kens and stored in an en­crypted data­base.

Sift plans to make its free ser­vice avail­able on other op­er­at­ing net­works, but for the time be­ing it works only for Ap­ple users. The com­pany is also test­ing var­i­ous busi­ness mod­els that would gen­er­ate rev­enue.

“A suc­cess fee is one of those op­tions, but it re­mains to be seen what the model, if any, would be with con­sumers re­gard­ing the claims,” Salmi­nen said. “In ad­di­tion to that, we are go­ing to make money from fi­nan­cial ser­vice re­fer­rals when we rec­om­mend a bet­ter credit card to a con­sumer.”

While some com­pa­nies such as Paribus and Earny fo­cus on re­tailer price pro­tec­tions and Airhelp seeks re­fund claims through the air­lines, Sift says it op­er­ates as a unique tool to make a mo­bile wal­let stronger by un­lock­ing credit card ben­e­fits, in­clud­ing travel.

“It has been a pleas­ant sur­prise to see peo­ple re­ally dig­ging for those hid­den fea­tures,” Sift co-founder Janne Salmi­nen said.

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