Don’t trust banks' financial advice? Try

Hands holding money in front of computer

Amid the chaos and confusion that surrounds what might best be described as Extreme Makeover: American Banking Edition, we often lose sight of one key tenet: Banks want us to fare well financially.

I know that seems far-fetched today, given the current national obsession with the colorful ways that banks have managed to enrich themselves at our expense.

But despite these blatant money grabs, banks ultimately can't stay afloat if we don't. It remains in their best interest to further our financial well-being.

One way banks have attempted to do this is with personal financial management, or PFM, a catchall term that includes both humans and, increasingly, electronic software to help us make the most of our money by paying down our debt, saving for a down payment, etc.

The inherent problem with banking PFMs is they always steer us exclusively to their banking products -- credit cards, loans, CDs, whatever -- thus creating a conflict of interest that undermines the whole premise. Our bank wants to help us succeed only as far as their product line allows. Little wonder that bank PFM suffers from trust issues!

To ameliorate this problem, some banks hire third-party PFM vendors, in the hopes that at least the appearance of impartiality might satisfy some skeptical customers. Does it fool anyone? I doubt it.

But, a new PFM provider that debuted this year, thinks it can rewire this disconnect by harnessing the power of social media. turns PFM into a sort of social video game using Facebook and Twitter to share the excitement with family and friends. The sponsoring bank and even merchants may participate by providing cash prizes and discounts as "badges" the customer earns as they near their goal.

Yes, still plans to restrict users to the product line offered by their sponsoring bank. The hope is that by embedding the PFM into a trusted social fabric of friends and merchants, it will feel like you're getting 31 flavors instead of plain vanilla.

I'm excited by this development for two reasons.

One, anything that helps Americans get a better grip on their finances is worth pursuing today. And second, social media demonstrated its power during the Arab spring to not only free oppressed masses but to rewrite how we treat one another.

Who knows, maybe one day we'll actually "friend" our banker again.

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