September 12, 2017
FinTech is littered with companies and solutions that fail to address the consumer's actual issues when it comes to their financial lives. A fancy interface and well-designed workflow only take you so far. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with Honeyfi and its CEO/co-founder Ramy Serageldin. Honeyfi is tackling an age-old problem - managing finances with your significant other. After hearing about the app, I called Ramy to find out more about Honeyfi leading me to immediately downloaded the app and I’ve been using it ever since.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Patrick: Ramy, thanks for joining us. First, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ramy: Sure. Ramy Serageldin. Co-founder and CEO of Honeyfi. I've been in financial services and technology most of my career. I cut my teeth at Bank of America as part of their leadership development program, which was a great experience. I learned a lot about banking - deposits, credit cards, mortgage, etc. I then joined E&Y to help found their Digital Financial Services practice. We helped large banks with their mobile, social, and online strategies.
After that I joined Moven, a FinTech startup based in New York. I helped grow Moven from the ground up, launched our US business and operations, and then helped grow Moven’s international business. When I moved up to New York I had no family, no spouse, and after four years there had two kids and a spouse, and a third on the way. We decided to move somewhere we could have a better quality of life, and most recently came down here to Charlotte, North Carolina and started Honeyfi.
Patrick: What should people know about Honeyfi?
Ramy: Honeyfi is an app to help couples manage their finances. At our core, we’re focused on helping couples communicate and collaborate about finances. That means we try to give you ways to understand your spending, savings, and goals so that you’re financially prepared for the various life events that couples go through.
Patrick: ‘Manages finances between couples’ is a cliché at this point, but nobody has successfully solved that problem. When and how did you decide, This is it!?
Ramy: I knew that I wanted to join another startup or I wanted to start another startup. I couldn't quite bring myself to go back to the corporate world [laughs]. But the real driver was, honestly, and all of the Honeyfi co-founders (Joe and Sam) have similar but unique motivations for why this topic was important to us. For me, it was the conversation my spouse and I were having when deciding to move out of New York. We were to figure out where can we afford to live, what had a good cost of living, good schools, good quality of life, etc. As we were having a conversation we started to talk through finances and realized we weren't really prepared financially and we never even had that conversation as a couple. We paid bills and figured it out on the fly, for the most part.
Once we started talking about our move we realized we could have used the help. I'd be lying if I said the conversations weren't strong discussions - occasional nights on the couch. Then we woke up and said, there's got to be a good solution out there for this and started looking for it. There really wasn't. Then we just thought, let's attack this problem. How do we help other families that aren't prepared, become prepared?
Patrick: That’s great. Walk me through the experience in Honeyfi today. What can I do? What exactly am I going to get?
Ramy: We try and make it as simple as possible. So you sign up for a Honeyfi account and link whichever banks accounts you have, and then you choose what to share with your partner. You can share some accounts but not others. You can share transactions but not balances. You decide based on how you manage your finances with your partner.
In fact, one of the things we found through this process is that over 60% of Millennial couples don't actually merge all of their finances. They still keep at least a couple of accounts separate, and so we had to take that into account (No pun intended). We really want to promote transparency without forcing you to give up the control.
Next, you’d invite your partner and she would add any accounts of hers that she might have, go through the same share setting process, then the system takes over. Honeyfi categorizes all your transactions, generates a household budget (which you can edit, of course) and then we will give you tips and insights to keep you on track with that budget. That's where we are today. We are taking the next steps around getting better at forecasting your future spending and providing better insights about where your money is going and understanding what your goals are.
Patrick: Sounds useful already. Talk about your experience at Moven. How did that shape what you’re doing now? You and the Moven team were pioneers. Did it have a lot of impact, and how did it kind of give you a leg up for making Honeyfi from the ground up?
Ramy: Definitely. The experience of Moven was so valuable. Not only just from growing a startup but from a product perspective. Moven was very advanced in the financial wellness space. We were one of the first to really make that the focus of our experience versus others that were more on the digitization of existing capabilities. Honeyfi has expanded on that. We’ve taken some of the things that we then looked to implement around simplifying the budget and are taking it a step further. That's probably one of the key learnings there.
Honestly, though, Moven was very much focused on individuals. And so, some of those learnings don’t translate perfectly to Honeyfi. For instance, we’ve found that couples often have two distinct financial personalities. One partner is often much more in tune to the finances – we call them the household CFO. The other is often less interested, but the household CFO keeps trying to get them more involved with money. We’ve spent a lot of time on working out how do we create tools for that CFO to engage their partner. So, while my experience at Moven is invaluable, there are definitely some new and distinct challenges with Honeyfi.
Patrick: Certainly. The reason I ask is that it’s unique to have someone from the early days of FinTech creating their second product. Today we see a lot of first-time FinTech founders, first-time startups, and they don't have that luxury of having gone through the experience you have.
Ramy: Sure. It’s funny you say that. We say we don't make the old mistakes, we just make new mistakes. [laughter] I think what's definitely interesting is that today we’re in a different world from a technology perspective. The capabilities, especially when you start to think about aggregation and open APIs, are a lot stronger today than they were when we started Moven. That's exciting, right? There's a lot more we can do.
Patrick: Definitely. And so, something I want to dig into about Honeyfi is building on this unique aspect of a relationship. It's more than finances. It’s the relationship, it's the stress, it's the planning, which is really is about how does managing finances fit into your life - it’s not just academically number crunching. How do you think about that and how does that impact Honeyfi?
Ramy: Absolutely. At the end of the day, finances can only to get so exciting unless you're one of those people that loves accounting and math. But the real key for us is how do we quickly get past the budgeting aspect and more on the relationship strengthening, building goals, and the future that the couple shares.
For example, we have a chat within Honeyfi. And while there are tons of chat programs, users have given us feedback that they love having a dedicated channel with just their partner. They also like that the app makes it easier to start those conversations about money. We’ve built features to make that process easier. For example, users can share charts from the budget in chat and comment on transactions. Again, how do we help the household CFO give updates quickly and easily to their partner?
We've also heard feedback from people that they're using chat and the app generally for more daily life management. Hey, have you checked out this item? What kind of trip should we go on? To us, this is really exciting because if we can start to get more into that relationship zone, then the interest in using the app is going to be much higher, because it's more than just ‘this is about finances’ right? We want to get more integrated into the family life and the family activities.
Patrick: Did you go into Honeyfi knowing that, or is that something you discovered after starting?
Ramy: Of course I knew it. No, just kidding! [laughter]
This is something everyone in the industry knows, right? Keeping people engaged in finances is hard. The classic example is when you ask people about Mint, they say, of course, yeah, I tried it. And when was the last time you used it? I don't know, a couple of years ago? [laugh}
Patrick: You can put me in that camp, it was a couple of years ago and I'm being generous I think. [laughter]
Ramy: And don’t get me wrong, right? Mint has done a huge service for us and our industry because we don't have to convince people to put in their account information. Mint made that a common practice. That's a great benefit for us. But the point is that Mint kind of stopped at a certain point and we recognized we needed to go past that. We knew initially that keeping people engaged and making it more than just the finances was part of our underlying thesis. We're learning more clearly how we do that and what is truly showing value for people and what is not.
Patrick: You're now in production, congratulations on that! It’s no small feat. You’re doing something unique in personal finance management and I think our audience will recognize that. We also have an industry audience so I know they are wondering, What is Honeyfi’s business model?
Ramy: Primarily, we use a partnership model. At least, that's the vision. But we want to take it a very different tact. We're not trying to take the approach that previous companies take and turns off a lot of users – throw as many offers as possible or have a tab that literally just says ‘offers.’ To me, that approach makes it clear that the company is trying to sell products to you, not for you. We're very much taking the approach of helping you with certain life moments or events like having a baby, getting married, and moving. Those are big moments that are financially challenging and stressful. We want to help make sure that you're financially ready for them. So, when we find a way that we can truly help you with one of those moments with a partner, we do that. The most important thing is to earn and keep the users’ trust that we’re using their data to help them, not ourselves. If they get the sense that you're just trying to sell their data, then that is a very, very quick way to lose a customer and at that point we're done as a company.
Patrick: Can you give us some examples of partners? What you have that start there and after that, what type of partners do you look for and how do you think about that? Because I think that understanding of curation of who can come within your trust is pretty important, right, to what you just said? So who do you have today and what does that look like. An example just for the audience and then you take it from there, you know, what does that look like going forward.
Ramy: At a broad level we look for financial and non-financial partners. We’re focused on financial partners first. We have a life insurance partner as well as a company that actually negotiates your recurring bills on your behalf to save you money. We’re in the process of implementing those into the app experience, because as I said before, we didn't just want to throw it in there as an banner ad. We want to create tailor the experience to the customer. Going further, you can imagine the other common life events that couples go through. Whether it's saving for college, wills and trusts, and your traditional mortgage or auto lending products. For us, we're building different experiences into the app. We build those experiences and bring in different partners to help meet those needs.
Patrick: Excellent. As a quick aside, if someone wants to be a partner, how do they do that?
Ramy: Just connect with me at Honeyfi (email@example.com).
Patrick: What’s the next milestone for you and your team?
Ramy: We're rolling out a couple of features that we're excited about. One that I can share with you is around recurring bills. We will actually identify and track your recurring bills – your mortgage, power bill, phone bill, that kind of stuff. That way, you know what you’re spending each month, when payments are due, and whether you’ve paid your bill on time. This feature also helps us better forecast your spend.
From a company perspective we are looking to obviously grow our user base and then very shortly here grow our partnership base. So then we can really focus on growing the team as well as the customer base.
Patrick: Awesome. Last thing, and most importantly, where can people go get Honeyfi and how do they go start using it?
Ramy: Yeah, so it’s live in the App store and Play Store, just download Honeyfi! Sign up, invite your partner (it’s part of the onboarding process), and maybe even give us a five star glowing review [laughs]!
Patrick: I like that you have built-in virality to it, right? You immediately have to at least invite one person [laughs]. Anyway, thank you so much for joining us Ramy and we’re looking forward tracking Honeyfi in years to come. I’m sending the invitation to my wife right now!