Google What?

June 7, 2011

A few weeks ago, Google made its foray into financial services with Google Advisor.  The site, in essence a price comparison engine, bills itself as one-stop shop for financial services designed to help users easily find relevant products from multiple providers, compare them side by side, and apply online.  Available only in the US, Advisor allows users to create customized searches for products including mortgages, credit cards, CD’s, checking, and savings accounts.  The site then, typically within 2 seconds, produces a list of offers that match the user’s criteria along with lender contact info and rates.  Finally, Google is only paid when users contact lenders for mortgages.  In all other products, Google’s listings are sorted exclusively by APY.

Google Advisor
This new domain, which within its first few weeks has solidified top placement in search and garnered 75k YouTube views of it’s “how too” video has left many people scratching their heads asking, “Why?”  A couple of thoughts on that:

1-     According to their blog, Google had already constructed and begun testing a mortgage comparison tool in 2009 and therefore, adding other financial offers to this product was relatively easy.

2-     5 days after the launch of Advisor, Google announced the acquisition of Sparkbuy, a consumer comparison site, and that Sparkbuy’s 3 person team was joining Google as employees working on the Advisor product, e.g. the perfect operating team.

But rather than ponder “why”, because frankly, I think the answer is, “because they can,” I found myself navigating the site trying to determine “who”, in today’s economy, finds a site like this useful?  Practically speaking, the only measure of creditworthiness on the site is self entered, the rates are variable and for comparison only, and the end result of your “customized search” is still an application away from an offer of credit.  So, for those of us with a 780 FICO score and the entire spectrum of credit products to choose from, I guess yes, Advisor could be considered a good source of information.  But what about for the other 80% of the US population?  Think for a second about an average US consumer who is searching for a loan.  Their intent is unambiguous- cash or access to credit as quickly as possible at the lowest available interest rate.  Through this lens, Advisor’s process of choose the loan that’s “right for you,” browse offers, contact the advertiser, apply, and then get accepted or rejected seems to me to miss the mark.

Now of course, a workflow that facilitates actual lending is much more complex than a comparison tool, which in fairness, Advisor only claims to be.  But if anyone, Google has the brand and resources to meet user objectives.  Surely, they know enough about each of us to head down the necessary path of individualized customized product offerings, yet, have chosen to shy away.  I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Advisor’s intent is not to send free, non-biased referrals to lenders forever, and that in all likelihood, what we are seeing today is only a first iteration.  Thoughts?