Keywords: Financial literacy, Design for social impact, Product design
Project Type: Individual
Money made easy is a physical toolkit, that distills the vast amount of information available and lays out a roadmap to financial independence. Meant for women with no prior knowledge of economics or finance, and no access to a financial advisor. The goal was to create content that is relevant to their lives, and could aid them in tangible ways. The toolkit uses basic English and builds a foundation of math, before tackling more complex concepts.
During my undergraduate study I spent two months with craftswomen in Kutch, Gujarat, India developing beautiful, hand embroidered textiles. These women are some of the most talented and industrious women I have ever met. Yet, because of a lack of emphasis on financial literacy, they lead a hand-to-mouth subsistence. Since the society is inherently patriarchal, they do not participate in the decision-making process, a position that is reinforced by their lack of independent savings. The most heartbreaking thing is that this pattern recurs- their daughters are deprived of the same opportunities and subjected to an unfair, unequal treatment. How could these women be given information that could help them make timely choices to secure their financial future?
As I began researching, I realized that this scenario holds true for many women across the world, of different ages, economic backgrounds and educational levels. As part of their research, Olivia S. Mitchell, a Wharton business economics and public policy professor and Annamaria Lusardi, a professor at the George Washington School of Business posed a series of three simple questions about compounding, inflation and risk. Their international surveys found a consistent pattern: men tend to be more financially literate than women.
The reasons for this could be multifold. One of them is, as Mitchell notes, in many societies, men would traditionally assume roles where they controlled the finances and were more likely to work outside the home and thus be exposed to financial matters. Over time, it has become culturally acceptable for women to shift the responsibility for their own financial health and future onto their fathers or spouses, even when the scenario does not hold true anymore (source).
There are plenty of reasons to advocate for financial literacy for women- beginning at an individual level, continuing to community-wide and even global scale initiatives. Yet there is intrinsic resistance that years of conditioning and traditional gender roles pose. A New York Times Article quotes studies that show “that women don’t find money and investing as interesting as men” and that “women are more likely to find investment decisions stressful, difficult and time-consuming. (source) "
In order to design a product, it was important to know about the resources already available, and the successes as well as struggles associated with learning through each of these. I decided to teach myself the principles of financial literacy. Soon, I realized the problem is not a lack of information, but an excess of it.
There are initiatives by individuals, educational institutions, banks, co-operatives, and even governments to dispense correct information. These are targeted towards different segments and make use of multiple media. Yet all of these have certain limitations that restrain their outreach.
Games present a great opportunity to teach individuals financial literacy skills. A game can help design content in an engaging way as well as provide context for its application. An example of a game that is effectively doing this is Bite Club. Players manage a “day club” for vampires, where they need to balance their debt, expenditure and saving for the future. By featuring vampires, who live forever, the game highlights the impact of long-term savings over a 45-year span in a 15-round game.
Another game, a personal favorite of mine, is Farm Blitz that teaches one the importance of paying debts, of saving money and simplifies complex concepts like compound interest through a fun crop growing setup. Yet most of these can only either be played online or require a screen-based device like a smartphone or a tablet.
Websites and blogs: There are many written resources available on the internet, dedicated to helping one manage their personal finances. Most of the websites and blogs use technical terms that can be intimidating for a beginner. The information is dispersed and sometimes contradictory. It is not only time intensive to learn using these resources but also difficult to understand the real-life implications.
Books: There are countless books about personal finance for people of all ages. Some well- renowned authors include Warren Buffett, Benjamin Graham, and Peter Lynch. In particular, some books about personal finance for women are Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach and Financially Fearless by Alexa Van Toben. It becomes challenging to track one's progress and stay motivated while reading the books.
Mobile Applications: Today there are mobile applications that aid one in budgeting, saving, and investing. Examples include Digit, Acorns, and Mint. A failing is that it is only accessible to those who are familiar with automated bank transactions and comfortable with the technology. Also, often the user has no control over how the money is saved or invested. Although these are great initiatives, they do not provide the know-how to make decisions.
The toolkit has the following:
1. An instruction manual that has a step-by-step guide on how to use the product. It recommends completing the workbook first and then learning about different personal finance concepts at one's own pace. Since mastering any new skill takes time and patience, one needs to be persistent while learning about personal finance as well. Instead of an extrinsic reward system, the toolkit relies on intrinsic motivation.
At the beginning, women are asked questions about how this knowledge can help their future self and why they decided to learn about money. The answers are kept in plain sight- available for easy retrieval- a reminder of their reasons to initiate this process.
2. A workbook which is the most crucial part of the toolkit. Over the course of thirty days, it guides individuals through the basics of budgeting, saving, investing, earning and learning itself. The idea is to demystify money, to break down something that seems insurmountable into smaller, manageable tasks.
3. "Things I should know" booklets that introduce various topics. It starts with ones that concern an individual and extends to those that tackle the banking system and finally the economy.
4. "When the going gets tough" cards that have inspirational quotes from strong women who have lived life on their own terms.
5. The toolkit contains basic stationery including a notebook, a pen, a pencil, a calculator, post-its, and paper clips. The idea is that women should have the opportunity to document their journey, to make notes, highlight important sections, write questions, seek answers, debate, discuss, learn, grow.
The cost of the toolkit will have to be minimized so that it can reach a larger number of people. One way to increase the outreach is to upload the material as open source information on the internet, from where it could be freely distributed. Another is to partner with the government or local non-profit agencies to dispense the information.
This toolkit could be used as a blueprint, and adapted to different situations, to raise awareness about financial literacy. There is potential to reuse the curriculum in schools and workplaces for people of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of financial literacy.