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RateBee website offers comparison shopping for interest rates

Published:Sunday | January 6, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Claudja Williams, strategic director and principal of RateBee.

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

Claudja Williams, a former business analyst, has pioneered an online financial website that allows Jamaicans to shop for the best interest rates and bank fees from one central point.

RateBee is an interactive site which allows users to comparison shop for the best rates suited to their pockets.

Williams, the chief strategic director for RateBee, says the most popular searches are for auto loans, mortgages and foreign exchange rates from users including Jamaicans in the diaspora.

Williams, a former project manager and business analyst at National Commercial Bank Jamaica in treasury operations, started the site - rate-bee.com - having observed that most Jamaicans are not aware of and do not have a good understanding of the financial products available locally.

"Of the products they do know - savings accounts, fixed deposits, loans - they were not generally aware of how these products compared among financial institutions," said Williams.

"That is, they were not aware of which institutions offered the best rates and the lowest fees nor were they aware of the various institutions which carried the products they were seeking."

As a result, she said, most consumers tend to either take financial products from their traditional bank or credit union or take up a product
offered to them by the first institution they come in contact with, but
which is usually not the best offer available.

RateBee
was launched on June 1, 2012. Users can now search for and compare
local financial products including forex rates, auto loans, mortgages,
home equity loans, personal loans, savings accounts, fixed
deposits/Certificates of Deposit, and repurchase agreements or
repos.

Search results display all institutions
offering the specific product, associated interest rates, estimated bank
fees, the estimated monthly loan payment or estimated interest to be
earned.

No charges are currently attached to the
service, neither for the users of the site, nor the institutions whose
information is featured.

Williams says RateBee's
income comes from Google AdSense - a third party advertising entity
which posts ads automatically on the site depending on the level of
traffic and other agreed criteria.

"As the traffic
grows so does income. Right now we are doing just under 2,000 hits
monthly. We are targeting 6,000," Williams told Sunday
Business
.

Williams who owns 80 per cent of
the venture - the other 20 per cent is held by three unnamed partners -
says RateBee expects to cover its costs and start reaping profit from
the site after a year.

Proprietary
database

She is currently the sole employee, with IT
services outsourced.

"Business partners assist with
word-of-mouth marketing. Since the business is purely web based there is
no need for significant holdings of fixed assets. IT needs are
currently outsourced and other than our proprietary database the
business operates on open source software. This helps to keep our
operating costs low," she said.

Williams will soon be
inviting freelance guest bloggers with a background in finance who are
seeking a way to gain experience in investment banking, journalism, and
financial analysis.

"Our primary aim is to provide
information to the Jamaican banking and investing public including the
diaspora. We believe that this kind of service will contribute
significantly to the efficient growth and development of the local
financial markets as well as help to lower the cost of financial
products to consumers," she told Sunday
Business
.

The analyst notes that, financial
institutions, "contrary to their public assertions tend to force
consumers to indulge in products they often don't understand or need -
usually to benefit the institutions profitability and at the expense of
the consumers' financial stability.

There is
insufficient effort on the part of local financial institutions to offer
genuine financial advice to their patrons or to truly assess holistic
financial the needs of the customer before selling them a product, she
says.

"RateBee exists to help consumers to improve
their financial intelligence in order to make better and more informed
financial decisions. We want to help consumers to protect their interest
and to use the knowledge they gain to build their wealth over the long
term. We want to put the power of banking into the hands of the consumer
and we want them to know they have it," said
Williams.

Most of the site's visitors are from
Jamaica, the United States, the United Kingdom and
Canada.

Grow exponentially

According to Williams, her target market includes all
banking Jamaicans with regular Internet access.

"More
specifically, our target market would be professionals between the ages
of 25 to 50. We estimate our target market to be between 350,000 and
two million including Jamaicans in the diaspora," she
said.

Traffic to the site is likely to grow
exponentially given current restrictions on disposable income and market
conditions, she rationalised.

"Given the current
economic recession, volatile FX rates and reduced interest rates, and
the recent price wars among financial institutions is good for a
business like RateBee since consumers will tend to be more cautious
before taking out a loan or making long-term investments," Williams
said.

"In this environment consumers will be keen to
shop for a bargain before getting a loan."

New
projects for 2013 include the possible addition of new searches for
credit card rates and fees and more investment products, including
equities, unit trusts, and bonds.

"We are on track to
expand our search engine to include credit cards as well as to expand
our blogs," she said.

"We also want to become a richer
source of information for financial and investment advice as well as a
resource for researching local and regional investment
products."

RateBee, through its blogs, also plans to
offer financial product and company reviews "because we know that the
decision to purchase financial product is not and should be only
dependent on price, other factors such as customer service, product
terms and conditions and longevity of the company are also important,"
the analyst said.

The more immediate and biggest
challenge has been trying to market the product on a limited
budget.

"We have to be very creative with our budget,
and ensure that every dollar we spend results in a visit to our site.
Our ability to sell ads is directly related to the quality of our site
content and traffic - in other words, the better the products and
services we offer to the consumer, the more opportunity we have to sell
advertising spaces," Williams
said.

business@gleanerjm.com