SaverLife: A Transformative Online Savings Community

SaverLife is a vibrant online platform that helps low-income families save and develop lasting financial stability.

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Eligibility

  • I am not an employee of BNY Mellon, or an immediate family member of a BNY Mellon employee
  • I am over 18 years of age
  • My organization is incorporated as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid organization, or I have a partner that is incorporated and could accept funds on my behalf
  • I have already piloted my initiative and have some initial evidence of impact
  • My organization is headquartered and creating impact in the United States

Gender

  • Choose not to respond

Where are you making a difference?

SaverLife reaches people in all 50 states. Currently, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas, Michigan and North Carolina are the states with the most SaverLife members and savers.

Focus Areas (required)

  • Civic Engagement
  • Development & Prosperity

Date Started

September 28, 2016

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Budget

  • over $5m

Website or social media URL(s) (optional)

www.earn.org and www.saverlife.org

Twitter URL

https://twitter.com/EARN

Facebook URL

https://www.facebook.com/earnorg/

LinkedIn URL

https://www.linkedin.com/company/earn.org/

1.Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed.

EARN was founded in 2001 with the premise that low income families can and will save when given the right tools and the opportunity to do so. After helping Bay Area families invest in large assets like homes, businesses, and education by operating the nation’s leading IDA program for 10+ years, EARN looked to scale impact through technology. We had learned from clients that the most impactful change facilitated by saving was not the purchase of an asset. Rather it was greater financial resilience: establishing a savings habit brought them confidence, optimism, and a sense of agency and control over their lives. EARN used these lessons to develop a flexible, scalable platform that would enable people across the country to start saving.

2. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

The Federal Reserve Bank finds that, 44% of Americans do not have enough savings to cover an unexpected $400 expense without going into debt or selling something. The outlook is particularly dire for communities of color – 25% of black households would have less than $5 if they liquidated all of their assets. Unexpected expenses cause immediate hardship, often triggering a downward spiral from which it is hard to recover.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Families with a savings cushion of as little as $250 to $749 are less likely to be evicted, miss a housing payment, or receive public benefits after a financial shock. Saving provides a way for families to weather short-term emergencies and stay on track towards long-term assets.

With SaverLife, EARN addresses the widespread need for savings by providing tools, incentives, and resources to support individuals on their savings journey via an accessible, mobile-first platform that provides the following:
• An incentivized savings program that rewards users for saving $20/month for 6 months
• Opportunities to win prizes for saving
• Digital education content developed for low-income families by a certified financial coach
• SMS and email notifications to keep savings top of mind
• Access to quality products including the option to open a savings account

SaverLife helps thousands of people establish savings and financial health while providing proof points for how low-income consumers succeed in a more inclusive financial system. Our goal is to work with people who have traditionally been excluded from the financial mainstream to access supports that will help them save.

4. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of how your solution is working to solve the problem.

For Carolyn, a single mother, saving was an “aspirational idea” – she wanted to be a regular saver but felt overwhelmed. SaverLife gave her a starting point that “met me where I was.”

One of the most positive aspects of SaverLife for Carolyn is the weekly emails she received from SaverLife’s financial coach. “I love them, they hit close to home” says Carolyn, who saves the emails in an “inspiration” folder.

SaverLife’s emphasis on small savings has helped Carolyn change her relationship with money. “I’m wrapping my arms around the mindset of saving and I know it’ll be a lifelong thing. Now I feel like saving isn’t this exhausting thing where you’re failing all the time. It’s manageable and it allows me to have more freedom.” Encouraged by the small-dollar rewards, Carolyn is aiming to build a $2,000 emergency fund and then eventually save money to help her daughter go to college.

5a. Too many people in the U.S. have unmet needs for financial products and services. How is your work reaching a population(s) that is currently underserved? If it is not reaching an underserved population yet, how might it in the near future?

The majority of SaverLife members are people of color (59%) and women (83%), many of whom are single mothers (65%). They generally do not have a college degree (81%), are not saving when they join (67%), and have monthly expenses that exceed their income (49%). Like many Americans, they face rising income volatility, with nearly half reporting monthly income fluctuations of $500 or more. SaverLife members earn an average income of just $25,000 and over 50% use SNAP (food stamps) benefits.

5b. Please specify if the population you are reaching is underserved due to any of the following characteristics:

  • geography
  • race/ethnicity
  • gender
  • socio-economic class

6. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

SaverLife differs from fintech apps because we develop for low-income households often excluded from the financial mainstream. Apps like Qapital and Digit help people save but make automatic transfers from accounts which can be disastrous for someone living on the financial edge where a few dollars can mean a hefty overdraft fee. SaverLife enables members to remain in control of their money at all times and provides content and resources specifically targeted towards low-income families. In the nonprofit space, EARN is the only group offering an online savings product at this level of scale.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

100,000+ members have joined SaverLife and 20,000+ people have become a Saver to earn rewards for saving. In 2017, 5,000+ LMI Savers collectively saved $6.2 million with SaverLife. Savers who complete the matched savings portion report:
• $584 avg amount saved in 6/months
• 89% report a habit of saving, up from 54%.
• 40% stick to a monthly budget, up from 23%.
• 11% increase in those with savings for 3-months of living expenses w/o income.

During the 2018 tax season, 3,000+ tax refunds were deposited, totaling $8.7 million in savings, as a result of EARN’s prize-linked savings initiative. Plus, over 100 community partners are using SaverLife in their programs.

"I hadn't really been shown how to save, and it wasn't part of my life before. I had feelings of shame and guilt, not knowing how. Now I know it's not as hard as I thought." - SaverLife Saver, Alaina

8a. Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling your impact?

SaverLife was designed for scale and looks to create impact in two ways: 1) Directly improving the lives of members by reaching at least 1 million LMI households by 2021 through community-based campaigns, large partnerships, and targeted marketing, and; 2) Amplifying the collective voices of underserved consumers to advocate for a more equitable financial system. EARN develops useful products for those who are struggling today, and uses data, research, and stories to inform public policy.

8b. If applicable, which of the following scaling strategies have you launched?

  • Organizational Growth
  • Large Scale Partnerships
  • Campaigns
  • Lobbying, Policy Change

9. Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

EARN is supported by philanthropy and earned revenue. Other organizations pay EARN to develop customized programs for them and EARN uses a “freemium” model where 100+ nonprofits use SaverLife with their clients but pay a fee to access reports and data. We are exploring additional earned revenue opportunities through sponsored content and advertising. EARN is adding both prizes and non-monetary incentives into SaverLife to provide motivation to save while fixing costs as the platform scales.

10. Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

Our team consists of 15 full-time employees, 7 engineers, and 11 board members. EARN’s CEO is Leigh Phillips who formerly led the SF Office of Financial Empowerment. Collectively, EARN’s world-class team has launched nationally recognized programs and municipal initiatives, built savings technology used by thousands of families, led asset-building efforts across the USA, and contributed original research to inform the field. As we scale, EARN will hire additional positions to manage growth.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Email

Organization name

EARN, Inc.

Program Design Clarity

SaverLife is delivered through a mobile-first, online platform. Most members access SaverLife through their phones and receive notifications via text or email.
- Earn $10/monthly rewards for saving $20/month for 6 months (up to $60 in rewards)
- Receive weekly financial content developed by a certified financial coach
- Prizes for continued savings (weekly prizes, tax-time prizes)
- SMS and email
- Online resources and tools

Approach to financial wellbeing: does your project focus on creating financial wellbeing through innovating on any of the following?

  • education / literacy
  • saving

Innovation type: Please select which of the following types of innovation best characterize your work

  • Product innovation (Introduction of a good or service or improvements made to existing products)
  • Process innovation (execution of a new or considerably improved production or delivery method)

Partnerships in detail: tell us about your partnerships that enhance your approach.

Network partners: EARN works with 100+ organizations to enable them to provide savings to their underserved clients.

Campaign Partners: EARN forms deep partnerships with local groups for SaverLife campaigns - concerted efforts within a specific geography or population to raise widespread action around savings. Two statewide campaigns will be launched this year, SaverLife Connecticut with all 15 United Ways of Connecticut and SaverLife Nevada in partnership with the Nevada Bankers Association.

If you won the Unlocking ₵hange Challenge, how would you invest the prize money of $50,000?

EARN will invest the prize money into ongoing innovation in SaverLife that will ensure long-term sustainability. The funds will support efforts to fix costs by incorporating prize-linked savings into the reward structure and in additional financial coaching/education content and resources.

Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions has the project received?

In 2018, EARN was a Top 10 Finalist in the Wall Street Journal’s Financial Inclusion Challenge. In 2016, EARN was a winner of CFSI’s Financial Solutions Lab and selected as one of the most promising innovations to help increase savings and manage financial shocks. EARN and SaverLife have been featured in MarketWatch, Forbes, USA Today, KPIX, and the Daily News.

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Agreed, philanthropy will be seed funding but developing earned revenue model will be important.

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