Soon, your bank may know more about you than you could imagine. Bank Director recently spoke with Stephen Burke, chief operating officer for Context360, a startup firm in San Mateo, California. Context360 uses a smartphone’s sensors to track user location and behavior, including what other apps the person is using on the phone and when. There are a variety of potential fraud and marketing applications for the technology. San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. earlier this year awarded the company seed money to develop its platform for potential banking uses.
Tell me what Context360 does.
We started out three years ago focused on game developers trying to solve the problem called retention and engagement. Unlike the web, where web sites know where you came from and where you went [by] using cookies and various devices, apps are very much siloed. You don’t know where [users] came from when they open your app or where they go when they close your app. What if we could provide insights into what users do outside your app?
How does it work?
All smartphones have sensors. Once it’s installed and the user has accepted the permissions, it runs in the background. It collects changes in the phone’s state, like the phone moving, or logging in. If you open your mail app, that gets registered. Our license terms explicitly require our customers to get informed consent from the end users. I want to be very clear. We don’t have your contact lists, email content and we are not looking at SMS [text message] content. We just know that someone is spending two hours per day texting, but we don’t know the content of those texts.
I understand that Wells Fargo is interested in this as a way to prevent fraud, by knowing the customer’s location through the sensor in their smartphone and comparing that to where the credit card is being used, for example.
If you use the United app in the last few hours, that is a good indication that you might be traveling soon. We don’t know if it’s you. We know it’s your phone. If you have opted in to be directly recognized, if you are traveling a lot, you may opt to link your bank user profile with your smartphone profile.
So the bank app would know that I was doing something in an airline app, or that I had downloaded a boarding pass, so they don’t have to block my credit card when I travel to that city?
Yup. Or you could check into the Four Seasons hotel in London and because your phone is logged into the wifi there, we know it’s you. At the end of the day, your phone is you. It is the single most ubiquitous personal device ever. Similarly, if you travel back and your credit card continues to be used in London but your phone is in Tennessee, that’s a signal those charges should be blocked. We are in the middle of three weeks of testing for another use case, which is lead generation or cross selling. The example here is you suddenly have an interest in real estate apps such as Trulia or Zillow, and that’s a sign you might be in the market for a house. If I’m Wells Fargo, I have a new loan rate and I have 6,000 people in Tennessee who have been looking for real estate, so why don’t I send them a message right now that they should come in and talk to a loan officer now?
As a user, do you know what I’m searching for on the web?
No. We see the broad category, such as she just downloaded an app. But we don’t see what you’re searching for on the web.
But Wells Fargo is not actually using this with customers yet?
It is only being done with Wells Fargo employees in a trial. We’ve raised about $1 million to date including the seed funding from Wells Fargo. We have several other clients using our software and about 7 million active users on our platform right now, ranging from real estate apps, retail, to voice over IP and banking. We have about six game developers in the U.S. using it. We are in discussions with a large bank in the U.K. to do something similar to what we’re doing with Wells Fargo.