Do you aggregate? In layman’s terms, do you download or link your financial information to one place? You may use mint.com, or Intuit’s Quicken, or a number of apps such as Personal Capital or Pocket Expense that allow you to enter your credentials once, and they will download your financial accounts to a single secure site.
For example, mint.com, owned by Intuit, offers the ability to download from various financial institutions. They advertise bank-level security. You receive a full picture of your finances in one place, with simple budgeting and reporting tools. The service is free, but in exchange you are subject to directed marketing on the mint.com site. Aggregators offer read-only access. Account numbers and other sensitive information are never displayed. You cannot make withdrawals or trade accounts within the tools.
Cybersecurity experts often recommend using aggregation services for another layer of protection. With the use of aggregation services, you are not required to constantly enter credentials for financial institutions on a device or network which might not be secure. That being said, make sure the aggregator you use is secure. That all data is encrypted using 256-bit encryption and the aggregators deploy server-side firewalls.
The nature of the aggregation service may soon be fundamentally changed, and may impact you as a user. In the past, Intuit offered its aggregation services to third parties. So, even if you don’t use Quicken or mint.com, your data might have been aggregated by Intuit. Intuit recently discontinued offering aggregation to third parties. Their service is now only for its customers. Those sites and apps that formerly used Intuit are scrambling to find a replacement. As financial institutions and other entities move to save their market share, we may see other changes.
Even more aggravating, a large bank discontinued downloads to mint.com, stating in its press release that mint.com does not meet its security standards. That is not the whole story. Financial institutions have been reluctant to allow consumers to download to a third party. As aggregation services have become more mainstream, financial institutions find that much of their traffic is from these services. If you use an aggregation service, you bypass the institution’s website and in turn, its ability to reach you directly.
The average consumer has several accounts at different financial institutions. The ability to view and track everything in one place is a benefit that may far outweigh the risk. So what is a savvy consumer to do? The industry is waiting to see how Intuit handles the bank challenge. Then more financial institutions may follow suit. If you find your institution isn’t supporting your aggregator, contact that institution.
Remember to always exercise vigilance. As with any website, credit card or even your smartphone, know the risks and work to mitigate them. Stop. Think. Connect.
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