Bank­ing apps feel the pinch. Tools that track

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Lisa Ger­st­ner

your bud­get rely on a steady stream of data from banks, bro­ker­ages and credit card com­pa­nies— but that’s not a given.

Tools that let you track all of your fi­nan­cial ac­counts in one place, such as Mint. com, rely on a steady flowof data from banks, bro­ker­ages and credit card is­suers to op­er­ate smoothly.

Lately, that steady ac­cess hasn’t been a given. Mint ex­pe­ri­enced dis­rup­tions in its feed from Chase last fall be­cause of heavy traf­fic on the bank’sweb­site. Plus, Chase later no­ti­fied some cus­tomers that they­would have to log in to their Chase ac­counts and go through steps to en­sure that desk­top ap­pli­ca­tions such as Quicken would con­tinue to sync data.

About the same time, Mint users with­Wells Fargo ac­counts dealt with ser­vice in­ter­rup­tions— pos­si­bly an in­ad­ver­tent side ef­fect of se­cu­rity up­dates.

Chase andWells Fargo as­sert that soft­ware up­dates and clogged servers caused the block­ages. Even so, banks may have other rea­sons to think twice about keep­ing an open line with ag­gre­ga­tors.

First, they’re com­peti­tors: Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions of­fer their own money-man­age­ment tools. Chase Blue­print lets cus­tomers with cer­tain credit cards set and mon­i­tor spend­ing goals, andWells Fargo’sMyMoney Map pro­vides sim­i­lar op­tions. In late 2014, Mint launched a sep­a­rate ap­pli­ca­tion, Mint Bills, which al­lows users to pay bills on­line from one por­tal— just as many cus­tomers can do with their bank’s on­line bill-pay fea­ture.

Banks are also on edge about the se­cu­rity risks in­volved when cus­tomers pro­vide ac­count in­for­ma­tion to third par­ties. Some have posted dis­claimers on their sites that cus­tomers could be on the hook for fi­nan­cial losses that re­sult from shar­ing log-in in­for­ma­tion with other ser­vices.

That might not hold up un­der fed­eral law, says Lau­ren Saun­ders of theN­ational Con­sumer LawCen­ter. “You still have the right to con­test unau­tho­rized charges on your bank ac­count.”

Whether a bud­get­ing tool­would be li­able in the event of a data breach is an open ques­tion, and one that­won’t be re­solved un­til law­mak­ers cre­ate clear rules or an app is hacked and the courts de­cide. In 2015 through De­cem­ber 8, therewere 66 data breaches in the bank­ing, credit and fi­nan­cial sec­tor, ac­cord­ing to the Iden­tity Theft Re­source Cen­ter.

Mint and sim­i­lar sites haven’t suf­fered any known breaches (but in to­day’s hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment, no en­tity is in­fal­li­ble).

Mint says that its en­cryp­tion stan­dards match those of a bank. If a crook­were to log in to Mint’s bud­get­ing tool with your cre­den­tials, he couldn’t see ac­count num­bers or make trans­ac­tions, but he could move money with Mint’s bill-pay­ment app.

Be­cause con­sumers usu­ally have fi­nan­cial ac­counts with a va­ri­ety of in­sti­tu­tions, banks aren’t likely to pro­vide the big-pic­ture value that ap­pli­ca­tions such as Mint of­fer. And cus­tomers who are un­hap­py­with howan in­sti­tu­tion is han­dling its re­la­tion­ships with third-party ser­vices can vote with their feet.

“If there’s a back­lash, banks will ad­just,” says S&P Cap­i­tal IQ an­a­lyst Scot­tKessler.

Don’t ex­pect the com­plex sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween banks and bud­get apps to end.

“Banks rely heav­ily on th­ese plat­forms to get new cus­tomers,” says AlexMat­janec, ofMyBankTracker, a con­sumer site for bank in­for­ma­tion. For ex­am­ple, banks pay Mint to pro­mote their credit cards to its users.

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