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ByNasrin Modak Siddiqi
Feb 24, 2023 07:12 PM IST

Where does your money go? We look at spending trackers and finance apps to figure out if the bots can actually help with your budgeting

Strap: Where does the money go? We look at spending trackers and finance apps to figure out if the bots can actually help with your budgeting

You should know and understand what’s happening to your data when a money app knows all about your salary, debt and spending habits. (Shutterstock)
You should know and understand what’s happening to your data when a money app knows all about your salary, debt and spending habits. (Shutterstock)

Ideally, using a fintech app should make you feel like you’re in a TV commercial. A good app will track your salary, every swipe of your card, and all your digital spending, even work out a financial planning advisory. So when your parents rant about your spending spiralling out of control, you flash your app in their faces, showing that, financially, all is well.

Do fintech apps do what they claim to? What’s happening to your data when an app knows about your salary, wealth, debt, splurges and secret spending? Maybe the clueless one in the commercial is you? Here’s what users say.

Portion control

Splitwise, which splits expenses shared with friends, roommates, etc, is the Facebook of the fintech space. Everyone uses it even if they don’t like it. Clinical dietitian and nutritionist Aditi Prabhu (34) uses it to set her monthly budget and track spending when she’s out with friends. So do Bengaluru-based tech colleagues Amal Raut (23) and Ajit Kumar (22). “It’s like a chopdi [notebook] which saves you the stress of remembering who owes who how much,” says Raut. Kumar thinks it’s great for a night out or a trip with the gang, but not for tracking personal expenses or setting reminders for EMIs.

Prabhu has mixed opinions about its usefulness. “The expenses can be split in different ways and multiple people can be added, but the totalling system can get confusing,” she says.

Easy as pie

Monefy Pro is an easy-to-use app that depicts your financial data in a pie chart, with multiple categories of income and expenses so you can manage your spending. “But it would have been great if the expenses could be spilt further into personal and professional/other expenses,” says Prabhu. “The entry process can be a little too much if you have too many transactions. Also, if you exceed the budget you set yourself, you can’t work around it.”

Look ma, no bank!

Unlike a brick and mortar bank that you can physically visit for transactions, digital banks are like that introvert friend who doesn’t want to meet you in person. They have no branches. Nupur Kale (31), a media professional, uses the free-to-join Jupiter Digital Bank to track her expenses. The app tells her when she’s overspending and how to improve her track record. “Opening the account was hassle-free and their community platform has people who can guide you. But I have experienced delays while making payments and the app demands frequent updates,” she says.

Be careful about the data you share. Apps can use your permission to gain access to the other data on your phone. (Shutterstock)
Be careful about the data you share. Apps can use your permission to gain access to the other data on your phone. (Shutterstock)

Raising the stakes

Kale also uses Groww, a financial services platform that is a registered broker with SEBI. It allows user to explore investment options such as stocks and mutual funds. It also offers real-time investment options and helps her make informed decisions through account managers and advisors.

But the app has its pain points: There are random update notifications and lags while transferring money. “Also, their service charges are higher than those of the others such as Zerodha,” says Kale. She worries too that the app does not list the risks associated with the financial products offered, which means users could make bad choices.

Too much on your plate?

Walnut, now called Axio, tracks how much you’ve spent on eating out vis-a-vis other expenses. Product designer Anushka Jaiswal (24) uses it to track her UPI and card spending since it categorises expenses according to merchants—groceries, restaurants, boutiques and the like. But the entries can only be made manually, which she finds taxing.

She worried at first that her data on the app could be shared with third parties, but then fell into that old social media trap: Everyone is doing it, so it must be okay. Still, she’s now switched to Money Manager on iOS.

Financial planning apps like Splitwise, Axio, Groww and Monefy Pro offer you the chance to get organised with your money. But they may not all be geared to your spending habits. (Shutterstock)
Financial planning apps like Splitwise, Axio, Groww and Monefy Pro offer you the chance to get organised with your money. But they may not all be geared to your spending habits. (Shutterstock)

Be seen

Writer Arunima Joshua who used apps such as Monefy, Spendee, and Money Manager for a few months has now deleted them all. “It helps at first, but if you know you’re living beyond your means anyway, which you can’t avoid when you’re a 20-something rent-paying single person in Mumbai, it’s very disheartening to see it spelled out there. Indulgences just make you feel so guilty! Maybe I’ll try them again when my income doubles,” she says.

Deets on the data

Watch out for digital miscreants, warns Sameer Anja, co-founder and COO of Arrka, a company that enables organisations to operationalise and implement their privacy programmes. Any information about you, whether your financials or your Aadhaar number, should be shared only when necessary. “You don’t want someone to steal your identity and use it for nefarious purposes,” Anja says. “Apps can use your permission to gain access to the other applications and information on your phone and invade your privacy. With illegitimate apps, it can get ugly, with extortion, blackmail, fraud, and privacy breaches.”

The only way out, he says, is to not give the app permissions for everything it asks for. “Ecosystems such as Apple and Google are doing their best to create a safe environment for all, so are the RBI and other Indian regulators, but only when the Digital Personal Data Protection Act comes through will we be able to file complaints,” Anja adds.

From HT Brunch, February 25, 2023

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