The Download: HelloWallet debuts its financial help software

After more than a year developing software aimed at helping people save money and pay down debt, District-based HelloWallet debuted its program last week during a conference for firms offering finance-oriented technology.

The HelloWallet product is sold directly to large employers that then make it available to staff members as part of their benefits package. Food company H.J. Heinz, services provider Marsh & McLennan Cos. and the California State University System are among its first buyers.

“We’re in various stages of talking to some of the largest companies in the United States, including 25 of the Fortune 100 from lots of different industries . . . as well as many of the largest 401(k) providers,” said Hall Kesmodel, head of business development.

The new application tracks people’s spending habits and financial objectives to tailor its advice to meet their specific goals. Chief executive Matt Fellowes, who conducted consumer finance research at the Brookings Institution, said most workers survive paycheck to paycheck without setting aside sufficient money for retirement.

In addition to HelloWallet’s staff of about 20, the firm has amassed an advisory team of behavioral scientists, psychologists and academics to shape the product. More than just crunching numbers, the program aims to influence behavior.

“We’ve built a type of artificial intelligence, which essentially acts as a financial brain for our members and helps them make decisions that are in their best financial interest,” Fellowes said.

Fellowes said individuals will be able to purchase the software following its debut, but added that HelloWallet does not intend to pursue a direct-to-consumer sales approach at this time.

CES in D.C.

The Consumer Electronics Show was held in Las Vegas in January and the event’s atmosphere fit the location. Companies had to be showmen with splashy exhibit booths and hands-on gadget displays.

So when a considerably smaller crowd of companies brought their technology to Washington last week, the scene at Eastern Market reflected the city’s far more muted nature.

The event, hosted by the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, gave lawmakers and other Washington notables the opportunity to experience firsthand smart, 3-D televisions, motion-sensor video games and other cutting-edge products.

Mobile phonemaker HTC had two rows of smartphones spread out on a table with staff demonstrating how they integrate social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, with audio and e-mail.

“It’s about taking all the ways you communicate with people and putting them in one technology,” said Keith Nowak, a company spokesman. “Suddenly everyone is excited because people are using their phones for data now. Voice is just another application.”

But as with most events in Washington, the conversation soon deviated to policy.

Google had its Content ID product on display; it allows music and movie studios to reduce copyright infringement and piracy by scanning YouTube and other corners of the Web for potential violations.

Qualcomm’s Alice Tornquist, vice president for government affairs, was eager to discuss the need for the government to scare up spectrum for mobile providers. Qualcomm makes chips for mobile devices. She also is pushing to ease regulations that make it difficult to hire foreign-born workers.

Other companies had sales in mind. Most lawmakers may have no reason to purchase Microsoft’s motion-based video game console Kinect, which was on display, but other companies wanted to make lawmakers aware of the products they do have available.

Congress “needs to stay current about what exists today and where technology is going in the near future,” said Harry Voccola, senior vice president of government and industry relations at Navteq, a company that builds digital maps.

“Companies like ours have products, services and capabilities that they need to be aware of so that they don’t reinvent the wheel, or worse, do something to compete with us,” he said.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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