Even as COVID-19 upends business priorities, organizations across the country are doubling down on their commitment to promoting short-term savings. In October 2020, the Financial Health Network, in partnership with BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative (ESI), heard from two product leaders about how they’re pushing forward their plans to boost savings. Peter Ostberg, COO of FinFit, and Heather Meaker, Director of Innovation at Virginia Credit Union, shared learnings and offered insights for other organizations that are committed to the short-term savings vision in a recent members-only webinar. Here are key takeaways from that event.
Three Key Takeaways
1. 2020 has changed the product roadmap for providers
For FinFit, a financial wellness platform that works with employers to help employees improve their financial wellbeing, the pandemic was a turning point. As COVID-related economic disruption exposed Americans’ lack of savings, FinFit decided that in addition to encouraging savings behavior through its platform, the company needed to offer users a savings product.
“Once we took a step back and looked at what was going on in the pandemic, we accelerated our roadmap of being able to offer and facilitate savings to be able to do that by the end of this year,” FinFit’s COO Peter Ostberg explained. “We really committed ourselves to being able to practice what we preach—we’ve been telling you to save all this time and now we’re actually going to give you the vehicles and the mechanisms to do so.”
Virginia Credit Union’s Director of Innovation Heather Meaker noted that the pandemic increased the salience of day-to-day operational needs, while at the same time the crisis made retaining a focus on long-term savings efforts even more important. Navigating that tension and balancing capacity needs across the operations and product innovation sides of the organization proved to be key to navigating the challenges 2020 posed.
2. You don’t have to be a financial institution to promote savings
The Financial Health Network’s four components of financial health (Spend, Save, Borrow, and Plan) helped FinFit identify gaps in its offerings and prioritize savings on its product roadmap.
Even though FinFit is not a financial institution, the company was able to build an innovative savings solution based on a wealth of user experience and data insights. “We wanted to make sure that we were able to stand up a really smooth user experience for savings,” COO Ostberg shared.
FinFit’s vision is for users to be able to establish a savings account in one easy step and seamlessly set up split direct deposit to their savings account, without having to go through their company’s HR team or employee self-service portal. The company’s offering, due to roll out by the end of this year, will offer a frictionless experience for users, as well as an option for an employer match at participating companies. The site’s internal rewards program, which offers points for completing action items within the FinFit platform, will allow users to convert points to deposits to their savings accounts, further incentivizing savings.
3. Front-line staff are a critical source of product insights
At Virginia Credit Union, key insights into members’ financial health needs come from a range of sources. During the webinar, Virginia Credit Union’s Meaker shared analysis showing that many members have “more month than money.” Data on members’ income shortfalls didn’t cause the credit union team to give up on the idea of promoting savings—but rather helped reshape their offerings. The team ran focus groups with staff, members, and non-members to get early feedback on the savings innovations they were developing. Getting prototypes out to members to gauge members’ response, rather than relying on survey responses alone, was also a key part of the credit union’s innovation strategy.
When evaluating how well savings products are meeting member needs, staff feedback is just as critical as member feedback. Meaker highlighted the importance of recruiting staff members into pilots and providing training ahead of product rollout. Once a new product rolls out, partnering with front-line staff is key to success. Whether from a point person at a branch or at a call center, getting staff buy-in ensures that implementation will run smoothly, and establishes a pipeline for staff to share member feedback with the innovation team.
BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative
BlackRock announced a $50 million commitment to help millions of people living on low to moderate incomes gain access to and increase usage of proven savings strategies and tools – ultimately helping them establish an important safety net. The size and scale of the savings problem requires the knowledge and expertise of established industry experts that are recognized leaders in savings research and interventions on an individual and corporate level. Led by its Social Impact team, BlackRock is partnering with innovative industry experts Common Cents Lab, Commonwealth, and the Financial Health Network to give the initiative a comprehensive and multilayered approach to address the savings crisis. UPS, Uber, Mastercard, Etsy, Brightside, Arizona State University, and Acorns have joined BlackRock’s Emergency Savings Initiative to help their employees, customers, gig workers, and college students take the essential first step toward long-term financial well-being.