A few weeks ago my friend Andrew turned me on to the slick marketing site for Dimes. The site is well done and aggressively focused on the Millennial market with a dark aesthetic, liberal use of emoji, and a good bit of swagger in the copy.
I’ve got a soft spot for really well done marketing pages, and whats more I’m really, really interested in the burgeoning finance startup scene. The rise of don't-call-them-roboadvisors like Betterment and Wealthfront has been a sea change for the staid financial advisor industry, I’m a (mostly) happy Simple customer, and I think companies like Even and Acorns are exploring some of the most important, impactful ways that we as people can put ourselves on better, more solid financial footing.
The rise of intermediary layers, and I’m sure someone has coined a better name, is particularly interesting. Simple does this with my primary checking account now by acting as a great user interface for my day to day banking and saving activities, letting me set goals and providing powerful filtering features. Sure, there’s an underlying bank that actually handles my money, but I signed on with Simple for the extra interface layer they provide, not the features of the account itself. Even wants to do this for workers with uneven incomes by sitting on top of their existing accounts and leveling out cash flow paycheck to paycheck. Acorns rolls up your change to invest in fractional shares of mutual funds to encourage better investment habits, but again, it’s core selling point is the simple, beautiful intermediate interface it offers. Enter Dimes.
First, I should start by saying that I think Dimes looks beautiful and is full of really smart interactions. Kudos to whoever is running design over there, because not only have they nailed a great aesthetic and brand voice, I think they’ve also captured the elusive sense of delight that only the best interfaces manage to pull off. It’s in the little touches like the confetti when you hit a goal and the way your current “level” is displayed. And that’s the problem. Dimes looks good, but scratch the surface of the product a little bit, and things start to get a little scary. Let’s break it down.
Full disclosure: I am not a Dimes user, and all of my comments below are based on the information available on their site.
Cash back! Everyone loves it! Of course, you rarely get something for nothing, especially from businesses. Rewards programs are nothing new, and properly implemented they can be lucrative for both the businesses and the program members.
Dimes' implementation follows a more recent trend of creating loyalty at the personal account level vs. with specific merchants. So, if you're picking up a latte on your way to work every morning and then grabbing the occasional weekend espresso at a spot in your neighborhood, Dimes will keep track of this aggregate spending and provide you with perks when you hit certain spending thresholds.
This is nothing new, really. Plenty of credit cards give cash back. Dimes takes it a step further with its Challenges, though, by providing an element of discovery and extra incentive to the process. Buy enough coffee and you might discover the Coffee Card Challenge, a quest to make a set number of coffee purchases.
Dimes needs to make money, and it's easy to imagine merchants paying a premium to be featured as part of a challenge, offering double credit for purchases or being shown on some kind of "partner map". Dimes calls this a "discovery" process, lending a bit of mystery and adding to the game-like nature of the whole thing.
Here's where it really starts to get sinister. Dimes' reward program isn't just points and cash back, but also a tiered bonus structure. Borrowing even more liberally from the world of gaming, Dimes will dole out Dimes Points with every transaction, and also sets milestones to strive for. Just going off of the image on their site, these milestones might include things like:
- Shopping in three different stores in one day
- Completing a cashback challenge
- Staying within your budget for two days in a row
Giving credit where its due - staying within your budget is an admirable goal, and it's very cool that Dimes rewards that. Those other two, though. We've already talked about the Cashback Challenges. Nothing groundbreaking, but now they're further incentivized as part of a meta achievement structure.
Shopping at X stores starts to feel a little sketchy. For a product that bills itself as an "intelligent budgeting" tool, encouraging users to make transactions at multiple places is questionable. Don't get me wrong, on any given night out I'm probably dropping my card at at least three places... but not because I need to hit that one last checkmark in my "budgeting" tool to level up. Oh, and about that next level...
Yeah. Once I've spent myself up to the next threshold, I'm rewarded with... higher reward points when I spend money on the weekends and a not so subtle encouragement to spend more. Oof.
There's nothing inherently wrong with what Dimes has going here, and aggregate user purchase data is a a treasure trove of information that other much larger companies are looking to crack as well. Like I said at the top of the post, I think what really sets Dimes apart is how well they nail the delight aspect of the experience. Dimes isn't for me, but I want to use a product that is this cool and well integrated into my existing behaviors... I just don't want it to be a trojan horse designed to delight users right out of their money under the guise of making better decisions.
Make Good Decisions Delightful
Human beings, and especially those in Dimes' target market, are empirically bad at managing their finances. Now more than at any other time in history we have the tools, techniques, and data to make a meaningful impact on peoples' spending behavior right when it matters. We can get you at the point of purchase, or the moment money enters your account, or through automatic geofencing and location data, or any number of other crazy ways that weren't imaginable just a few decades ago, and Dimes is a glimpse at how we can do it in a way that truly delights. There's so much innovation happening around how we interact with, save and spend our money, lets keep it focused on reinforcing positive behaviors instead of figuring out the coolest way to incentivize damaging ones.