Penny: Powering the future of conversations at Credit Karma


In March, Credit Karma acquired a three year old company by the name of Penny. For those of you not already familiar, Penny was a personal finance app that served hundreds of thousands of people primarily by having conversations about your finances.


The acquisition aligns with Credit Karma’s bigger vision—a vision that we’re betting conversation will help us pursue.

Why Conversations

Credit Karma’s mission is to champion financial progress for everyone. Note the for everyone portion of that. As it turns out, some people need more help and encouragement along the way than others.

If you happen to have a strong grasp of your own finances in addition to the broader financial climate, you might already be well served by the suite of offerings provided by Credit Karma, from free ID monitoring to Approval Odds on your next credit card. That’s great!

However, navigating the complexity of the financial world without a formal education in personal finance (something that most Americans lack) is often an intimidating, stressful process. Our financial struggles have been covered extensively over the years but might be best exemplified by the fact that nearly one out of every two Americans can’t afford a $400 unexpected expense. Moreover, our finances are often intensely personal and emotional parts of our lives.

And that brings us to Penny.

Conversation allows us to connect with people on a personal, emotional, and—most importantly—empathetic level. It can adapt to your comfort level. It can flow freely from one topic to another according to your interest. It can get arbitrarily nuanced or broad depending on your needs. With that context in mind, let’s examine what we’ve been up to in the six months since the acquisition.

Case Study 1: Hard Inquiries

Our first order of business was to launch something, and do it quickly. The goal was to validate some key assumptions we were making:

  1. Conversations enable us to move and react quickly.
  2. People find value in conversations.
  3. Conversations can motivate people to take action.

Three weeks later, we launched an experience built around hard inquiry notifications. The result? We saw over a 10% increase in member satisfaction. 

Case Study 2: Credit Score Education

Our next initiative built on the findings from the first experience while getting more ambitious in the process. At its core, the experience is intended to educate members about their credit scores: where they come from, why they exist, and how to improve them.

Young family sitting in bed, gathered around a laptop to learn what you need to know about credit card companiesImage: Young family sitting in bed, gathered around a laptop to learn what you need to know about credit card companies

Importantly, Penny adapts to your existing knowledge about credit scores, uses examples that are personalized to your situation, goes into more detail when you ask, and—as of today—can respond to some of your most pressing follow-up questions.

In order to get there, we built and scaled a powerful memory for Penny. That memory allows Penny to carry knowledge over from one day to another, from one context to the next. If you tell Penny your goal is to buy a house, Penny will remember that no matter when or where you next engage in conversation and can tailor advice accordingly.

We also built a mechanism for collecting feedback in real time and a simple but powerful way to understand the questions you ask. The former is our life blood when it comes to weighing priorities and generating new ones, and the latter helps surface much of the great conversation Penny is already capable of having with you.

The Bigger Vision: Conversation Whenever, Wherever

Educating members about their credit scores is a good place to start, but at the same time it’s just that: a place to start. Not everyone needs to have a conversation about their finances to feel comfortable and supported. For those who do, we want to make it as easy as possible.

Confused by some of the numbers you’re seeing? Tap through to chat with Penny about them. Not sure of your options when evaluating loans? You can talk through them with Penny. Overwhelmed by debt? Penny can help you figure out how to get back on track. Need some extra motivation or encouragement along the way? Penny is there for you.

While this might sound more dream than reality, we’re already taking steps towards that vision. The technology is there—it’s just a matter of leveraging it at Credit Karma’s scale. (Now might be a good time to mention that we’re hiring!)

Importantly, the acquisition of Penny means we can deliver on that vision with a best in class conversation that provides the context, motivation, and empathy that our members deserve.

Penny Team