started as a class assignment in the Stanford d.school
to design a product for personal transformation. My team began meeting with night shift janitors on campus, who were all first generation Latino immigrants, to prototype tools that would drive feelings of confidence in people’s relationships with their personal finances. It was a fun project, but when the academic quarter ended, everyone went their own way. An entire year went by, yet something about that project remained unresolved for me—it always stayed in the back of my mind.
I reached out to the janitors again. When they arrived, one of them, Karina, told me she had used the tools we had created to track all her money over the year, and that she had saved over $2,000. Seeing her face and what that meant to her, the changed sense of self that she felt, I knew in my core that I had to work on it more—that there was something here that was deeply important and meaningful. That was the moment that launched us into developing the products that eventually evolved into what we do today.
Our company, Juntos (which means ‘together’ in Spanish), makes simple personal finance tools for cash-based households. Our products don’t require any bank accounts, credit cards, or computers—and run entirely through simple text messaging on any phone.
Many folks reading this are probably familiar with awesome products like Mint.com
that help us organize our personal finances and achieve our financial goals. The personal financial management (PFM) industry helps millions of people budget, reduce their debt, and save. Mainstream solutions, however, require online banking and the use of debit or credit cards. Connecting to this online data is how they work their magic. But it also means that billions of people around the world don’t have access to products that help them manage their money, as they don’t use online banking or credit/debit cards. Many don’t even have bank accounts or access to computers.
The first tool we developed allows people to keep track of their spending via SMS. Imagine you are leaving the supermercado. Simply text “34.27 COMIDA” to Juntos to log that you just spent that money on food. Text in to see your running totals (in categories like Transportation, Clothing, Fun, etc.) anytime.
Our second (and main) product is sort of like an SMS "Weight Watchers" program for saving. Week by week, users receive cycles of content and check-ins that revolve around the behavior change necessary to get money set aside towards personal savings goals. It’s a very simple user experience, but behind the scenes, we harness behavioral design and the data from hundreds of tests to create product experiences that actually change behavior (which is not so simple). 72 percent of our successful savers report they had never successfully saved before.
In both our products, our biggest goal as a team is to design experiences that change how our users feel about themselves and their money. We strongly believe that if you can change someone’s beliefs (about themselves, what is possible, etc.), changed behavior follows.
Personal Finance and Financial Inclusion
Around the world, technology (especially mobile) and industry innovation is allowing millions of people to open bank accounts and access affordable financial services for the first time. Yet as barriers of access, initially the greatest challenge to financial inclusion, tumble down, technical and operational challenges are becoming overshadowed by design and behavioral constraints. In many settings, mobile banking accounts are being opened by the hundreds of thousands, only to sit empty and un-used.
If access is the first step to financial inclusion, engagement and empowerment are the second step. Huge opportunities exist for personal financial management tools to help drive this second step of global financial inclusion. The way that technology-based PFM products can create experiences that change how people think and feel about their money—in turn changing financial behavior - gives them tremendous potential as a bridge between underserved customers and financial services. When layered on top of other financial products (like mobile banking or micro-savings accounts), they can make those products more successful and affirming for the customer—while at the same time building a better customer for the financial service provider as well.