Challenge 3: The Money Tree

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General App Outline:

The Money Tree encourages young adults to invest in their futures by helping them visualize what their savings. Often the benefits of saving for retirement get lost in translation, as people forgo putting money away in favor of immediate rewards and impulse purchases. We understand this susceptibility and, rather than try to change it, we realize its value and utilize it to boost savings. Specifically, we use gamification techniques and our phones’ location services to create realistic Google Maps-based overlays that make savings feel real by representing each individual investment as a virtual tree. The height and type of the tree depends on the size of the investment — the more you save, the cooler and more impressive the Money Tree that you plant will be.

In our Shadow World layer, you can see visually how your savings stack up to those of your peers, in both quantity and location. In the Planter’s Log, you can see the nuts and bolts of when, where, and how much you spend and save.

We recognize that newly financially independent young adults with stable incomes want to, and are going to spend. To make sure that they also save, we will, with their agreement, connect to their bank accounts and notify the user each time they spend and suggest they save some percentage of that purchase to plant a tree in that location. We will connect this purchase information with the geolocation of the user’s phone at the time of the purchase as well as the purchase’s timestamp, saving all this information for later use. To encourage impulse saving, we will allow users to save with just a swipe, so that the very act of getting the notification off of their screen will help them build their forest of money trees and plan for their future (if some users find this feature too intrusive it can be turned off in the Settings). We will also use AI to learn what are habitual subscription payments, for which we will turn off recording of geolocation and timestamps (since these payments are not user controlled and are therefore not triggered by time and place). Users will be able to specify the savings account of their choice, to maximize flexibility.

On the backend, we make our app feasible by collecting this valuable and multi-dimensional spending information and selling it to 3rd parties who are interested in better understanding their customers. This revenue stream allows us to offer deals to acquire potential customers and enhance their experiences.  

Target Population:

We’re targeting a population with the ability to save but not necessarily the know-how: young college graduates, who are living on their own and are newly financially independent with stable and satisfactory incomes. Many of these new members of the workforce have never taken care of their own finances and may not appreciate the complexities of navigating a new city and living environment. Moreover, they most likely have neither the time nor the desire to ruminate on the effect of saving a few dollars here or there — instead they’re busy adjusting to their new lives. In many cases, they are working long enough hours that they want to spend their hard-earned money in the few hours of free time that they do have, and so we believe targeting their discretionary spending will not only fail, but turn these customers off of any such seemingly condescending service.

Instead, we want to target another key element of this population: their willingness to engage and invest in virtual worlds, as evidenced by their love of smartphone apps and Facebook applets (a la Candy Crush or Farmville). These young adults are willing to spend money building virtual worlds that they’re genuinely proud of and compare them to those of their friends. Why not have those virtual worlds actually mean something? There is no technology gap in getting these millennials to understand how our app functions, and millennials are the most comfortable with their data being sold to other companies, as long as we’re honest about it and they understand that these transactions are done for their long-term benefit. Moreover, we believe we can achieve the lowest customer acquisition cost by targeting these users, given their extreme connectedness to a variety of sources (college friends, roommates, young colleagues, etc). Once one friend adopts our service they’ll feel morally superior to their friends and guilt them into using it, which means more users for us!

Finally, we think these young adults are an extremely important group to target because they are not only somewhat financially flexible, but, more importantly, are financially impressionable (and any positive traits they develop now will last them a lifetime). Basic math reveals the value of compounding savings, which requires starting when you’re young. While numbers differ, experts suggest that to replace the majority of savings by the time you’re 67, millennials need to save somewhere between 10 and 22% of their income in a retirement account. Unfortunately, only 3 in 10 millennials know how much they should be saving, and only 40% of millennials with access to a defined contribution plan save even 10% of their income.

User Acquisition:

We will initially generate interest by offering special deals to new users to incentivize savings via The Money Tree. In the same way that many companies offer 401K matching services (a process our target market will be accustomed to), we will use our revenue streams and partnerships with 3rd party businesses to match early savings and encourage time spent on the app.

Like many social apps targeting millennials, we will then rely on the power of networks. Although savings are often a private topic, this is less of an issue for our target market, given that most of them earn a sufficient and stable income. Moreover, they’re new enough to financial independence that they’re more curious than anything, and want to learn best practices. In this step we can also prey on their love of competition and implicit guilt. These potential customers know they should be saving more, but enjoy their freedom and don’t realize the value of saving a little bit here and there. By embracing a few minor changes that are rewarded with visually pleasing, city-spanning garden, we can nudge users in the right direction and create habits that last a lifetime.

Behavior Changing Potential:

The psychology behind The Money Tree is to associate spending with saving. This is not an app meant to curtail spending, but rather, link the two habits together so that the user is constantly reminded to save, every time they spend. In this sense, the more they spend, the more they save.

To ensure that the app will work as intended and properly entice users to save when they spend, we assessed it using BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model for Persuasive Design. Fogg argues that the most persuasive designs are those that motivate, ask for the proper ability, and effectively trigger the user at the same time. The Money Tree is motivational on two fronts. First, the more it’s used, the more the user saves and thus, the better they feel financially. This is especially valuable given that they’re not required to alter their spending habits in any way. The second motivating factor is the competitive fear factor. Walking around their daily commercial activities allows the user to compare their saving habits with others. Most likely, they’ll see that others are spending much more than they anticipated. Fu
rthermore, the more their friends use it, the more pressured the user will feel to pull it out when they’re spending.

The Money Tree is extremely accessible to the target population. Users in this target group are used to the app economy. Apps like Venmo and Lyft have normalized the act of turning over their credit card information in exchange for some sort of service. Even the concept of a geolocation based application has been normalized by the popularity of games such as PokemonGo.

The last part of Fogg’s Behavior Model satisfied by The Money Tree is the trigger. We want them to associate spending with saving, thus, the app will send them a notification ping right after they have a transaction on their credit or debit card. This way, the app knows that the user has just spent money and is thus thinking of their financial situation.

As The Money Tree satisfies all three parts of Fogg’s Behavior Model, we believe that it will be immensely effective in changing saving behavior.

Benefit to User:

This app is first and foremost designed with the goal of securing a better financial future for the user, thus its primary benefit is exactly that. Beyond the simple answer of “it saves them money”, The Money Tree allows them to lean into their competitive side by seeing how much people around them are saving and how much their saving habits improve month after month. Additionally, there is a potential for third party incentives. As the app is designed to encourage saving the more you spend, retailers are also benefitted. Starbucks may run a promotion that rewards a free coffee at the end of the month to users who save a certain amount of money at Starbucks stores.

Benefit to App Developers:

The Money Tree is a free app that does not advertise nor contain in app purchases. It makes its money through selling anonymized customer purchasing data to interested parties such as Google or Amazon. These companies have an excellent handle on the internet purchasing habits of individuals. However they do not have the same volume of data on real life consumer habits, or more importantly, the popular areas of commercial activity. This sort of data, especially coming from young, financially independent, millennials, has massive implications for the advertising locations and substance, as well as shopping cart contents (items that are frequently bought together).

Benefit to Third Party Partners:

As alluded to in the “Benefit to User” section, the more the user spends, the more they save. Thus, third party retailers stand to benefit with the promotion of The Money Tree. Returning to the Starbucks and free cup of coffee deal, this partnership makes the user feel good about spending more money at Starbucks, knowing that they’re saving a similar amount. The perk of the free coffee incentivizes them to make the concerted effort of extra spending at the Starbucks, rather than any other retailer.


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