Seven I School students won the $12,000 grand prize in this weekend’s Capital One People & Money Hackathon for designing and building a new app to help millennials get a handle on their financial habits.
The team focused on the human side of the challenge: over the course of the weekend, they conducted a series of interviews and surveys of millennials, to better understand their thoughts about money and the obstacles that hinder their financial goals. The winning app takes into account the personal and emotional incentives that influence people’s choices, not just the financial incentives.
Winning team members were MIMS students Arezu Aghaseyedjavadi, Stacey Baradit, Sindhuja Jeyabal, Alexander Jones, Aditya Mishra, Stephanie Snipes, and Ashwini Sriram. The hackathon was sponsored by Capital One and held Friday through Sunday in San Francisco; it focused on developing financial tools for today’s young adults (the “Millennial Generation”).
Twenty-six percent of Americans claim that they cannot get a handle on their money and prefer not to deal with it, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling reports. More than twenty-five percent of Americans have no emergency savings, and more than two-thirds of Americans have less than six months of emergency savings. “From savings to planning, people fear personal finance,” according to the hackathon organizers. Participants were challenged to develop tools to help consumers visualize, manage, and plan their personal finances.
Manageable 30-day Challenges
Their winning project — SaveSense: Making Sense out your Money — is an iOS app that uses behavioral economics techniques to improve individual saving habits. They started with a mini “design thinking” exercise to develop a quick survey to explore millennials’s thoughts about money. They asked questions like “What’s the first thing you see when you see your bank statement? How do you go about saving? Why do you save?” They also asked people to draw what money means to them.
“We found that many millennials simply don’t save, or don’t feel like they know how to save,” said Aghaseyedjavadi.
The app recommends a series of manageable 30-day challenges to help participants save money and build sound financial habits, based on their personal spending habits and demographic information. Sample challenges included going a month without buying beer or without buying boba tea.
“One of the insights was that a lot of millennials don’t make a lot of money and don’t have money to save,” explained Jones. “But doing the challenges will help you uncover ‘hidden money’: money that you were spending elsewhere.”
“A lot of personal finance apps show you a graph of how you’re spending your money, but they don’t go the extra step of laying out a road map to get you to your goals,” said Jones.
Aghaseyedjavadi agreed. “If you tell someone they need to save $1,000, they’ll say, ‘I can’t do that’ — but if you have them do it in little increments, they’ll get there.”
Based on behavioral economics principles, the team incorporated social pressure and support into the app. Users can let their friends know they are working on a saving goal without revealing the exact dollar amount. The system lets those friends know as you achieve milestones toward to your goal, and your friends can encourage you and cheer you on as you attempt each challenge.
By making each challenge short-term and manageable, the app helps users build habits on a daily basis. “Thirty days is enough to build a habit,” said Jones. “But on the flip side, if you don’t complete the challenge, that’s fine; there’s another challenge. We encourage you to keep trying.”
Long-Term Financial Goals
The team’s user research uncovered another challenge common among millennials: making the connection between daily habits and long-term financial goals.
“If you use other services that help you save, sometimes you ask, ‘OK, I saved this much; now what do I do with it?’” explained Aghaseyedjavadi. “That’s where SaveSense comes into play.” After a challenge is complete, the app shows you how much you saved on that challenge and helps you apply that money to the specific goals you’ve already defined for yourself, such as paying off college loans or credit card bills or putting it into a savings or investment account.
“The app is not just giving users actionable steps on how to save money, but also giving them reinforcement that they’re applying it toward their goals,” said Jones.
The I School Impact
Several team members credited I School courses with helping them develop the skills they used in the hackathon.
Aghaseyedjavadi applied what she learned last year in Info 214. Needs and Usability Assessment. “With many products, people first come up with a cool, sexy product, and then try to force the user to feel like they need it,” she said, but in Info 214, they learned user-experience research techniques to discover actual user needs.
Jones is learning similar techniques in this semester’s Info 290. Design and Development of Web-based Products and Services. “We do real user testing and identify actual pain points or user problems,” he explained. “We address the solution from there, rather than coming up with the solution first.”
The team applied these user research throughout the hackathon process. “As we were coming up with the idea and wire-framing, Ashwini and I just went outside the building to talk to random people on the street,” said Aghaseyedjavadi. “And they actually stopped to talk to us and gave us really helpful insights.”
Stephanie Snipes credits last semester’s Info 290M. Information-Centric Entrepreneurship & Startup Strategies with training her to take a concept and interpret it a different way. And in Info 232. Applied Behavioral Economics, Ashwini Sriram studied the range of ways that information systems can influence people’s behavior — insights the team used in developing SaveSense.
$12,000 Grand Prize
The hackathon kicked off Friday evening at 6:00 pm, and teams worked all day Saturday and Sunday until the Sunday afternoon submission deadline. Throughout the hackathon, industry experts and top executives from Capital One provided feedback and coaching. Apps were built on the the Capital One API, which provided a sample account with complete transaction history, account balance history, and projected future transactions, as well as a variety of additional APIs from technical partners.
After 46 hours of hacking, 51 teams presented their projects and demos to a panel of judges, who awarded prizes in two categories: “Money for Millennials” and “Kicking the Fear of Finance.” Projects were judged on three criteria: Data Visualization (How does the solution help consumers visualize financial data, content, and behavior?); Cross Channel Experience (How well does the product bring together a seamless experience across web, mobile, and other devices?); and UI & UX (How well thought-out are the user experience and attention to UI in the solution?)
Following the judges’ deliberations, the School of Information team was awarded the $12,000 top prize in the “Kicking the Fear of Finance” category.