A critical imbalance exists today in America: Our country is rich in technology and innovation, yet a staggering number of Americans struggle to find solid financial ground. And while countless apps help users receive their burritos or coffee on-demand, there's a growing number of FinTech entrepreneurs with innovations aimed at helping those who need it most. The numbers are staggering – 57 percent of Americans struggle financially and over half couldn't afford to cover a $400 emergency expense without selling something or borrowing money. Financial Solutions Lab (FinLab), a five-year program managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation with founding partner JPMorgan Chase, is building a bridge to connect the minds behind the world's most cutting-edge technology to the crippling problems that plague over half of Americans.
With its mission to foster meaningful innovation and make financial health a reality for more consumers, FinLab aims to identify financial issues facing Americans, seek out entrepreneurs and innovators creating digital solutions to solve these problems, and support their growth to help those in need of critical financial assistance.
The obstacles to addressing financial health are two-fold. First, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach and second, it encompasses a wide spectrum of consumer demographics. To overcome these hurdles, FinLab organized itself into a five-year program that would focus on a specific challenge and work with a focused group of innovators each year who are addressing the challenge head-on. CFSI's in-depth research would help identify a specific challenge each year. It also uses a unique set of four compass principles – inclusion, trust, success and opportunity – to assess each innovator's solutions and ensure their design delivers the basic tools people need to manage their day-to-day financial lives and improve their financial health.
From the beginning, FinLab assembled a robust network of cross-industry resources from varied backgrounds to ensure diverse expertise to help these innovators develop their products. These included regulation and computer science resources to behavioral science academics and venture capitalists, among others. This Advisory Council provides hands-on guidance and support with each year's entrepreneurs to identify and overcome obstacles, explore additional use-cases or product applications, and collaborate on programs that expand their products' scale.
After announcing its first-year challenge – managing cash flow – the FinLab team began a five-month journey across the country. The team met with hundreds of entrepreneurs in search of strong applicants for the program's first-year challenge. In June 2015, FinLab selected a group of nine start-ups from an impressive group of nearly 300 applicants to join the inaugural FinLab class. The members' products spanned automated personal savings applications, to a workplace tool that allocates employees' pay checks toward achieving financial goals, an app that simplifies the food stamp application process and an online solution that brings simplicity and organization to divorced families managing their children's expenses.
Over the course of its first year, FinLab held private events with members, CFSI and JPMorgan partners, FinLab's Advisory Council, and third-party experts to inform members' businesses and guide their growth strategies. An event held in Washington D.C. gathered experts from nearly every agency that oversees financial services – including the CFPB, OCC, FDIC, FRB and Treasury – to help members get a clearer understanding of the rapidly changing regulatory landscape as it impacts fintech. Another event held at JPMorgan's headquarters in New York City gave FinLab members unprecedented access to some of JPMorgan's senior most executives.
During FinLab's first-year culmination event in February, which gathered its network of first-year members, advisory council, founding members and prominent industry investors, FinLab reflected on its accomplishments and revealed its year-two challenge: Financial Shocks. The call for entries was now open.
The team then embarked on another four-month trip across the country to meet with startups and drive entries for its second year. In June, FinLab unveiled its nine newest members, selected from a pool of over 300 applicants, that will follow a similar, yet uniquely-designed journey to expand the reach of their tools to more consumers in need.
FinLab's year-one members added over 375,000 new users and raised more than $75 million in funding. Member companies gained strong business momentum and grew their products in several other notable ways:
FinLab provided income-smoothing tool Even with a networking opportunity that secured a pilot partnership and deal with one of the nation's largest retailers.
FinLab helped automated savings tool Digit expand its user base to over 50 percent low-to-moderate-income consumers who are projected to save over $150 million this year.
SupportPay, a platform to help manage and pay child support, worked with FinLab to foster deeper customer engagement. Its users are now 90 percent more likely to pay child support than non-users.
FinLab facilitated conversations between Prism, a bill payment and management tool, and PayNearMe, which led to a successful acquisition.
Lendstreet, a lender helping consumers reduce debt and rebuild credit, worked with FinLab to adjust its company mission. After just one year, Lendstreet's customers witnessed credit score improvements of 150+ points.
Jimmy Chen, CEO/founder of Propel, said, "FinLab was instrumental in helping us grow and providing insights that expanded our solution to more underserved consumers. The newest iteration of our product was inspired by collaboration we developed through FinLab."
During its second year, FinLab attended 50+ events in 18 cities across the country to drive year-two applications. When the application period closed, FinLab received 356 applications – nearly 20 percent more than its first year.
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