Connecting Partners in Financial Inclusion for Innovative Product Design

When creating a good product or service, the voices of potential clients need to be central to the design process. Implementing good design requires engagement, cooperation and support of stakeholders. For those of us working to build an opportunity economy, this means including organizations working directly with people in low- and moderate-income communities; financial services and technology companies providing the infrastructure; funders and investors providing the resources; and policymakers and advocates crafting the enabling environment.

During the 2018 Prosperity Summit, we created space for all these stakeholders to connect – and were blown away by the authentic conversations that emerged around how innovation in financial products and services can counter wealth inequality.

For instance, in our three-hour clinic, “Saving for Now, Soon, and Later: The Future of Savings Solutions,” we introduced an initial concept (supported by The Prudential Foundation) for a seamless savings experience that enables saving for immediate, upcoming and future needs. We then asked clinic attendees to critique the idea. The resulting conversation brought the expertise of clinic participants from different sectors and geographies to light. 

We heard from a private-sector researcher about how automatic enrollment and escalation had a powerful impact on savings at one of their employer sites. Additionaly,nonprofit service providers discussed how information and coaching empower clients to identify their savings motivations. We also heard about how both nonprofit and for-profit organizations are trying to meet diversity requirements related to serving customers from different cultures within their communities.

This exchange revealed where strengths in service delivery exist across the savings ecosystem, generating more ideas on what a more seamless savings experience for people in lower-income, lower-asset communities might look like in the future and how different stakeholders might participate.

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A similarly rich dialogue emerged in a concurrent session, “From Transactions to Relations: The Promise of Fintech and the Power of Human Relationships.” Drawing from earlier consumer insights research, the panelists—from Even, EarnUp and PayPal—engaged with the audience to discuss how they could move beyond a transaction-based relationship in which nonprofits just “delivered” fintech products.

Audience members talked candidly with the panelists about failures they’ve experienced with fintech companies. Some shared the frustration and negative fallout that happens when startup fintech companies start charging for formerly free products or when fintech services disappear because the startup dissolved or changed ownership. Others shared opinions about the revenue models of companies in the room, grappling with the complexity of needing to pay for services, how much low-income customers can afford and whether/how to compensate nonprofits for their role in the relationship. The resulting discussion revealed how fintech companies are creating better supported partnerships and an openness to continued conversation about addressing the pain points in both operations and market forces.  

Finally, we had great fun at the Innovation Test Kitchen, asking for feedback on a range of product concepts that focused on credit and debt, savings, financial coaching and consumer financial services. We loved that Summiteers stopped by and offered to help us think through elements of design such as the role of financial coaching staff in addressing debt, the structure of savings packages and the viability of partnership with credit counselors.

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These types of dialogues will be front and center as we continue to imagine new products and services that can radically change the story of wealth inequality in this country. We will be leveraging our issue-area networks, such as the Savings Network, Financial Coaching Network and Racial Wealth Equity Network, to further these dialogues. Join us!

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