The Financial Solutions Lab, a $30 million, five-year initiative managed by the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co., launched its first competition in February 2015. The goal of this competition was to identify emerging innovations that leveraged technology to reduce the cost, time, and stress Americans face as they manage their household cash flows. The Lab's $3 million competition is the first competition to help design the next generation of consumer products. From hundreds of applicants, the nine winners were chosen by a panel of judges. The problem to solve was stated by the Lab as follows:
“According to the Brookings Institution, more than one hundred million Americans struggle with balancing their household budgets. When bills are due one day, and paychecks come another, consumers are caught in a cycle of debt as they are forced to rely on alternative services like payday lenders or check-cashers to bridge the gap.”
Financial Solutions Lab reported 298 applicants submitting a variety of products, all of which in some way impact consumer’s ability to manage their household cash flows. In order to categorize these products, CFSI defined five major product types:
- Planning: personal financial management (PFM) tools, budgeting solutions, account aggregation and visualization services, and financial education solutions.
- Credit: personal loans or income advances.
- Payments: products that relate to transferring funds.
- Savings: methods for reserving or accumulating money.
- Investing: asset-related products (e.g. securities, retirement savings).
298 applicants reported serving a combined 10,080,270 people. They cumulatively employ 1,946 people and raised $178,435,421 in capital. The applicants represent 62 non-profit organizations and 236 for-profit companies from 34 states. Although many non-profit applicants presented earlier stage ideas than their for-profit competitors, across the applicant pool, the 62 non-profits reported serving 7,716,309 people, compared to the for-profit applicants serving 2,363,961 people.
Although applicants came from across the United States, 38% of them came from the San Francisco Bay Area and the New York Metropolitan Area, the majority of applicants came from cities and towns spread across the country.
Interestingly, as reported by the Lab, the amount of capital raised by organizations from the San Francisco Bay Area was significantly higher than other markets. Across all applicants, Bay Area organizations had raised an average of 71% more capital than organizations from outside the Bay Area. Of the 29 applicants that had raised $2 million or greater, more than 40% were based in the Bay Area.
As decided by the judges, the following organizations represent the most promising group of financial technology social entrepreneurs, therefore, deserved to win:
Source: CFSI Innovation
As stated by the Financial Solutions Lab, the solutions that the applicants were providing were focused around four major trends:
- From Personal Financial Management to Personal Financial Health
- The Nature of Credit is Evolving
- Products Are More Often Built on Prepaid than Blockchain
- The Path to the Consumer is Through the Paycheck
Key takeaways from the Financial Solutions Lab according to the final report:
- 298 organizations applied for FinLab. Together, they serve over 10,000,000 Americans and have raised more than $178,000,000 in capital.
- The majority of the products offered by applicants combined two or more traditional financial products into a single solution.
- There is significantly greater consumer demand for products that go beyond the informative nature of “personal financial management” and allow users to take action to improve their personal financial health.
- The nature of credit is evolving; many applicants utilize technology to enable short-term liquidity solutions that leverage personal relationships in new ways.
- Prepaid card products, and the financial institution infrastructure that underpins these products, is an important building block for many consumer financial technology solutions.
- Despite limited success to date, many innovators continue to see the employer channel as a key distribution/delivery channel for their products.