Ben Knelman, CEO & Founder
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 $21,000 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.
Juntos began as a class project at the Stanford design school: my team worked with Karina and other night shift janitors on campus to prototype tools that would help immigrants with their personal finances. It was a great 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, who I hadn’t seen in a year. When they arrived, Karina told me she had used the tools we had created over the entire year, and had saved over $2,000. Seeing her face and what that meant to her, the changed sense of self that she felt, I knew without words 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.
Inspired by Karina, we’re still designing tools that change the story that people all around the world have about themselves and their money – empowering people to feel confidence and control in their financial journeys. I continue to be amazed how even in a very constrained medium (Juntos, for example, has only 160 characters to work with at a time), it is possible to enable conversations and experiences that change not just how people think about their money, but how they feel — conversations that create the space for people to be the people they’ve always wanted to be. And conversations that affirm that people’s individual stories are valued by other people out in the world. This is something that I believe is possible not just for Juntos, but for the industry writ large.
Today Juntos partners with financial institutions to make the Juntos platform available to their clients as a tool to drive customer engagement and increase savings balances. As their customers use the Juntos savings coach, they build new financial behaviors as they work towards personal goals. Harnessing the power of behavioral research, our SMS program motivates the creation of new savings habits, making it easier for users to save. Users tell us not only that this is often the first saving success they have ever experienced, but that they feel believed in – that they no longer feel alone in their financial lives. As a result, not only do end-users build new savings behaviors that they didn’t have before, but the bank also experiences success: an increase in activity rates, customer engagement, and deposits.