Killer App, circa 2013

Anyone have fond memories of the term ‘killer app?’ More to the point, what would a new killer app for the banking and finance world look like? What exactly would it do?

It’s not that the phrase has gone away, but over the years, it seems to have been overtaken by marketing hype—so many new releases are routinely tagged this way that a collective yawn seems to be the only appropriate response. That’s unfortunate, because a true killer app really does make a huge difference. It can by itself generate an industry shift, propel a new technology paradigm and markedly alter end-user habits, particularly by introducing business professionals and home consumers alike to new ways of doing things.

With regard to finance, Visicalc played exactly this role more than 30 years ago. As the first spreadsheet to appear on PCs, specifically the Apple II, it helped change the perception of the entire field of computing. What were previously seen as toys for geeks became serious business tools, and a whole generation climbed aboard the technology train. The Lotus 1-2-3 similarly propelled sales of the IBM PC, which in turn spawned a vast hardware and software industry. And while it’s easy to be dismissive of video games as creative time-wasters, releases like Quake helped drive the development and adoption of 3D accelerators in home computing, which in turn raised the stakes for other technologies.

These days, perhaps more than new hardware, one tool that propels other forms of innovation is the API, or application programming interface. Simply put, by serving as a common language that enables different kinds of software to communicate with each other, it eases and speeds the development of new apps—perhaps even killer apps.

Intuit seems to think so. In search of the “next killer finance app,” the company, for the first time in its history, is opening the APIs to its financial data service in the U.S. and Canada. The move gives third-party developers unprecedented access to the financial data service that powers Quicken, QuickBooks, Mint.com, and FinanceWorks. In fact, developers can now to tap into transaction information from 19,000 financial institutions, auto-categorize the data, and embed it into whatever applications they develop.

Innovation in this field has frequently been driven by the ease with which vast amounts data can be accessed, collated and packaged. The new releases have the potential to take developers and users alike many steps forward in harnessing new capabilities. The new APIs are available on a limited basis now through the Intuit Partner Platform, with wider availability to come in December.

One early program that has already built on the new service is SaveUp, a free rewards game for saving money and reducing debt. Customers can securely access data from just about any financial source, while the company tracks their financial actions and offers rewards accordingly.

Here’s the thing about killer apps: We never see them coming, yet when they do, we wonder how we ever got along without them. It’s easy to say that we already have more apps than we need, while financial institutions and independent software developers alike come up with new ones every day. Sure, new mobile devices keep emerging, and we need new software just to keep up. But completely new applications offering completely new capabilities that will change how we do everything? That’s not going to happen.

Sure—just like we were never going to use our phones to do anything but talk.

So, getting back to the key question, what will a new killer app for finance look like? Rampant speculation welcome.

*Photo credit:

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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