Like many people, my cash has a way of coaxing itself out of my pocket. Its subtle persuasion falls silent only when my wallet empties. Cleo is a money management app that counteracts my knee-jerk spending. But it’s not alone.
Apps like Cloe take different approaches to modify spending behavior. Currently, the leading alternatives as NudgeGlobal, CashApp, MoneyLion, Mint, Peak Money, Plum, Sofi, and Stash. They offer varying permutations on saving, budgeting, cashback, and gamified budgeting. Some use low-level AI.
To get the hang of these apps, we’ll first outline Cleo. Understanding the benchmark will give us a clearer basis for comparing the contenders.
What is Cleo?
Cleo is a budgeting app for Android and iOS. Named after an octopus, it gets its tentacles all over your spending habits, twisting them into thriftier patterns. The app follows a freemium model, with most functionality available at no charge and premium features billed at $5 per month.
Cleo features a chatbot (named “Cleo” – of course). This is like Siri, with a dollop of attitude. Having described their behavior, users interact with Cleo as their financial life unfolds. This creates a financial guardian angel that monitors that perches on both the debit and credit shoulders of their balance sheets – issuing sarky prompts as she goes.
Cleo’s core feature is its “roast” mode. Having set up a budget, Cleo roasts users who overstep. This includes not only harsh text admonishment but GIF-shaming and flaming.
Budgeting is simplified by breaking big goals down into micro-goals. These then correspond with micro spending updates and advice targeted not at the grand ultimate goal but the small steps needed to get there.
Saving hacks are delivered in the chat. Specific hacks are chosen from a large base to match the user’s spending patterns, as detected by the background AI. For persistent defaulters, a swear-jar trigger roasts when spent on profiled savings-busting items is threatened.
Cashback incentives are built into the app, providing rewards for users who save more. This is accompanied by a coach who offers saving tips and monitors ongoing compliance.
For premium subscribers, it is possible to borrow – interest-free – up to $100 for overdrafts. Cleo gives borrowers between three and twenty-eight days to repay the loan, after which they are immediately eligible for another.
These loans are not reported to credit agencies and do not affect your credit rating. Short-term borrowing allows Cleo another axis along which to learn user spending patterns and provide cues for improvement.
Cleo’s blog provides educational content for financial health maintenance. Articles range over the themes of spending, budgeting, credit management, lifestyle, and general. The site retains writers who preserve the app’s direct, irreverent tone.
Money Diaries are a Cleo blog in which users relate their experience of finances. This interpersonal engagement creates a basis for users to reflect on their behavior.
Stand-out features include the following:
Several other apps have taken up positions in the financial health management space. We survey the leading ones below and rate them for functionality relative to Cloe. Since no app is striving to be a Cloe clone, it is essential to base the evaluation on its stated objective.
MoneyLion targets low-saving consumers. These are the majority of financial consumers, with less than two thousand dollars in savings. The company uses consumer analytics to boost member savings and optimize their credit scores.
The company was founded by a team of fintech specialists led by a Wall Street veteran. It makes its money off its loan book, as well as subscription for premium services. The services offered are lending, investment service, and financial advice.
The advice is tailored based on spending patterns detected by the app on its analysis of user behavior. MoneyLion styles its credit program on existing rewards programs, offering points based on savings, credit score enhancement, and the linking of the bank account.
Core features include:
MoneyLion is more extensive than Cloe. It is intended not only as a savings enhancer but a more general wealth management tool. Cloe’s sassy tone styles it as personal assistance, whereas MoneyLion is more detached, opting for a more professional feel.
While Cloe has the feel of a startup for individuals, MoneyLion feels more like a repackaging of institutional tools for online digital access.
Dosh is primarily a cashback app. It addresses personal money management by focusing on its coalface – the cash register. Dosh partners with retailers, providing discounts (in cashback rewards) for shopping at participating retailers.
Discounts can be earned for online or in-store purchases, and the app is free. Online rewards are triggered by clicking through in-app links. Offline in-store tips are automatic and require linking a debit card.
Users are not required to upload a receipt. Cashback rates vary, with 2-3% being the typical range. Discounts as high as 10-15% as not uncommon, and lowly 1.5% discounts have also been seen.
Functional features include:
Dosh is much narrower than Cloe in terms of the range of financial wellness aspects it touches and the limited number of tools it provides. The app – by design – is less intrusive than Cloe. Whether this is a good thing or bad depends on the user’s desire for hand-holding.
Relative to Cloe’s hazing roasts, Dosh strikes a more neutral tone overall.
Nudge is a web app. This transcends the platform, making it accessible to those users not on Android or iOs. It brands itself as a platform, as it is primarily interested in integrating with third-party systems.
Like Cloe, Nudge is based on (as the name suggests) nudging people into responsible behavior. It monitors users’ behavior in order to restore a sense of control. The guidance is personalized, with the users walked down advice paths, whose direction is modified according to the users’ stated objectives and behaviors.
A full suite of personal money management tools is provided to guide budgeting, saving, and budgeting.
A few features make Nudge unique in its class:
More than Cloe, nudge has event-based prompting. This helps users prepare for future liquidity needs around things like birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries. In Cloe, these need to be part of an explicit budgeting program.
Because of its API, Nudge is attractive to third-party platforms as well as end-users. The web app provides interface flavors for employers as well as employees.
Intuit Mint is the best competitor to Cleo and arguably surpasses it in terms of serious personal money management. It combines simplicity with usability and a powerful toolkit.
Users are allowed to link to online financial accounts with a view to checking credit scores and managing their net worth. Mint’s revenue model is ad-based, meaning that the app is free to users. It receives rave customer reviews and has won the prestigious Editors’ Choice on several occasions.
The rich feature list is not limited to the following:
Mint goes toe-to-toe with Cloe. The elegant power of its toolset makes the octopus come across as a gimmicky newbie trap. There is a wider range of investment options, absent in Cloe, and the alerts are not narrowly targeted around explicit user behavior.
5. Peak Money
Peak Money is an app based on a proprietary behavior cycle for habit entrenchment. It consists of four steps:
Peak Money is free. It started on iOS but is now available also on Android and as a web app.
Under the hood:
Although this app offers fewer services, it succeeds at the argument that saving is the key driver of financial management. Arguably the payday loans (a feature that it lacks and Cloe offers) weaken or offset the development of savings culture.
Both apps make use of psychological cues to affect financial outcomes. Which is better may be a matter of choice. Personally, I expect the nagging octopus to annoy after a (relatively short) while.
This app started its life when two UK-resident Cypriot buddies challenged each other to salvation. Alex (evidently the lazier and geekier of the two) created an algorithm to monitor his spending. This way, he could work out how much he’d need to save each month and adjust his spending accordingly.
This is the essence of Plum. The app is a bot that implements Alex’s algorithm for its users, automatically squireling the amounts deemed saveable. It links to all major UK banks, and on the basis of transaction, analysis calculates the optimum amount of weekly saving.
With Plum, users get:
Plum is in the class of savings-focussed wealth management apps. It replaces nagging with automated savings, exploiting the fact that some effort is needed to disrupt a spending plan. This cleverly hijacks the motivational deficits of poor savers.
The app is much quieter than Cloe, as its work is focused more on transaction management, adjusting roundups, and goal-setting rather than requiring behavior from the client.
Sofi is a wide-ranging money management app. It covers the full value chain from saving through planning to retirement investing. It uses credit enhancement and flexible borrowing features to enhance the tailoring of the financial plan.
Much like Peak Money, Sofi has a money management philosophy based on four pillars:
While the tool is widely seen as an app for loan application and credit management, it provides a suite of tools that address each of the four pillars. Tucked into the loan features is a competitive 0.2% APR rate, with unemployment protection and flexible repayment dates.
Whereas Cloe offers payday loans of its own book, Sofi intermediates between third parties. This improves the credit choices available to users.
Stash ties a budgeting app to an investment account. This investment linkage seeks to create long-term benefits from current savings. The app targets unsophisticated investors, making it suitable in the personal wealth management category. Stash is rated favorably by users on both the Android and iOS platforms.
The Green Dot Banks provides accounts that link to each Stash account. There are no overdraft fees, monthly service fees, or required minimum balances. There are automatic transfers and early-access options for deposits. Users may access a network of over nineteen thousand fee-free ATMs distributed across the USA.
Participating stores include Rite Aid, Walgreens, and CVS. They process cash deposits on the Green-Dot-backed card.
Stash has a tweak on familiar functionality:
In some ways, Cloe and Stash lean on opposite ends of the investment value chain. Cloe focuses on savings-generating nudges at the start of the process. Stash focuses on diversifying long-term savings options through an automated investment program with low-cost, diversifying products.
Consistent with this view, users mix tools like Stash with Cloe in order to take care of their entire wealth management process with focussed apps.
Money management is not a single thing. It can be tailored, depending on where the spender’s behavior falls short. Different apps focus on different behavioral aspects, allowing the user to choose based upon their own particular need.
Investopedia: What is MoneyLion
Finder: Meet Cleo Review
Washington Post: Apps that Help You Nudge Into Financial Health
Fool: Dosh Review
PC Mag: MintCom
CNBC: Mint Budgeting App
Nerd Wallet: Investing
Benzinga: MoneyLion Review
Apple Store: Cleo