Fifth Third acquires savings app


If you’re looking to save some dough, there’s a bot that can help you with that.

Fifth Third Bank last year acquired Dobot, an interactive microsavings mobile app that helps people visualize and set financial goals with automated help.

Although the bank has invested more than $100 million in financial technology in the past two years, Dobot is its first complete fintech acquisition — from product to team.

Dobot users must be 18 or older and hold a checking account at a U.S.-based financial institution.

After they download the app to iOS or Android phones and connect it to their checking accounts, Dobot’s algorithm analyzes users’ spending patterns and identifies ways they can save money without compromising existing financial commitments.

The money is transferred automatically without any need for users to intervene unless they want to. If they want to save more, they can text Dobot instructions such as “save $10,” and the app will transfer the desired amount instantly from checking to their Dobot savings account.

Dobot funds are held in a noninterest-bearing, FDIC-insured “omnibus” account at Fifth Third Bank.

Individuals do not have to be Fifth Third customers to use the app.

Dobot has been compared to other fintech apps such as Qapital, Digit and Acorns, except it does not charge monthly fees. There also is no fee to download the app.

Andy Zurcher helped launch the app as senior vice president of product at Dobot. Post-acquisition, Zurcher now leads the Dobot team as vice president, senior product and channel manager of Fifth Third.

“We are excited to be a part of Fifth Third’s digital transformation, and we believe Dobot is well positioned to engage consumers in new and exciting ways,” he said.

The overall strength of the app stems from its “fun and engaging” interface, Zurcher said. When users sign up, they choose an image to represent their savings goal, such as a picture of a serene lake if they are saving for a vacation, a house if they want to make home improvements or the face of their child if they’re saving for birthday presents.

“There’s a bunch of research out there that suggests you’re incredibly more likely to achieve a goal when you’re emotionally connected to that goal,” Zurcher said. “We went to some lengths to build an experience that people enjoy engaging with … (and that) not only keeps you excited about it and motivated to reach that goal but also makes it very difficult for you to withdraw funds from that goal to make a purchase that is otherwise not in support of that savings.”

When setting up an account, after selecting a picture, setting a goal and a target achievement date, users will see a reaction from the app that says “Awesome!” with emoji stars.

Day-to-day interaction with Dobot takes place over text messaging, with the app offering supportive and encouraging mantras and jokes upon request, as well as advice on how to better meet the goal(s).

Every few days, Dobot determines a “safe savings amount” and automatically moves it to the Dobot savings account.

In the event of unplanned expenses, users can move their money from Dobot back into their checking account.

Once users begin accumulating funds in their savings account, they will see a trickle of green coins float down the screen like Tetris pieces and dance around. They can play with the dots by tilting the phone at different angles to see them glide around the screen.

A tab within the app labeled “activity” lists all the transfers that have happened so far toward the selected goal.

Dobot was originally launched in Denver in 2016. After Fifth Third acquired it, it was pulled from the App Store and Google Play so it could be rebranded and relaunched as part of Fifth Third’s suite of digital products.

Employees had the opportunity to pilot the new version before it was marketed to the bank’s customers and the general public with its relaunch in January.

Essiah Hudson, a Fifth Third customer service representative, participated in the pilot phase.

While he hasn’t opted in to all the features, such as texting, he said it has helped improve his saving habits.

“To save before, I would attempt to use my standard savings account, but I would always end up transferring it back into my checking,” he said. “With Dobot, it helps by making my goals clear, where I can label each account to what I am saving for.”

After a few weeks using Dobot, as of mid-March, Hudson had saved $250 toward his two goals of a car down payment and a trip he is taking in the fall.

“I did have a setback, but it was easy to transfer my money back into my checking account when needed,” Hudson said.

Doug Smith, senior vice president, director of consumer digital banking at Fifth Third, said Americans are woefully bad at saving overall, and the bank has been on a mission to help customers change that.

“We’re always looking for areas we either can build, we can partner or we can buy, and when we went to the Dobot team, this was just a really good opportunity for us to pick some of their knowledge in the fintech space and then purchase them and say, ‘Welcome to our world,’” he said.

Dobot had about 20,000 users as of March 18. Zurcher said the bank would like to hit 100,000 users by year’s end.

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