SOCAP11 Social Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ben Knelman, Juntos Finanzas

Posted by on September 1st, 2011

What problem are you addressing? Why should people care?

The first time we interviewed Karina and asked her what she does with any money she had left over at the end of a week, she laughed incredulously.  “That’s impossible,” she said.  “I never have money left over.”  A Mexican immigrant in her mid 20s, Karina came to the U.S. about six years ago. She worked as a night shift janitor and earned about $23,000 a year — much more than what she could make in her native Mexico. Yet she struggled, after basic living expenses and sending money to family, to feel like she was making any progress in her own aspirations.

There are over 18M Hispanic immigrants in the U.S. who, like Karina, are here to make a better life for themselves and their families.  Our company creates simple, free text-message-based tools that support this community as they manage their financial lives.  What our tools aim to do (help people track their spending and save towards goals) is nothing new.  Led by famous exemplars like Intuit and Mint.com, the personal financial management industry is an established and well-proven space, helping millions of Americans budget, reduce their debt, and save more.  Most of our industry’s solutions, however, rely on computer software, online banking, and (credit or debit) card transactions to give people helpful information about their money.  This is a problem if you don’t have a computer, if you don’t have a bank account, or if you transact mainly in cash.

Which is the case for a larger group of people than we often realize.  Despite the seeming ubiquity of plastic, over 100M Americans are still “cash-preferred,” which takes them out of the picture of most leading personal financial management tools today.  And this is just in America.  There is a huge opportunity world-wide to provide helpful tools to billions of people as they navigate daily financial decisions and anxieties.  And with the exploding accessibility of cellphones and SMS, text-messaging seems like a great way to begin.

We’re starting by designing for Karina.  We believe this is one step towards eventually designing tools that change the story that people all around the world have about themselves and their money – empowering them to feel confidence and control in their financial journeys.