No doubt you’ve heard the saying “Knowledge is power” before. The way you achieve this power is by having access to information.

Information is the most valuable and sought after commodity today and that’s why it is often said that we are living in the ‘Information age’.

However, with this relentless pursuit of more and more information, a new problem has emerged: information overload!

Sure, we are all now just a Google search away from any information we could ever want but that’s not enough!

In order for us to be able to convert this raw information into knowledge that is useful for us, it needs to be presented in a way that is easy for us to understand and take action on.

Anyone who has ever searched anything on Google and received thousands upon thousand of results to sift through can definitely appreciate the fact that raw information in itself is pretty much useless for a human being.

When it comes to managing your personal finances, things are no different.

Sure, we can all login to our online banking service at any time and get complete and total information on the credits and debits in our account but other than maybe the current balance, those services do not provide us with much actionable knowledge.

Many banks and credit card companies have invested significant resources in recent years to make their online banking services give us more knowledge of our personal spending patterns as opposed to just raw information.

This is a very welcome move and they should be commended for doing that.

However, there is still one big problem with each of these services: they do not give us COMPLETE information and therefore the best possible knowledge of our spending patterns.

You see, each of these services (as great as they may be) only provides you with information on the accounts you hold with them! They don’t show what’s happening in your other bank and credit card accounts.

Most of us now have bank accounts and credit cards from more than one provider at a time (if you don’t and keep all your eggs in one basket so to speak, then you are almost certainly not getting the best value as this interview explains) and use each of these accounts in a different way and for different purposes.

In order to become a true ‘spending ninja’, you need to have good & actionable knowledge of your spending patterns across ALL of your accounts.

“So how does one do that?” you may ask.

Well, as it is the case for almost anything we need these days, there is an app for that! 🙂

And what an incredible app that is!

Cnet, one of the leading sources for information and reviews on technology products in the world, said this about this app after their review of it:

It is the most intuitive and user-friendly budgeting app we’ve ever used.

These are people who review apps, software and other tech every day for a living so such a glowing endorsement from them is a pretty big deal as you can imagine.

David Koch (a.k.a ‘Kochie’), the long time co-host of channel seven’s popular morning show ‘Sunrise’ (and one of the leading finance commentators in Australia) had this to say about this app.

If you’ve watched the video above then you already know the name of this app: Pocketbook.

Pocketbook is basically the Australian answer to Mint, a personal finance management and budgeting service in the US which was first launched in 2006 and as of 2013 had over 10 million users and in 2009, was valued at over 140 million dollars.

Pocketbook is a much more recent arrival to the scene but since launching just over two years ago, they already managed to accumulate over 100,000 users in Australia, most of whom are raving fans as can be evidenced by the reviews in Apple’s and Google’s app stores (where Pocketbook often comes up as the most popular app in the entire ‘personal budgeting’ category).

Best of all: the app is totally FREE to use!

There are no introductory periods, ‘premium’ features to buy or ads to endure. Just sign-up, connect your bank and credit card accounts and you’re set.

This short promotional video gives you an overview of how pocketbook works and just a small glimpse of what actionable knowledge it is capable of giving you.

Do you start to understand now what the fuss is all about?

On a personal note, I have been using Pocketbook pretty much since it launched and I can honestly say (with a hand on my heart and all that jazz 😉 ) that I simply could not live without it now. Full stop!

The ‘parents’ of this incredible (and totally FREE!) service are two blokes from Sydney: Bosco Tan and his co-founder Alvin Singh.

Pocketbook co-founders

Pocketbook co-founders Bosco & Alvin. Photo courtesy of News Corp. Limited

Here is a six minute video of Bosco introducing Pocketbook to the world

It’s a great privilege for me to interview Bosco, one of the two people who created the service which has been an integral and irreplaceable part of my life for the last two years.

 1.    Hi Bosco and welcome to Spending Ninja. How did the idea for Pocketbook came about and what is your mission statement?

The idea for Pocketbook came about because it was meant to fill a personal need.

Alvin, my long-time friend and co-founder of Pocketbook, was looking for a tool to manage his own personal finances and make tax time easier. He had multiple banks and didn’t want to do any unnecessary Excel work.

Being a software engineer, he built a product for himself. He proceeded to show it to a few friends (one of which was myself) and that’s how it all started.

So really, it was a tool to help us solve our own problems.

2.  With a service such as yours, there are obviously very serious privacy, and most importantly, security concerns for both users (including potential users) as well as the financial institutions. How were you able to alleviate both concerns and especially get extremely conservative and risk-averse institutions like banks to participate?

Firstly, security is our TOP priority so it’s absolutely one of the foundational building blocks for our product!

We were lucky in that we both had experience securing large systems.

I started my career in IT security, consulting to the banks and Government organisations.  Alvin was a systems architect at a large media company, working on classifieds platforms that are household names with millions of users.

So we had a solid background to make sure the system is designed and secured right from a technical perspective.

However, with a product like this, user education and building trust is key, besides the technical component.

We invested a lot of time and energy there. To this day, we still personally respond to our users’ questions for example.

3. With a service such as yours, you no doubt get a unique perspective over the spending habits of Australians. What is the biggest expense for most Aussies these days and has that changed much compared to 6/12 months ago?

One of the key challenges our users face is probably quite obvious given what’s been in the media: housing affordability.

Either saving enough to get into the market, or manage their cash-flow well enough to pay off their debt.

Editor note: Pocketbook aggregates information on the spending patterns of everyday Aussies (no personally identifiable data is ever disclosed) in order to shed light on the latest spending patterns to its users and the broader public. This information is then often featured in the news.

For example, Pocketbook broke the news on the full extent of Netflix users in Australia even though the company had no presence in the Australian market as of that time. Subsequently, this caused significant industry reaction and lead to the introduction of heavy discounts by local pay-TV services.

The research was also referenced by the Communications Minister as evidence of why the industry needs to evolve.

4. What are your views on the level of financial literacy taught at schools? Do you think you personally got enough on that topic when you went through school?

There’s not enough being taught at schools around subjects like “business acumen” or “wealth building”, and lessons on “budgeting” probably also fall short.

The foundational skills are taught (i.e. compound interest, economic factors and debating which is useful for building negotiation skills) but no one strings it altogether well enough.

The biggest part of it all really is discipline, saving and budgeting, perseverance with a business idea, and that component is difficult to impart in a classroom type scenario.

5. How good would you say you are at managing your own personal finances? Has that improved since Pocketbook was started or has it remained the same?

Working in a startup is pretty challenging.There’s a whole lot of sacrifice, including a big financial component.

Luckily with Pocketbook, I’ve been able to make sure the cash-flow is at least smooth throughout the journey, particularly given that I no longer have that hour every month to update a spreadsheet anymore, being as busy as I am with Pocketbook.

6. What are your personal ‘go-to resources’ for reliable and unbiased information on the best deals for everyday products and services?

I’m the type of person who Googles for the best price and a discount code before I buy anything!(editor note: me too!! 😉 )

OzBargain, Shopbot and Retail me not are all great sources.

A great review site Alvin put me on to is Wirecutter. It’s a good collection of what to get for every single category one could ever want or need!

7. What is your personal definition for “best value”?

Best value boils down to the most happiness.

It’s not the cheapest or the best in class, but the item that delivers the owner the most happiness.That should always be the rule of thumb.

It’s what economists call maximising utility.

Like happiness, utility is subjective and could depend on a variety of measures. All of those you could measure in a CNET performance test, to just simply how you’d feel with the item.

8. What are the future plans for Pocketbook? Will it always be free to use to consumers? Do you plan to incorporate advertising in the platform?

Pocketbook is entering a very exciting chapter.

So far we’ve build a great population of users on the expense tracker product and have helped close to 200,000 Australians track billions in spending. That will always continue as a free Pocketbook experience.

On top of this, we want to revolutionise more everyday financial tasks that take the average Australians an unnecessarily long time to do. Like doing their tax return.

We recently launched Tax Returns by Pocketbook app for iPhone , the simplest tool to organise and lodge your tax return available in the Australian market – it literally takes 10 minutes!

There’s a short questionnaire, the ability to attach key documents via the phone’s camera and the ability to message a registered accountant right within the app.

When the user submits the return, the accountant is there again to review the return before it’s lodged with the ATO to maximise refunds.

All this typically costs over $100 but we’ve packaged it for half that, starting at a mere $39.

In the two short weeks since our launch of this new service, we’ve already helped close to 1,000 users process over two million dollars in returns!

Pocketbook tax return app

Thank you for stopping by Bosco and sharing your insights.

This concludes the interview with Bosco Tan, Co-founder of Pocketbook

If you use social media, you can connect with Bosco on Twitter and LinkedIn.

You can also put a like on Pocketbook’s Facebook page.

If you have any comments or questions for Bosco, please feel free to leave them in the comment box below.

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