We received many nominations for the best innovation serving the underbanked in America. Mostly startups, but also some big companies, including banks. Mostly payments, but also credit, savings and financial capability solutions. Mostly true innovations, but also quite a few doozies. Our judges looked for true innovation, demo-ability, and also product mix (so that not all finalists would be PFM's for, example). The four finalists - Helping Loans, Juntos Finanzas, Sociogramics and TIO Networks - will present on the center stage at CFSI and the American Bankers' Underbanked Financial Services Forum in San Francisco on June 15th in front of the largest group of industry experts ever assembled in one place. This audience - of bankers, alternative financial services companies, payments executives, card networks, advocates, hedge funds, regulators, community development leaders, consultants and investors - will vote for the winner in real time to choose the 2012 most innovative product for the underbanked in America.
Why these finalists? Here are some of my reasons:
Consumers, press and regulators have been beating up on short-term lenders for being predatory, while no one is filling the gap with smart alternatives. We were shocked to see a big foreign bank - Santander - introduce a low-cost, well structured short term loan in the form of an all-online auto equity loan, HelpingLoans. It offers longer terms, multiple payment, no balloons, great transparency on terms and a clean, modern user interface.
We have all marveled at, and then maligned Mint.com and the litany of Personal Financial Management tools that followed in its wake. Juntos Finanzas is incredibly low-tech (SMS manual input and paper), but was designed to actually help unbanked, low-income working Hispanic Americans understand and manage their cash-flows. Call us luddites, but we love what actually works vs what's simply wiz-bang.
With Facebook's IPO looming, the world is obsessed with "social media." Why has no one figured out a way not just to do leadgen with social (my mom can do that!), but to actually use our online social media lives to bring back what the community banker of yore did: really understand his customers? Sociogramics, led by the god-father of online dating, Match.com founder Gary Kremen, does just that.
Walk-in billpay purveyors, TIO Networks, have joined the mobile frenzy with yet another m-wallet. But pay attention to this: the TIO wallet offers something most don't: the hook and the ability to pay almost any bill from your phone. We think other wallets lack a necessity-based use case. Further, the TIO wallet allows payment by cash, prepaid, credit card and bank.
Don't miss the session at CFSI's Underbanked Financial Services Forum in San Francisco. You will have the opportunity to see live demonstrations of these innovators, ask questions via Twitter and vote for the winner via SMS in real time, to decide who deserves to be the most innovative product serving the underbanked in 2012.