A couple weeks ago, at the Underbanked Financial Services Forum, we asked people for big, wild ideas for serving the underbanked: our portfolio companies showed their strength to standing-room-only crowds, four companies battled in the Core Challenge, a modest group of Tweeters threw caution to the wind, and the largest group of underbanked experts voted by SMS.
Ben Knelman, modestly and quietly swept away the audience by showing that innovation doesn’t need to be high-tech! The Stanford design lab graduate devised a SMS-based system by which Latino wage-earners can easily track their expenses in order to gain insight on their spending, which has helped a large number save a large number (I want to say it was $1400 over 6 months, but don’t quote me). His company, Juntos Finanzas, won the Core Underbanked Challenge as the most innovative company serving the emerging middle-class. They consider themselves the anti-Mint: low-tech, manual input, no bank required, and actual behavior change as a result of participation. I was honestly surprised and blown away with the margin Juntos won the audience award. We’ve sent the $10,000 prize and a swarm of people around the company throughout the conference hopefully leads to some deals. Congratulations, Ben!
Meanwhile, online, we asked people to submit their most out-there business ideas for serving this market. Our winner – who will receive an iPad – is Johanna Contreras, for this, “a new global currency for the underbanked. can send remittances without paying to exchange. get relevant merchants on board!” In a world of frictionless virtual currencies and over $200billion sent by l0w-income immigrants from the developed world to the emerging markets, why isn’t there a cheaper way to send money cross border? Not just a great need, but a great opportunity. Do we really need another currency to buy a sword with invisibility powers for some online community? (Full disclosure, Johanna’s idea was selected anonymously, and she happens to be an intern at CFSI’s New York office). Congratulations, Johanna!