Posted by Ryan Lawler_Techcrunch.com
In April, automated savings startup Digit announced that in 100 days it would begin charging $2.99 a month to people using its service to set aside money for a rainy day or help pay their bills. Well, 100 days have almost passed, and it’s almost time for those changes to go into effect.
For Digit, the switch to charging a monthly subscription fee represents a big change for its business model. The company previously made money off the aggregate interest from savings it held on behalf of its users, but made the decision early this year to pass that interest back to users and charge them monthly instead.
In making that decision, Digit CEO Ethan Bloch told me the subscription fee model more aligns with the company’s values than making money off ads or becoming a lead-gen engine for financial products most of its users don’t need.
While some users complained when Digit sent its initial emails about the change, the service continues to grow pretty rapidly. Earlier this spring, Digit announced it had helped its users save more than $500 million in total since being founded. In just about three months since then, that amount has increased to more than $700 million.
“We lost less users than we thought we would with that first announcement,” Bloch told me. He acknowledges, though, that it’s still too early to tell how things will shake out once it starts taking $3 a month out of people’s savings. “Candidly, I think we’ll know a lot more in August,” he said.
Digit began reaching out to users again today to remind them of the change. For users who had signed up prior to their initial announcement, Digit will send emails three days before the first $2.99 charge appears. The company plans to follow up with a text reminder again the day before it charges them, and will also send an email receipt the day that they’re charged.
If that sounds like a lot of communication over a relatively small charge, it’s because Digit wants to err on the side of transparency. After all, a lot has been made of Digit’s change in business model, perhaps because the app was initially positioned as a free savings tool.
When I first discussed the change with Bloch months ago, he said the company decided to start charging users after “it became really clear that Digit is something people would be willing to pay for.”
Then the question became, “What is the right price for this service?” Bloch noted then that Netflix and Spotify are both $10 a month and HBO Now is $15 a month. In comparison, $3 a month seemed cheap.
But if you’re trying to help users save money, charging them anything will always seem anathema to some people. On that point, Bloch argues that charging users $3 to help them save $100 or more a month still leaves them ahead.
“When we run our user studies, what comes up again and again is that even at the lower end, if you save $1000 in a year, that’s $1000 you didn’t have beforehand,” Bloch said. “There’s not enough empathy for that. Some people don’t understand [our users] just saved $1000 for the first time in their lives.”
Furthermore, Digit is not just about saving for a rainy day anymore. The company introduced a feature called “Goalmojis” earlier this year, which allows users to set savings goals for vacations and other one-time purchase events. Users can also use Goalmojis to help them set money aside for recurring bills they have monthly.
Nowadays about a third of new users set up goals or monthly bill savings within 30 days of signup, and Digit is looking at ways to increasingly automate their financial lives. Of course, as it does so, the company believes it will provide more value to those users paying $3 a month.