Millions of Americans live in the world of costly alternative financial services such as check cashing and pawn loans, yet many outside this context do not understand or have not experienced such products. Last month, we brought together some top bank executives (some of whom happen to serve as mentors to current Financial Solutions Lab companies), fintech entrepreneurs and investors in an exercise called FinX, which is designed to help build consumer empathy through an experiential exercise.
FinX is an in-field experience hosted by the Financial Health Network that helps innovators–whether startup founders, employees of a large bank, investors, or others in the ecosystem–to better understand alternative financial products and services. About 40 participants took part in this recent FinX in New York. They were organized into teams and tasked with completing basic transactions, such as cashing checks, transferring money, and paying for daily expenses. The ease of these activities is something many people who work in financial services take for granted. But for this experience, we pushed participants to leverage alternative financial services that are all too common for underserved consumers–things like visiting a check casher, pawnshop, and money transfer storefront.
Participants returned from the experience with mixed feelings. Many described their experience as exhausting, time-consuming, and stressful. At the same time, participants commented that they were impressed with the transparency of the providers and with how knowledgeable and helpful various employees were.
Many also expressed a renewed interest to better serve customers and think about new ways to improve financial services for consumers that are poorly served by the traditional providers today.
We at the Financial Health Network had explicit goals that this event helped us achieve: We want the community of fintech innovators to empathize with these problems and to start thinking about how they can solve them. This includes startups, financial services providers both large and small, nonprofits, investors, media, and many others in the ecosystem.
If you’re an innovator working on these problems, we want to hear from you. Drop us a line at FinLab@finhealthnetwork.org.