Case Studies - Product Design - Financial Services

Why Does Everyone Want a Fold Invite?

Fold is a financial management app that launched a beta in January, 2023 with an invite-only model. It currently has 5000 users and a waiting list of 25,000 purely through word of mouth. We found out how they got here.

Man with meme on money

“I don’t know where my money went this month.” I bet you’ve said this at some point, and so have I. My grandfather used to diligently write down his expenses every night, but the best I managed was two months with an expense manager app at the start of my career. I have never used them since, because I found most apps hard to use or maybe I just didn’t want to feel guilty

So I couldn’t understand why so many folk on Twitter wanted an invite to Fold. Until I spoke to Nishant Verma, co-founder and Head of Design at Fold and got an invite myself.

Screenshot of tweets asking for fold invites
Fold has managed to create demand for their invites without spending a dollar

How Fold Works

Fold is built on RBI’s Account Aggregator platform.  Once you connect your bank to the app, it pulls in data from the platform – it never actually accesses your bank account.  

The app currently offers a limited set of features which summarise your spends by category, and tell  you how much cash flow (not balance) you have left. Verma tells me he envisions Fold as a suite of financial products eventually, but he wants the core product to stay laser-focused without overwhelming the user.

It’s Monday morning after a weekend of night-out, you open an app to check your bank balance – anxiety. The month is nearing an end, you check your balance to realise you don’t even know where all the money went – anxiety. You overshot your mental budget for eating out in the first 10 days of the month – anxiety. The awareness that you’re not doing well, after the deed is done, after cards have been swiped, after QRs have been scanned and money has been spent is useless and anxiety provoking. The awareness should be present before you swipe your card, or scan a QR code or write a cheque, so such actions can be consciously avoided.

From the Fold Manifesto

Personal finance is a crowded market. So what has the Fold team done differently to create this level of buzz?

#1. A visual, intuitive interface

Adding context through metadata

First, Fold makes it easy to add metadata to transactions, so they have context and can be easily summarised. You don’t have to struggle to decode the gibberish alphanumeric strings that your bank statement often shows. Typically, adding tags to transactions in an app is a tedious process. Fold addresses this through a set of 200 icons. Users can quickly add an icon –  from cigarettes to medical expenses– to categorise a transaction (Verma tells me he is so proud of the icons, he’s made a poster out of them and hung it in the office.) 

Icon set from fold app
Fold’s rich icon set makes categorisation of expenses easier

Over time, the Fold engine learns and personalises the experience, suggesting icons and making the process quicker.

Context-rich transactions also mean that they can be searched easily. Verma says that the inspiration for their search comes from Google Photos. “Like Google Photos magically pulls up your photos when given a search term, Fold is also capable of pulling your transactions and summarising them,” he says.

screenshot summary screen Fold app
Context-rich transactions make for easy searches

Dynamic graphs and charts

Another area the Fold team has worked very hard on is data visualisation. Sharath Sriram, an iOS engineer on the Fold team is an expert in coding graphs. The app offers aesthetically pleasing, interactive graphs that can be easily manipulated to show relevant information.

#2. iOS first in an Android country 

In a contrarian move, Fold has released an iOS app first instead of Android. The reason? iOS provides better APIs for animation and betas look and perform better on the platform. “We wanted our first users to have a stellar experience, no matter how few of them there are. That way, when launched our Android app, even if there were initial issues, people understand it’s a work in progress as the iOS app is doing well and known for its quality,“ explains Verma.

#3. Encouraging shareability through dummy data

Recognising that users will not want to share their personal, financial data, Fold provides an option to generate results with dummy data, allowing users to share screenshots –  whether to report bugs, express appreciation, or simply make a point. 

#4. Smart handling of bank issues

No matter how committed Fold is to user experience, there is no getting away from the fact  that they are dependent on the bank APIs that feed data to the Account Aggregator platform.  There is a real danger that users will blame the app for poor performance, even when the issue lies with their banks. 

Fold handles this in two ways:

1.They show users notifications only once every 12 hours, reminding them if their account balance has declined and making it easy to see how much they have left to spend. The non-intrusive notifications get high open rates, and also serve to create a window where bank performance will improve.

2. The UX copy reinforces the source of problems, helping the user understand that banking issues are out of their control.

screenshot from Fold app
Fold’s UX copy reinforces the fact that bank issues are out of their control

#5. Building in public

The Fold team has built in public from Day 1, nurturing a small, but highly engaged community on Twitter and Discord. This is based on the founders’ earlier experience of building Devfolio, a community site for hackathons. The many public requests for invites have set off a FOMO cycle, which is fuelling organic interest in Fold.

screenshot of Fold discord
Fold is building in public and growing a community on Discord

Was the invite-only model a calculated way to create hype, I ask Verma?  “On the contrary,” he says,  “The invite-only model principally arose from the fact that using Account Aggregator APIs costs money. (Fold has raised a seed round so far). Our team currently comprises just 12 people. We want to make sure that we catch and fix bugs in a controlled environment.” 

THC Take

Fold has taken an approach that is true to the essence of its product use case – understand the big picture and use your resources for things that matter. 

It is too early to say how Fold will scale, but the first set of adopters have found a product that in Verma’s words, “solves a problem that should have been solved years before,” and they want to tell others about it, just like when they saw a good movie. 

Incidentally, I saw a good one yesterday, and Fold made me ‘painfully aware’ that I spent too much on popcorn.

5 Comments

  1. It is still Aug 2023 and the trends have turned. Now the invites are more in supply, struggling to find the demand.

  2. Before Fold Money came into the picture riding on the AA framework, Fi Money also has all these features since the past 2 years and along with cool ways of seeing all kinds of spends and categorisation. In fact you can check top spends by time, by merchant, by category and you can even analyse your MF Portfolio on the Fi MF Insights. It even tells you how much you have spent on a category last month and nudges you to add money equal to your category spends

  3. For the young, Banking is a boring and a status quo type service. There is very less motivation to look at the clunky and crowded internet banking experience (unless its an emergency). Fold tries to make it cool. Sadly, they can not work with joint accounts, because the account aggregator they depend on can not process joint accounts, yet.
    There are many services in this space, I am personally aware of ‘Fi Money’, a neo bank that exists virtually. It is built on top of Federal Bank. So, you are customer of the old Federal bank but the interface is new and fresh!
    You can do the same Fold like functions and a lot more in Fi app. As it is fully integrated, you can also set automatics rules for saving. Money automatically gets deducted from the account and goes into one of those cool looking deposits.
    I have seen it give confidence about money to people who were previously avoiding looking at their transactions! Over time, they automatically start thinking about saving, investing and more. I have seen this.
    All these are good things happening 🙂
    Hope Fold gets their act together with joint accounts soon.

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